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5 Communication Strategies for Struggling Learners

5 Communication Strategies for Struggling Learners

When homeschooling a struggling learner, communication can be difficult. Without healthy communication, it will be impossible to help your child, let alone teach them effectively so that they make real progress. Communication strategies for struggling learners are essential.

As a parent to an Asperger’s son who struggles in several areas, I have been blessed with a child who communicates effectively. I have learned a lot from him and our journey these last 11 years as a homeschooling family characterized by a close relationship.  I learned this from a great resource I frequently use, AspergerExperts.com. The founder, a young man with Aspergers, teaches about what he calls defense mode and how to get your child out of it.

So what makes the difference? Let me share these five key communication strategies to help you with YOUR struggling learner.

1) Intentionally enter their world.

I must have instinctively known this because it’s something I’ve always done. I take note of my son’s interests and come alongside him to learn and listen.

Whether that was building legos with him or playing cars when he was young or even attempting to play a video game, I make it a point to spend time doing what he loves. This builds trust.

Trust is a foundation of communication, which leads me to the second point:

2) Spend time with your struggling learner APART from school.

Years ago, I learned that my son VALUES spending time with me. Going out to lunch or coffee together satisfies him the most. So I’ve made a point of going out weekly with him for coffee or lunch. Sometimes we take school with us and do school after our food comes. Other times, we just talk.

Regardless, taking this time together regularly sends the message to him that I value his company, which has helped our schooling tremendously.

3) Actively listen.

It’s easy for a parent to get defensive and feel like you’ve failed. I’ve been there many, many times. But when I listen to my son and what he has to say, I can truly understand what’s going on with him.

Case in point: several months ago, I had him evaluated at LearningRx, and we found out he struggles with visual processing. Several weeks after we were working on the school, he told me that he CANNOT visualize, which upset him. I didn’t realize this, so for all those years; I was mistakenly approaching how we did school. I had been using a lot of visual resources rather than audio ones. I had completely missed it!

But because I actively listened to what my son was saying, I finally understood, and now we’re using more audio resources.

4) Treat your child with respect.

Respect goes both ways. Of course, as parents, we deserve respect, but children need and deserve our respect. What does this mean practically?

It means little things like giving your struggling learner advance warning. For instance, rather than demanding my son stop everything he is doing right now instantly, I give him at least a fifteen-minute warning.  Or I will give him choices. Like, “Hey, would you like to do school at 10:00 or 10:30?”

And always have empathy. I learned this most from Love and Logic. LEAD with empathy and mean it, especially if your son or daughter has made a wrong decision or they are struggling in a minor way.  Because you never want to minimize their feelings or tell them they are not feeling a certain way. That will lead to them shutting down and not trusting you. Feelings are feelings, and perceptions are reality.

So just saying a simple “I’m sad for you” when your child is struggling can go a long way!

5) Be consistent.

I have a hard time with this, but it’s so important.  When your child is having a hard time or being defiant, making empty threats will only worsen your situation.  You’re training your child to ignore you until that moment when your tone gets serious, and they know they have to obey.

Communicating up front your expectations and the consequences if these expectations are not met is so important. And then follow through! And don’t threaten something that’s not realistic or will hurt you in the long run!

Communication is so important when teaching a struggling learner. Communication is essential in EVERY aspect of life. These keys will not only help you with your child but will assist in all areas of your life!

Do you need more help with your struggling learner?  Check out our special need courses, tutoring, and advising at True North Homeschool Academy.

About the Author:

Dana Susan Beasley, a graphic artist, writer, and musician, is the principal/publisher/program director of AngelArts. Dedicated to providing excellently-designed ebooks, books, homeschooling curriculum, cards, stationery, gifts, and art services to homeschooling families, inspirational artists, entrepreneurs, and art enthusiasts, Dana delights in sharing her gifts and talents and the talents of others with people who are passionate about spiritual, personal, educational, professional, ministerial, artistic, and relational growth.

Married to Travis Beasley, Dana is a homeschooling mother to her Asperger’s son, Sam. She helped her husband start his architectural business, Essential Pillar Architecture, and assisted him with marketing and administration.

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Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs

Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs

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 noticing little things 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 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 their current task.

You can adapt traditional classroom tools to DIY your 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 online. For older kids who can tell time, include a time. You can just add this on the spot with sticky notes or use 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.

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.

  1. Work in 5-10 min blocks, continuing with the same task/subject/project until complete before switching to a new task or subject.
  2. 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 mental 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.)

About the Author:

Meg Flanagan, the 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.

Struggling Learners or Special Education – What’s the Difference?

Struggling Learners or Special Education – What’s the Difference?

Struggling Learners vs. Special Education

Many parents ask questions about the difference between struggling learners and special education.  A struggling learner is working at or just below grade level. It might take them longer to catch on, they might need a few more examples.

Struggling Learner

When our children struggle with reading, writing, and math, it is sometimes hard to know what exactly is going on.  Is it just this concept they are struggling with? Does math (or reading) come easy, whereas other things are harder?  Especially if it is your first child and if you have never taught children before, it is hard to know how much help you may need or if you should just “wait it out.”

When our struggling learners are younger, it can be difficult to decide whether to seek help or not.  

Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP, suggests considering the following things:

  • At least 7 ½ to 8 years of age?
  • Is the child a boy or girl?  Boys sometimes take longer to mature and be ready to learn.
  • Can your child say (not sing) the ABCs in order, differentiating L, M, N, O, and P?
  • Can your child hold a pencil?
  • When your child writes, does he reverse letters?
  • Does your child have a desire, an eagerness to learn?
  • Is a younger sibling catching on to concepts faster or catching up?
  • Does your child like to be read to?

By around 10, children should be moving from learning to read to reading to learning.  This means they should be able to read the words without much difficulty on age-appropriate levels and begin to build an understanding of what they are reading and learn from it.  

So what about older kids who need some help?  At what point should you be concerned?

Can your child:

  • Look at a set of objects (or fingers) and tell you how many are there (without counting, up to 10)?
  • Know math addition and subtraction facts or a quick strategy to solve them (not counting fingers).
  • Know multiplication and division facts or a quick strategy to solve them (not skip counting from the 1x place).
  • Understanding multiples and factors
  • Understand decimals and fractions
  • Tell time on an analog clock (not digital)

All children learn differently, and it is true that some children simply need time and repetition to be ready to learn certain concepts.  

So when is it important to seek testing and/or services for struggling learners?

  • When it will benefit your child to get them needed therapies
  • When your child is preparing for a trade school or college/university that requires a current “diagnosis” for support
  • When you choose to utilize services available from the local school district (this varies by state and district)
  • When there are state services that are available to you with a diagnosis (such as audiobook programs available to those who have vision impairments or dyslexia diagnosis)
  • To seek recommendations to better understand how to help your child learn (at these times, seeking out someone who understands homeschooling would be beneficial).
  • Your child becomes overly frustrated by their limitations and struggles.

Special Education

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 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 discover something is going on (and you 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, and doubt, and eventually, you will feel 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 necessary.  Give yourself time to adjust before changing the educational setting (especially to homeschool from public school or vice versa), curriculum, or how you approach 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 will 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 your needs 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 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 more resources, books, conferences, and groups now than ever, 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!

Original article written by: Amy Vickrey, MSE.

 Amy holds a Master of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelor 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.

Special Needs Credits & Transcripts

Special Needs Credits & Transcripts

You have a special needs kiddo, and they are in high school. They are not quite up to grade level in Math or English, or it takes them a few years to get through what is traditionally a one-year program. How do you award special needs credits and special education transcripts?

The basics and therapy eat through your week, there is no time for extracurriculars, and the list of concerns goes on. Special Needs parents have unique life challenges, including creating a Special Needs Transcript for their High School years.

Twenty-Five Clues Hinting at Learning Disabilities that Hint at Learning Disabilities. Need a helping hand? Our SPED Academic Advising will save you time and money!

Creating a Special Needs Transcript

The Basics of a Special Needs Transcript

  • Vocational Transcripts are often 19 credits total, compared to a 24-credit College Prep or 28-credit Honors Transcript.
  • You will want to list 4 credits of English, 3 of Math, 3 of Science, 3 of History, 1 of PE, ½ credits of Health, Speech and Computer and Bible, and other electives.
  • A credit is generally considered to be 120 hours of work. You can organize this work by book study, lessons, practice, time logs, recitals, performances, hands-on work, etc.

You can list courses and subjects using a traditional 4 x 4-course grid (which you can find on our True North Homeschool Tribe FB Group) with the subjects along the left-hand side and years along the top, or you can list courses by subject area. My only caution is that if your students hope to enter the military, they might not accept a by-subject transcript.

Transcripts, Special Needs, and Graduation

Your special needs student may be unable to handle high school level classes or struggle with what would be considered traditional high school work in a specific subject area. It is perfectly acceptable to list courses that your students are capable of, regardless of the level of “grade.” If your student is 15 and capable of 4th grade English, list English on the transcript and give them full credit for an entire year’s work and the grade they earn.

According to Federal law, children with disabilities have the right to stay in school until they complete their school program or until they turn 21, whichever comes first. That is good news as you manage and balance life skills, academic and vocational training, and therapies. Give yourself – and your student! – the time they need to develop and succeed!  

Can therapies “Count” for Credit?

Absolutely! You can log PT and OT for PE credit. Special needs tutoring or educational therapies can count towards credit in subject areas. You can use logs to keep track of credit hours.

How About Hobbies and Electives?

Inevitably, parents underestimate what their students have done and what they can do. Dramatic or musical theater can count towards Speech, Music, Drama, etc. Working in a computer repair shop can be logged and count towards Community Service, BCIS- depending on how detailed and involved the work was -or sales and marketing.

I worked with a student a few years ago who, at age 16,  could not manage to write a complete sentence. This same student successfully co-owned and operated a model train store with his Mom. He had customers worldwide who understood that his speech impediment would in no way impede the high quality of service and attention to detail that he would offer every customer.

The Power of the Parent

So many parents of Struggling Learners and Special Needs students go above and beyond looking for resources, experiences, tutors, and therapies that bolster and build their student’s ability to succeed. Too often, the parent doesn’t understand how to transcribe these experiences, travel, therapies, and P.E. opportunities into credits.  Boy Scouts, 4-H, etc., and other similar programs can translate into many academic credits. Think creatively!

Now, where to start?

Parents of struggling learners and Special Needs are often thrust into a world that requires much research and goes beyond normal. High school can be especially daunting. But you don’t’ have to go it alone! Connect with other Special Needs parents and homeschooling companies that partner with Struggling Learners and Special Needs.

Our favorites include SPED Homeschool and our Special Needs Academic Advising, Classes, and FB Group: Survive and Thrive Special Needs Homeschool.

Our Special Needs Academic Advising program was created to come alongside struggling learners and special needs families. We will do a credit evaluation (and find those “hidden” credits you may have overlooked), recommend curriculum, classes, and programs, develop a Personalized Learning Plan, and provide the support you need to manage to homeschool successfully.

The world of Struggling Learners and Special Needs can be tricky to manage, but thankfully, with the resources available today, you don’t have to go it alone!

Back to School – Happiness or Blues?

Back to School – Happiness or Blues?

Back to Homeschool:  Happiness or Blues?

We at True North Homeschool Academy are looking forward to starting our classes this Fall.  

For many kids, the idea of going back to school is exciting – seeing old friends and meeting new ones, learning new things, and having new experiences!  For children who struggle, back to school can mean embarrassment, having to explain things AGAIN to new teachers, and anxiety about possibly being teased.

Here are some truths: 

  • 13% of children in public schools were reported to have a disability and need special education services. (The Condition of Education, 2016)
  • SPED Homeschool reports of up to 35% of students who are homeschooled have a special need or are struggling learners. (Global Trends in Special Education Homeschooling, 2018)
  • Parents who homeschool students who struggle need specialized education and support to help their children be successful.
  • This specialized support should look different from public school because homeschooling should not be public school at home.

How True North Struggling Learners Program can Help Make Back-to-School Blues Disappear

Special Needs and Struggling Learners will benefit from our small, therapeutically based program.  Our Teachers use cutting-edge techniques and tools to maximize your student’s growth and learning potential and classes are kept deliberately small to facilitate personalized attention. Smaller classes also decrease anxiety in students, allowing dynamic and educationally therapeutic interaction between parents and students. Our Bundles put you in control of your child’s education, but you’ll never be alone. We’ll support you. That’s what we do.

  • Executive Functioning Skills 

    • Providing a sensitive, nurturing learning environment for students who have had less academic success, this course will also work on skill-building.  We will be focusing on breaking down larger, everyday tasks to make them more manageable.  We will be discussing how to create their own personalized daily routine.  The students will also be able to improve their day-to-day school and family life as we work in the following areas:
      • making schedules
      • creating a personal calendar
      • creating short, effective lists
      • tips to help our memory
      • understanding how our actions affect others

      Executive Functioning Skills is designed to create a stress-free approach to academic learning.  Homework assignments will be brief, and they will mostly be about habits that they can create to make life easier.  There will be an emphasis on growth, not grades.  There will be no tests, no essays, and no memorization required.  This course is about self-improvement and growing as an individual.

  • History and Science

    • Adapted Science 
      • Adapted Science Skills for struggling learners is designed for unique children wanting to shine and explore the science of the everyday world while learning things like Kitchen Chemistry and Biology as well as Physical Science.  Each lesson will incorporate vocabulary introduced in an applicable and hands-on environment- while empowering students to learn differently.
    • World History
      • Adapted World History for Struggling Learners offers 100% supported learning for unique students. This World History course imparts high school level content at a lower reading level.  Using an adapted textbook, film, and other sources, the educator will read every page with your learner and encourage discussion, question your learner for comprehension, and offer explanations that will assist in the development of vocabulary and critical thinking.
    • U.S. History
      • Adapted US History for Struggling Learners offers 100% supported learning for unique students. This US History course imparts high school level content at a lower reading level.  Using an adapted textbook, film, and other sources, the educator will read every page with your learner and encourage discussion, question your learner for comprehension, and offer explanations that will assist in the development of vocabulary and critical thinking.
  • Language Arts

    • High School Spelling and Grammar
    • Organize Your Writing
      • Organizing Your Writing is a course for struggling learners that will focus on teaching students in high school who are struggling with organizing their thoughts and writing to complete academic papers. Students will learn the basics of simple essay writing in a non-stressful environment. Sometimes our struggling learners struggle to write a complete sentence.  Sometimes they can tell stories but not put them down on paper. Other times, they can write informally in journals and free-writes, but can’t organize an academic paper.  What is the solution? True North Homeschool Academy’s Struggling Learners Department is now offering a writing class to help students learn how to write academic papers.
    • Organize Your Writing II
      • Organizing Your Writing II will focus on teaching students in grades 6-12 to write with competence and ease. Different forms of writing can be a hard and frustrating task for struggling students. This course will help students approach their drafts and published writings with confidence. Students often need encouragement and guidance to articulate their thoughts while expressing ideas on paper. Students will learn the basics of simple essay writing in a non-stressful environment.
    • Adapted English I
      • Adapted English  provides 100% supported learning for unique students, this course will also provide grammar review, and paragraph writing development for real-world writing skills such as “How To” paragraphs and paragraphs that tell a story and will further strengthen reading comprehension and vocabulary development
    • Adapted English II
      • Adapted English 2 is for struggling learners and is designed with lower-level readers in mind. This class is a continuation of Adapted English I for students who are working through High School at a much slower pace and need additional instructional support. The textbook selected is respectful of the maturing mind and offers exposure to appropriate reading material at a 4th-5th grade level that nudges vocabulary higher, and touches on literary analysis with exposure to topics such as metaphors, imagery, plot development, and setting.
  • Special Needs Academic Advising

    • 1:1 Personal Zoom Meeting
    • Personalized IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) Goals
    • Personalized accommodations and modifications
    • Personalized Curriculum Help
    • Personalized recommendations for grading, instructional strategies, and visual aids (if needed)
    • Transcript Consultation as needed

Back-to-School does not have to be a time of pain and despair! We can equip you with the tools you need to succeed, starting with 5 Effective Communication Strategies to use with your special needs child or struggling student.

Additional support can be found in our Facebook Group for parents of struggling learners. 

 

And don’t forget to take care of you, too.