I can still remember the day the testing results came back. I was looking at all of the scores, trying to interpret what I saw from an educator point of view while knowing that this was my child. Normal, normal, lower than average and then the diagnosis of…dyslexia. It was like a punch in the stomach, and yet a strange relief. I felt like crying, and then a huge weight was lifted all at the same time.
It is so hard when you have always known. You recognize something, but people tell you that you are seeing things. There are other delays, most notably with reading and retention as well as with writing and comprehension. Comprehending the sounds of words has never been easy. While my youngest daughter was a late talker, her older siblings were quick to mimic sounds and words as babies and toddlers. We aren’t supposed to compare our children, but we do. For each milestone our children reach, we rejoice. And when some of those milestones don’t come? You question.
I am an educator. Before I became a mother, I was teaching and caring for children. The programs I worked in were often preparing children for school and what would come ahead. It wasn’t abnormal to have a child walk out of the classroom I worked in ready to enter kindergarten. Yet, when it came to teaching my youngest child, nothing really stuck. I thought it was me, so I put her in preschool. It still didn’t click, so I put her into Kindergarten. The first day she came home she had two complaints. “I can’t read and naptime wasn’t long enough. I don’t need to go back.” We finished that year and then I began to homeschool. Progress was slow, but there was progress. I knew for sure that what was happening wasn’t quite right.
Why did I need the diagnosis?
I guess I didn’t, but I needed to know it wasn’t all my fault. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying, but I wasn’t teaching her in the way that was right for her. I had strategies, but they weren’t working for my child, despite the successes I had with children.
Enter Dyslexia Outside the Box
Reading Dyslexia Outside the Box by Ellen Nash was so helpful as it opened up possibilities of what could work with my child. More importantly, it gave me the flip side of dyslexia. While so much of what I had found on my own was negative and highlighted the problems children may face, this book helped me to see the strengths that these students have. The most important game-changer with this book was rethinking our struggles. This book also has a wonderful appendix that has so many resources. All of the information I needed was put into one space. Not only has it resourced me to teach my child, but it has also helped me to understand her struggles, abilities and the way she thinks.
This book has helped me to be a better teacher for my daughter and a more effective parent as well.
Beth Ellen Nash has put wisdom and experience into this book. Reading it was like sitting down with someone who could gently remind me of different ways to look at what challenges we have and remember that a diagnosis is simply a starting place. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for all parents and teachers working with dyslexic children.
(For more help with your dyslexic child, visit True North Homeschool Academy’s struggling learner page.)
Rebecca Lundgren lives in South Dakota with her husband Jeremy, three daughters, and their zoo of adopted animals. While her family never intended to homeschool, she has learned a lot along the way. Her background includes a B.S. degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from South Dakota State University. Before she began her homeschool journey, she taught in Public Schools k-12, English as a Second Language (ESL) k-6, and directed an Early Childhood program. Since she began homeschooling, she has been involved with working in and then directing homeschooling groups in her area and now teaches ESL online. She loves camping and hiking with her family, reading, crafting, and children’s ministries. Rebecca will be teaching Jr High Science, World Geography and Logic.
When our kids struggle with math, it is often difficult to find a good “fit” to teach skills. Older students who struggle with lower math don’t want something that looks “baby-ish” or has a lower grade level plastered all over it! Here are some suggestions and ideas for helping your struggling learner with his struggles in math.
Finding the Right Curriculum
When you first start homeschooling, you soon realize that everyone’s homeschool looks different. There are so many curriculum options and homeschooling styles it can be overwhelming!! The biggest questions to ask yourself when looking at a curriculum:
- What kind of teacher are you? Do you like to have a script to follow? Do you like to be able to “change” things at times? How much support do you need to teach a subject (how strong are you in that subject)?
- What kind of learner is your child? Every child is different and learns differently. Some need visual, some need more auditory, some are hands-on. Some like colorful worksheets and some are distracted by cute pictures and poems on their worksheets.
When parents sign up for the classes and want a curriculum that will work with our program, I always recommend they look at Math U See. I have used Math U See with my own son, who has Autism. The simple layout of the worksheets and hands-on presentation of concepts through Decimal Street (place value) and the use of the colored blocks, makes math meaningful and visual for learners who struggle. It gives them an image to “see” in their mind when they are trying to find the answer. The introduction of place value addition and subtracting (adding and subtracting 10’s and 100’s) in Alpha has allowed my son to have a strong foundation continuing into Beta. A strong foundation at the beginning allows students to soar higher and faster later.
Why do we love Math U See?
First, there are the video explanations
The video presentation is great for showing parents the concepts behind what is being taught, and how to teach the lesson. Some older students have reported watching the DVD lesson with parents or by themselves to learn the material. I understand how this might work with some students and circumstances. My son needs me teaching him one on one for him to really grasp the concept. The wonderful thing about this curriculum is it is easily tailored to your child’s learning style.
Mastery vs. Spiral
I love the way this program teaches to mastery and is easy to modify for students based on need. I have divided up worksheets into parts to be completed at different times. I have used more or fewer of the lesson and review pages depending on how much practice my son needed for a lesson. Some parents and students do prefer a spiral method. Sometimes, though, a spiral method (where a concept is addressed again and again, each time adding more to it) can be confusing and frustrating for struggling learners, or children with memory issues who need repetition and daily practice to retain and increase skills.
Memorization vs. Strategy
I love the approach to addition and subtraction this program uses, with emphasis on how many it takes to get from 9 to 10 or 8 to 10 in order to help students have a strategy to solve problems, not just memorize facts. Many of the students who come to me struggle with memory problems, and the ability to use a STRATEGY, not just rely on memory enables them to be stronger in math.
Finally, Math U See is great for struggling writers.
Have a child who struggles with fine motor skills? My son does too. When we started our first year of homeschooling, my son could not even hold a pencil. He struggled with writing simple things like numbers and letters. Math U See allowed me to teach him math concepts without having to worry about a lot of writing. I could even write for him on days that writing numbers was too much. I was able to teach to his strengths while supporting his weakness. Because of this, he is thriving in math while we work to support the writing.
Should you use the blocks vs. digital app vs. no blocks?
It is important to have the blocks in the beginning. If cost is an issue, you may be able to buy a set used or even borrow a set for a while from someone. However, I don’t see how you could successfully implement this curriculum as it is intended without the blocks (or at least using something equivalent such as an abacus). The Digital App would work well for visual students or older students. It would allow the same visual concept with lower cost and take up less space.
I have found that when my son begins a new concept, he goes back to those blocks for a day or two until he learns the concepts, then is able to “see” the blocks in his head again to continue working through the concept as he continues through the lesson and test. He needs to be able to touch, manipulate, and otherwise experience the math through the blocks. While we will use an abacus at times (it is easier for travel), it is always the blocks we return to. Also, the blocks are used in the curriculum into Algebra, so they are a good investment if you are planning to stay with the curriculum long-term, and there are enough to use with more than one child at a time.
Whatever your decision, ultimately you have to find something that works for you and your child. For us, that was Math U See.
Do you need additional math help for your struggling learner? Find Live, online class with True North Homeschool Academy’s Struggling Learners Department!
Whether your child is struggling with addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, or fractions and decimals, we have a class for you! These interactive, hands-on games and activities help give students a strong foundation in math to help them whatever their post-high school goals are. Our positive, collaborative learning environment means the students feel supported, and comfortable enough to “try” even if they don’t know the answer for sure!
Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning.
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.
Meg regularly writes for MilitaryOneClick, Military Shoppers, and NextGen MilSpouse. You can find Meg, and MilKids, online on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
To get actionable solutions to common K-12 school problems, parents should check out Talk to the Teacher by Meg Flanagan.
(The following post is written by Amy Vickery, special needs/struggling learners teacher at True North Homeschool Academy.)
Struggling Learners vs. Special Education
A lot of parents ask questions about the difference between struggling learners and special education. A struggling learner is basically working at or just below grade level. It might take them longer to catch on, they might need a few more examples, or a few more examples. A struggling learner may take longer to memorize math facts, but ultimately they get them down. This might even include a student with ADHD or dyslexia, depending on the severity.
A Special Education student, however, generally has a specific diagnosis (Autism, Down’s, Intellectual Disability, severe ADHD or Dyslexia, and many others). These students generally are 2-3 grade levels or developmentally 2-3 years behind their peers in specific areas or across all areas.
When do I need to seek out a diagnosis?
When a parent asks me if they should seek out a diagnosis, I ask them to consider the following:
- Why do you need a diagnosis?
- What questions are you hoping to answer with a diagnosis?
- How would a diagnosis benefit you and your child?
A diagnosis might be beneficial if:
- You utilize public school services (some states allow this even for homeschoolers)
- You will be eligible for services or resources not currently available without a diagnosis
- You need a diagnosis for your state due to testing regulations
- You are preparing for college and a diagnosis is required for needed accommodations for classes or testing (the testing usually has to be less than 3 years old going into college)
- You really don’t know what to do or how to help your child and you are looking for help in how to approach teaching them
- You know something is “off” or “not right” or a “problem” but you can’t quite put your finger on what’s going on. The hope of naming your unrest will bring you some peace and hope to help your kiddo.
What do I do after I receive a diagnosis?
No matter how prepared you think you are going into an evaluation process, receiving a diagnosis comes with a mix of emotions. You are relieved because you find out that something really is going on (and you really weren’t just THAT crazy mom after all). However, parents need to be prepared.
There is always a grieving process that comes with receiving a diagnosis. There will be anger, sadness, feelings of doubt, and eventually you will come out feeling stronger and better equipped to help your child.
Here are some tips to help you through this process:
- Don’t make any immediate changes that aren’t absolutely necessary. Give yourself time to adjust before making changes to educational setting (especially to homeschool from public school or vice versa), curriculum or how you are approaching things.
- Educate yourself. Find some articles, a video, or a book to read on the specific diagnosis. Even if you know a lot about it already, it helps to see the information through the new eyes of KNOWING what is going on.
- Find some support. Facebook groups and friends are great places to start.
- Say some prayers. The road is going to be long and hard, even armed with a diagnosis. Prayers for understanding and peace go a long way.
How to find support…
One of the most important things to do as a parent of a child who struggles or has special needs is to find a support group. Friends who will pray with and for you, families going through similar struggles and a good sitter are all important. Here are some great ideas for finding support:
- Church – a lot of times you can find support through a church. From support groups to an hour to be an “adult” on Sundays while your kids are in Bible Class can do a lot for how you feel the rest of your week. Talk with them about what your needs are and advocate for yourself and your child.
- Facebook groups – Not all Facebook groups are the same, but there are some wonderful ones out there. Some I recommend to parents:
- Friends – Find your “Tribe.” Friends who can understand and be the shoulder you lean on when things get tough. Parents who are going through similar situations are great because they are in the trenches with you. Being able to offer support at times can be beneficial too.
Struggling Learners and Special Needs students will take more faith, perseverance, and resources but be encouraged! There are a plethora of resources, books, conferences, and groups now more than ever before, including small group classes offered live online through True North Homeschool Academy. We also offer Special Needs and Struggling Learners Academic Advising. We would love to link arms with you as you seek out what’s best for your Struggling Learner or Special Needs student!
Amy Vickrey, MSE is a mother of a seven-year-old and almost three-year-old. Her homeschool journey began over 20 years ago when she saw how homeschooling enabled her sister who had memory issues and fell through the crack at school, to graduate and go to college. Amy knew then she wanted to implement what she saw – the love and individual attention – into her own teaching. She now homeschools her two boys and loves every minute of it! Having completed the second year of their homeschool journey, she is looking forward to many more to come!
Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
Amy Vickrey states, “My passion for learning and being a lifelong learner is something I want to pass on to the children I teach, as well as my own children. Making learning fun and engaging is an important part of this process. My goal is to lift others up to help them achieve their own goals and dreams.”
Executive Functioning a big “buzzword” in education right now. If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD/ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Autism, Aspergers or a Learning Disability, you have probably come across the term Executive Functioning.
So, how does Executive Functioning affect your child? Have you seen any of the following?
- Easily frustrated – fights or quits tasks easily, melts down easily.
- Anxious – worries about things out of their control, or about making mistakes excessively.
- Worried or bothered by seemingly “little” things – could by physical things or academic things.
- Frustrated by sitting still – constantly on the move, needs to have hands/body moving
- Following directions is arduous labor – can follow one direction at a time (well, maybe sometimes?), may have difficulty with more than one direction at a time.
- Difficulty completing tasks – may start things and not finish, or gets frustrated and stops rather than ask for help.
- Struggles with getting started in tasks – even seemingly simple assignments (or larger ones) are difficult to get started because they don’t know where to begin
- Strains to keep track of the processes of math and reading – forgets to go back to the passage to help find answers or reread, loses their place in a multi-step math problem or with long division/multiplication type processes.
- Easily bothered or distracted by light levels (high or low) or noise (too loud or too quiet) – textures, sounds, lights, cold, heat, blue skies, gray skies, dogs barking, someone says something unexpected – these and more distract and bother our kids at times.
- Flexibility is an issue; may struggle greatly with being able to “switch gears” when life demands it.
- Planning and prioritizing are difficult or impossible to the chagrin and frustration of the person.
- Working memory can be faulty and frustrating.
- Response inhibition (ability to control one’s own emotions) is a struggle or lost battle.
What is Executive Functioning?
The official definition from LDONLINE (LD Online) is: “The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.” This means that a lot of the above behaviors that are sometimes considered “careless” and “willful” can be traced back to issues with Executive Functioning.
In the course description for True North Homeschool Academy’s Creating Priorities Class for Executive Functioning, I describe it as it looks at my house… Perhaps your child struggles with executive functioning skills, as mine does. When it is time to do his schoolwork, my son loses his pencil, loses his worksheet, will solve the problem with blocks but forget to write the answer, disappears, jumps up and runs around the house, find a million other things to do, and then will finally sit down, solve two questions, and then he’s off again…. My son, like many others, struggles with executive functioning skills. He doesn’t MEAN to be unorganized and distracted, but his brain just can’t help it. Like many people with a diagnosis, he also struggles with time management, self-control, memory and other cognitive issues; common for those whose brains are developing differently. As a family, we are working on many things to help him learn how to better manage his time and his work.
What can be done to enhance and teach Executive Functioning Skills?
You can focus on specific skills that may be lacking. For example –
- How to study – how to make outlines, study key terms, pay special attention to charts, summaries and footnotes, go over review questions
- Using a checklist – provide younger children with a checklist of tasks (you might have to begin with 1 at a time and slowly increase), have them check off tasks as they complete them. You can even work in breaks or “rewards” as tasks are completed.
- Using a planner – older students can utilize a planner with assignments for the day or week to be completed. To gain independence, allow students to complete the assignments in their own order. If needed, specify which tasks can be done on any day, and which must be done on specific days (if your child needs repetition in math, set the expectation that one math assignment must be completed each day instead of doing them all on a single day).
- Using graphic organizers for writing, or reading – graphic organizers are great tools for analyzing fiction and nonfiction literature, and for brainstorming and organizing writing assignments.
- Using anchor charts or a math notebook to show the steps needed to solve math problems – Math notebooks (classrooms usually also use anchor charts) are great tools to help students remember how to solve specific types of questions, and to follow step-by-step directions on more complicated math (like long division or multiplication)
- Create vocabulary or sight word flashcards – index cards create great flashcards to review sight words, vocabulary for any subject or to create your own math fact flashcards.
- Give choices (make sure all choices presented are acceptable to you) – A child who is easily frustrated or tends to “battle” you about schoolwork is sometimes feeling out of control of the situation. So they work to regain control by fighting against what they see is the source of the problem (you). When you provide choices, it helps them feel back in control. The catch is, you only present choices that are acceptable to you. If it is not acceptable, it is not a choice. If there is still an argument, write the choices down or draw pictures. You can’t argue with something that is written. If they continue to try to argue with you, you just point. Eventually, they will make a decision from the choices provided. (It might take a little while the first time, but it gets easier as you continue).
Where can you go for help?
There are a lot of resources out there to get help. Here are a few suggestions of things to consider: