Five Tips for Homeschooling Children With Special Needs During the Pandemic
If your child has special needs, helping them learn during the pandemic can be a challenge. Here are some ways to help your child excel during this time.
Having struggled with learning disabilities in school during my childhood, I remember how my parents advocated for my education. With the pandemic, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for parents who are teaching their children now. Through my own experiences and research, I can give you some tips about how to ensure that your child gets the best education possible.
Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher
When I was in school, my mom met with my resource teacher, a special education teacher, to discuss my academic performance. My teacher and my mother both addressed their concerns, opinions, and solutions to help me excel at school. These organized in-person conferences were very effective because they helped me improve in subjects that challenged me.
Now that children have transitioned to homeschooling, you probably spend just as much if not more time observing your child’s learning progress. You may notice that your child struggles in more ways than you thought. Since your child’s teacher has probably seen these struggles before, it would definitely be worth contacting them via phone or email.
When you talk to your child’s teacher, it is essential to address all your concerns respectfully. Do not accuse the teacher of neglecting the student’s needs or assume that they do not care. According to special education teacher Katie Pisello, you know your child best.
The parent-teacher relationship has to be a partnership where both sides are comfortable to share ideas and problem-solve together. There needs to be mutual respect. The parent has to respect the teacher as the professional, and the teacher needs to respect the parent as the parent and essentially the expert on the child.
Katie Pisello, Special Education Teacher
While many teachers like Katie genuinely care about the parent-teacher relationship and the child’s success, there are also teachers who are not as receptive or empathetic. If this is the case, your child’s teacher may have lost interest in teaching or never cared in the first place. Therefore, you are most likely the better teacher.
Partner Read with Your Child
When I struggled with my reading speed and comprehension, my parents partner read with me. We used two copies of the book so that we could read along with each other. It helped me to notice the words I mispronounced. As we partner read, my parents asked me questions to ensure that I comprehended what I was reading. By doing this every day, my reading speed and comprehension gradually improved.
If your child has reading and attention issues, the partner reading technique can help them learn and stay on track. The more often you and your child partner read together, the more you can see a pattern of your child’s behavior. It would help if you looked for certain distractions and time periods when your child stops reading. Also, find out if there is a trend regarding how long your child stays engaged in a book. This will help you and your child decide how long to make your reading sessions.
If partner reading seems to work well for your child, start a typical school day by partner reading for just a few minutes. That way, you can save another session of partner reading for the end of the day. By breaking up the sessions like this, your child will be excited, or at least tolerant, of starting a school day and motivated to work hard.
Ask Your Child to Help You Come up with a Lesson Plan
Although many teachers already have lesson plans, you might be allowed to develop your own curriculum. If you choose to do this, make sure that you involve your child in a lesson routine. This will make your child more likely to enjoy learning and receive adequate time to learn difficult concepts. For instance, if your child struggles with math, they might not want to do the subject. However, allowing your child to do their favorite subject first will make them more willing to do a less desirable subject.
When planning a lesson routine, keep it realistic. If you and your child are new to homeschooling, don’t expect to get through five subjects in five hours. Instead, choose two or three subjects to work on two days of the week and the other three to work on the other two days. Let your child enjoy the weekends and take short breaks between lessons.
As time progresses, you and your child should assess progress and necessary changes. Perhaps more time will be needed for a subject. Or perhaps your child would benefit more from longer breaks or a different order of subjects.
Provide Empathy and Compassion
At this time, you are probably playing many different roles — -parent, employee, and teacher. So it is understandable that you would be stressed out. There might be times when you want to scream. However, now is the most important time to remember that life is difficult for yourself and your child. Former special education teacher, Penni Sauer, advises parents to treat their children with empathy and compassion.
Most parents who are accepting of their children’s disabilities or special needs (as opposed to those in denial) are fairly well-read and understand their kid’s needs. The biggest thing is to understand that this is stressful for the kids, who may regress. That shouldn’t be taken as a failure. Small chunks of learning are best. Even typical kids are struggling with these long days in front of a computer.
Penni Burgess Sauer, Retired Special Education Teacher
Often, children are taught that the parent or teacher “knows best.” While it is true that adults are observant and better at making decisions, this lesson can become belittling to children and actually hinder success. Children need to know that their thoughts and feelings matter. When they can voice their concerns and provide solutions for their struggles, they feel empowered. This boost in self-esteem can help them thrive and increase critical thinking skills.
Children know when they are seeing barriers and if you ask and listen to them, new ideas can be developed — -and can be wildly successful.
Another way to show your child compassion is to encourage them when they are doing something right. For instance, if you ask your child to read five pages of a slightly challenging book, offer to buy your child a Happy Meal from McDonald’s. If your child likes to play video games, offer one hour of video game time. When you find yourself rewarding your child too often, this strategy can become less meaningful and even expensive. You want to encourage your child to learn because it is important, not because it should always be rewarded. If this is the case, start making the expectations a little higher or reward your child less frequently.
Remember that your child’s success is greatly affected by your mental and emotional state. If you struggle to balance your work and parental duties with homeschooling your child, you can take solace in knowing that you are not alone. Many parents are in the same boat. Luckily, there are support groups you can join online. Some of these groups meet through Zoom while others take place on forums. You never know what obstacles another parent might have overcome. Support groups and online forums are great ways to learn and help your child.
The most effective way to find the right support group for you is to find a community of parents whose children share the same disability. For instance, if your child has ADHD, you might not get the right kind of support from parents whose children have autism. For one thing, many children with autism like to be alone, while many children with ADHD like to be social. In this case, you want to talk to parents who have learned to help a social child concentrate while being homeschooled.
When you decide to seek support for homeschooling your child, ask your partner if they are on board with this idea and if they will join you. Even if you are doing most of the homeschooling, partner involvement will help them learn about the struggles you and the child are facing. This will help improve your relationship or marriage and gain more support. The more involved both you and your partner are, the greater the chances of your child’s success.
If your child struggles with learning disabilities during the pandemic, remember that this does not determine their success probability. In fact, your child might actually have an easier time learning with you than in the classroom. Having an additional role as a teacher can help you get to know your child and learn how to help them better. While homeschooling your child will add stress, try to appreciate the benefits.