You pulled your child from traditional school (or maybe you never started at all) because the environment just wasn’t suited for their needs. Now you’re at home, learning together, all the time. You’ve started to notice little things that are preventing your child from focusing and truly showing their abilities. It’s so frustrating!
Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs
There are simple ways that you can 100% change your homeschooling story.
Some of these are definitely adapted from the traditional classroom – but only because they work! As with all things homeschooling, do what works best for your child today. Try things out, make some tweaks, and keep on learning together!
Task List or Schedule Chart
One thing that trips a lot of kids with special needs – as well as typically developing kids – up is keeping things in order, knowing what’s next and anticipating changes.
Making a simple visual schedule helps children feel settled and in control. They can see their week, day, morning or even just their current task.
You can totally adapt traditional classroom tools to DIY your own schedule! Grab a hanging single strip calendar organizer with clear plastic pockets and some schedule cards or sentence strips. Write out things that you do in your homeschool regularly. Think: subjects, special activities, breaks, etc. For pre-readers, you can use pictures printed from online. For older kids who can tell time, include a time. You can just add this on the spot with sticky notes or using a whiteboard marker.
Hang your daily schedule in your learning zone or a prominent place in your home. To make a change in the schedule, just swap the cards around. If your child can’t handle a full day of things to do, keep it super simple with just the first 2-4 activities.
Your child will be able to anticipate what’s coming up and feel more confident flowing through the day.
Above the Line/Below the Line
Everyone has things they’d prefer to do, especially kids. For children that push back on learning one particular subject or doing a certain activity, an above the line/below the line chart helps.
Basically, it’s a contract between you and your child. If they can commit to completing 2-4 items of “must do” work, then they can reward themselves with a preferred activity from below the line.
For example, my child must complete Daily Language, one math lesson worksheet/activity and clean up any learning materials used. Then, she can grab a book to read together, choose an educational show to watch or enjoy free time with the music of her choice.
Showing the reward for positive, productive work on non-preferred items is a super motivational tool.
Make your own chart by laminating a piece of construction paper. With a permanent marker, draw a line about ½ to ⅔ of the way down. Above the line, draw as many lines as work items you’d like your child to complete, numbering each line; every day write in your child’s “must do” work. Below the line, using a whiteboard marker, write out the rewards available each day. This keeps things adaptable. Simply erase yesterday’s work and rewards to have a clean slate!
Chunking Work for Success
Plowing through all your work in one big learning session does seem like the most sensible thing to do sometimes. Unless it backfires and you’ve got a meltdown on your hands before half the things are done.
Instead, try chunking out your working time. Work for 5-10 minutes, then take a break and do something else. This is a great time to do physical activity like yoga or “heavy work” – squats, pushups, etc. You could also put on soft music and dim the lights to meditate. Having a healthy snack is another great option!
Building in breaks helps the work seem more manageable. These breaks shouldn’t be super long. Just a few minutes, about 3-5 minutes, is usually enough to reset.
There are two ways to handle the work chunks.
- Work in 5-10 min blocks, continuing with the same task/subject/project until complete before switching to a new task or subject.
- Work on one task for 5-10 minutes, take a short break, then start a new task or project; whatever you get done in each working block is considered good enough for today, you can continue with the same assignment tomorrow if needed.
Sensory Tools to Stay Focused
Ever notice that your child calms down when they’re holding a certain blanket or bouncing on an exercise ball? Use it!
Try these simple sensory hacks to help your child focus:
- Velcro strip: attach a small piece of Velcro – either one side or both sides – to your child’s primary working space; your child can stick and unstick two pieces of Velcro or rub their fingers over their preferred side (rough/soft).
- Exercise ball seating: for kids that wiggle, sit them on an exercise ball – either on its own or as part of a chair system; balancing or bouncing keeps their body engaged, works out the wiggles and helps their mind focus.
- Squishy things: use a stress ball, slime or other squishy things to help your child focus; your child can manipulate the squishy as they work – providing a calming and focusing effect.
- Resistance band chair: stretch a heavy resistance band around the front two legs of your child’s chair; they can rest their legs on it to swing back and forth or push down against the pressure.
- Fidgets: slide beads along a rope, play with a Koosh ball or fiddle with a small car – fidgets can help your child keep their mind more focused by providing movement.
- Get creative! Use what your child already loves; offer a preferred object as a reward or to hold/use while working.
These three simple changes can make homeschooling a child with mild to moderate special needs, like ADHD, much easier.
What are your favorite hacks to simplify homeschooling a child with different learning needs or styles?
(Are you looking for academic advising or online courses for your special needs homeschool student? Check out all of our services at True North Homeschool Academy.)
Meg Flanagan, founder of Meg Flanagan Education, is a teacher, mom and military spouse. She is dedicated to making the K-12 education experience easier for military families. Meg holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. She is a certified teacher in both elementary and special education in Massachusetts and Virginia.
To get actionable solutions to common K-12 school problems, parents should check out Talk to the Teacher by Meg Flanagan.