We are entering our 14th year of homeschooling this fall. Every single year of our homeschooling has been with special needs kids. Here are my top 10 suggestions to new homeschoolers who are raising and teaching specially challenged children. (The pictures below* are a few of my favorite homeschool shots from the last 5 years.)
Provide a stimulating environment filled with new explorations ~ I have so often seen families with special needs kids get caught on the hamster wheel of repetition. For instance, a child is struggling with addition and the family gets stuck working on addition for hours every day. The mother worries that, if her child can't get addition down, then all is lost, so that becomes her main goal and all else goes by the wayside. Repetition is a wonderful thing and very necessary with a learning disabled student. However, don't let it become the only thing your homeschool does. Continue to add new adventures in learning.
Therapy counts for school time ~ Special needs families tend to spend a great deal of time in therapy and doctor appointments. This is valuable learning time and should be counted as school. If your child needs therapy or medical care to enhance their ability to learn, then they are being educated while in therapy. The public school counts the time in the speech therapy or reading specialty room, so why shouldn't we.?
Learning happens everywhere ~ I just cannot stress this enough. Learning is going on all the time. If you are providing new challenges, great books, character training, exploration of nature, loving and nurturing people in your child's life...he/she is LEARNING!
Do family projects ~ A good way to learn is as a family. Everyone has the opportunity to participate in a project even if it would have been too challenging for one individual. It also allows sibling cooperation to grow and everyone to show off their strengths.
Enjoy your time with your children ~ Living with special needs children is challenging at times. Take note of the times that are most enjoyable with your children and do those activities often. My kids are usually content feeding geese, exploring a hands-on museum, playing in a mountain stream and running free in a field. We tend to do these activities on a regular basis to build happy memories instead of dwelling on the drudgery of special needs.
Every child has strengths...no matter how disabled they are ~ It is very easy to get stuck on all of your child's weaknesses. Don't forget your child's strengths...every child has them. Once you know your child's strengths, it is easier to see progress and find their best ways of learning. Indeed, not everyone is meant to be a great scholar. Some of us are meant to be lower level service people or great homemakers. Think about the simple jobs that others do that make your life more simple. Thank goodness for a large variety of people and opportunities in our world! What is most important (to me) is that our children turn out to be good and kind people.
It is okay to lower your standards ~ In an ideal world, dinner would be on the table when dh got home; the house would be clean; the kids would be happy and delight in telling Daddy all that they learned; and Mom would be fresh and enthusiastic about her day. The reality is sometimes dinner is late and is only cereal with fruit, and the chores are done in a haphazard way. It is okay that not all the balls stay in the air all of the time. The important thing is to know what things make everyone the most comfortable in your home. My husband really likes the bed made when he gets home. Sometimes, I make the bed when he is pulling into the driveway! I like for everything to stay as peaceful as possible and that we have quality family time as many nights as possible. Sometimes things need to be dropped to make other things possible.
Go out into the world ~ So often parents of special needs kids feel isolated from the world. This can be doubly so for the homeschooler of special needs kids. So many homeschooling classes and co-ops stress high standards in academics and behavior. They often hold to standards that set our kids up for failure. The result is that the parent ends up feeling rejected or too nervous to venture out into society. There is acceptance in the world and the homeschool community...it just is hard to find sometimes. I find that smaller groups, individual friends (both homeschoolers and public schoolers) and special needs groups (Special Olympics, support groups and other special needs sport groups) are often a better fit for special kids. If you can't get out in the world, bring the world to yourself and your kids (blogging, pen pals, Flat Stanley project, organizations that do in-home classes, such as 4H).
Don't believe everything the experts say ~ According to the predictions of my children's doctors, one of my children is supposed to be dead, another in a mental institution, and another barely able to walk, talk or be potty trained. The doctors were wrong on all accounts. (Of course, they have been right in many ways as well.) I'm just saying, keep on keeping on and don't give up.
Slow and steady wins the race ~ Raising special needs kids is often a very slow process. These kids learn slower, process slower, move slower (or much faster) and generally need more time than more normal children. That is the joy of homeschooling!! You have more time and can provide that for your children. It does help to find a way to record your child's progress for yourself so you can see it in your more frustrated moments.
*Photos in order: Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood contemplating how to dissect this frog, two of our children in Tomatis therapy, Tim's drawing a Canada goose for his nature study book, Homeschool International Night with my family wearing masks from Venice for their presentation on Italy, our youngest artist drawing a portrait of Daddy at a children's science museum, Timothy trying to stop a man made geyser, two photos showing how we get the dirty clothing from upstairs to the downstairs laundry room, a favorite wooded trail, Tom Sawyer and Goldilocks playing chess at the library, Tim graduating at homeschool ceremony and receiving our state's high school diploma