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Four Misconceptions about Homeschooling Struggling Learners

- Adapted from Chapter 2: “Overcoming Objections” of Kathy Kuhl’s book,  Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner

Despite the growing popularity of homeschooling, when it comes to helping a child with learning problems, naturally, we have concerns. Can homeschooling work for the child who is burned out at age eight, or cannot teach himself from a book at age twelve, or still forgets her times tables at age fourteen? Can homeschooling work for a struggling learner?

It sounds daunting. But I have interviewed fifty-seven parents for my book, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner. For these families, the answer is yes.

Let me clear up four popular misconceptions about homeschooling struggling learners.

Myth #1 “I don’t have the patience.”

Every homeschooler has heard this, and it is a legitimate concern. If you have helped a struggling learner in school, you might think that homeschooling him would be even harder. But with a child in school, you must:

  • help the distracted child remember assignments and find lost belongings, and/or
  • practice reading and writing with the child with learning disabilities, and/or
  • train the autistic child to communicate and relate,

as well as

  • keep up with the school on progress and accommodations, and
  • spend hours each night on homework, and
  • teach the social skills other children pick up on their own.

So you have been exercising a lot of patience. Several parents I interviewed said they began homeschooling to reduce stress on themselves, others because they were spending all their time on homework. Homeschooling may reduce your stress, too.

Myth #2 Homeschooled children are isolated and do not learn how to socialize with others.

Most families I interviewed are very active outside the home and make opportunities to practice social skills. Homeschool parents have more natural opportunities to coach their children on social skills, and homeschooled children have more opportunities to relate to people of all ages, rather than being isolated with twenty-five people their age in a classroom. Children on the autistic spectrum, for example, may find a small homeschooled physical education class easier to adapt to than a public school class. A child with learning disabilities may do better in a homeschool math class with five children, than a private school’s class of fifteen.

Organizing social activities takes time, and some families some places do struggle to avoid isolation. But enrolling a student in public school does not guarantee good social skills, a good social life, or good friends, either. As one mother said of her autistic children’s experiences, “They don’t really get social skills at school, and what they do get, I find to be negative.”

Myth #3 “I can’t homeschool; I’m not a teacher.”

You may think you need teacher training courses to do a good job. While I earned a teaching certificate, enjoyed educational psychology classes, and had excellent professors, that did not qualify me to homeschool. Homeschooling successfully depends on information, preparation, and dedication.

Even the most dedicated public school teachers have limited time and many students. As our state and local governments pile on the mandates, teachers have less time. That limits their ability to customize education for children with special needs.

Myth #4: “A special needs child should have a special education teacher.”

The two national homeschool organizations, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the National Home Education Network (NHEN) discuss the legal issue on their websites, but neither their websites nor this article should be considered legal advice. NHEN states:

… it is a crucial first step that you become educated about your specific state’s requirements. This is especially important when deciding to home educate a child who has been in the public school system and who possesses an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The main concern is that frequently school officials will tell parents that it is not legal for them to homeschool their special needs child. Vulnerable parents, already anxious about their children’s situations, will believe the school “experts” and not make the move to homeschooling. Schools also do not like for IEPd children to leave because these students bring in more money for the schools.  Therefore, it is important to know your legal rights!1

If your child has an IEP and has been receiving special services (such as speech therapy)  from the public schools, you must consider whether you want to try to continue to receive those services from the schools. HEAV can advise you on your school district’s policy and practice with homeschooling families.

If you are already homeschooling and considering getting testing from the public school, HEAV’s Yvonne Bunn wrote:

Public schools offer free special-needs testing, which parents may request once. Based on an initial review, school personnel will determine if special-needs testing is necessary. After the special-needs evaluation, a parent may refuse public school services. If a parent makes that decision, school officials will prepare a summary of evaluation results of the parent to use in another educational setting. New federal laws prohibit public school officials from harassing those who do not desire public school services.2

HSLDA weighs in against homeschoolers becoming involved with public schools at all: for testing or services. Their website reports that:

“that many families have found themselves mired in legal difficulties as a result of their involvement in public school services…. We understand that as a matter of economics and ease of access, free public school services are very attractive. We also understand, however, that regulatory strings may come attached to these programs. Generally, we find that the longer a family uses these programs, the tighter the strings of control become.”3

But practically, how can you homeschool a struggling learner when you are not a special education teacher? As I interviewed homeschooling parents for this book, I talked to three former special education teachers who are now homeschooling mothers. They urged homeschoolers to value their own work.

The research of psychologist Stephen Duvall supports the opinion of these parent educators. It suggests that homeschooled special needs students spend more time engaged in academics than their public school peers. Duvall believes this is the key to understanding the high performance of homeschooled students.4

It is not always easy for parents to find effective ways to teach their struggling learners. But they don’t need to earn a special education certification. The disciplined, consistent effort of a parent who is actively engaging the child can work wonders.

Parents may need extra help and some training, especially for the child with more serious difficulties. Many families I interviewed used professional services such as psychologists, or occupational or speech therapists. Some have their children tutored by reading experts. Several parents hired special education consultants, meeting with them two or three times a year for advice. Several parents had taken special training, most often in teaching reading.

HSLDA recommends obtaining educational assistance, keeping records documenting your child’s progress, and obtaining regular evaluations.5

Conclusion

Homeschooling a struggling learner is not easy. Removing distractions and customizing curriculum help. A flexible schedule and one-on-one training offer many advantages. But they do not make learning problems disappear.

However, homeschooling a struggling learner can provide your child a good education, reduce stress in your family, and help your child’s self-esteem. It might just be your best choice.

© 2008 Katherine Kuhl. All Rights Reserved. This article, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission. 

Kathy Kuhl began homeschooling in 1997 after trying for years to help her son succeed in public school despite learning and attention problems. He has now graduated and is working and attending college part-time. Her website is www.learndifferently.com.


1. National Home Education Network. “Legal Considerations,” http://www.nhen.org/specneed/default.asp?id=242 downloaded November 27, 2007.

2. Yvonne Bunn, in a postscript to Kathy Kuhl’s “Homeschooling Children with Learning Disabilities,” Virginia Home Educator, 12:4, Fall 2006, p. 16.

3. Home School Legal Defense Association. “Two Steps For Protecting Your Special Needs Homeschool,” http://www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner/sn_TwoSteps.asp, downloaded November 27, 2007.

4. Duvall, Stephen F. “The Effectiveness of Homeschooling Students with Special Needs,” Homeschooling in Full View: A Reader. Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age, 2005.

5. HSLDA, op. cit.

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