Homeschooling a Child Who Learns Differently
Often parents ask me about starting to homeschool. Here’s what I’d say to anyone starting out:
You’ve always been responsible for your children’s education―you just outsourced it to a school. Now you’ll do lots of it yourself. You might still outsource some, though, to fellow homeschoolers in a co-op, to tutors, or to community classes. Think of yourself as facilitating your children’s education, not necessarily teaching every subject―especially as they grow older. (We outsourced Spanish, biology, chemistry, driver’s ed., and one math class.)
You’ll need to educate yourself about home education. The HEAV website hosts several of my favorite introductory videos that help build a great foundation for homeschooling. Also, don’t forget the workshops for beginning homeschoolers offered the first day of the HEAV homeschool convention.
Feeling intimidated? Here’s a way to think about this change to your child’s education and your life. Imagine you’d never done laundry before but, instead, had dropped everything off at the cleaners. Washing clothes at home might sound tough: learning how to use a washer and dryer; keeping up with the sorting, folding, and ironing; and keeping track of what needs special handling. “What a hassle!” you might think.
But there are more choices in each part of the process when you do it at home, just as there are with homeschooling. You can avoid that detergent (or curriculum) your child is allergic to, you can keep closer track of what clothes (relationships or subject) need mending, and you have more control over getting the exact care for each piece (child).
With homeschooling, you are the one who determines what your child is studying. You can pay more attention to his particular needs and preferences as well as your own. Want to take a field day to go rock climbing, visit a political rally, take a hike, or hear a symphony? Do it!
Identify Your Goals
If your children face learning challenges, don’t come in expecting to “fix them” in a year. Set a few goals. When you set goals, consider emotional, moral, and practical goals, not just academic goals.
- Academic: Understand what’s hard for your children, and find alternative ways to teach. A special-education consultant can help you understand test results and show you how to work around problems and strengthen areas of weakness. Books can help you understand different learning challenges and how to cope with them.
- Emotional: If your child has become discouraged by school or thinks he or she is stupid, aim to restore a love of learning. Build on his or her passions.
- Moral: As they struggle with discouragement, many of our kids don’t recognize how important character is. What traits do you want to encourage?
- Practical: What life skills will you nurture this year? Whether it’s washing hands or washing laundry, setting the table or setting a budget, your child has lots to learn. Some of our kids need more detailed, explicit, and repeated instruction in these skills.
Build on Their Strengths
Whether our kids have learning difficulties, are gifted, or both, we tend to focus on the problems. But their successes as adults will likely grow out of their strengths. Build your homeschool around those. Watch them and ponder, “What are they good at? What do they enjoy?” Look for ways to build your homeschool around their passions and abilities. For example, my son has a phenomenal memory for story and loves history, so we built on those.
“Whether our kids have learning difficulties, are gifted, or both. But their successes as adults will likely grow out of their strengths. Build your homeschool around those. ” “Build on Their Strengths.”
Shop Around for Curriculum
The question prospective homeschoolers ask me most often is, “What curriculum shall I use?” Some of us wish for an easy answer, like “Buy Super-Amazing-Brand Homeschool Curriculum, and just follow the directions.” But if school wasn’t working for your child, you may need to use curriculum from a variety of publishers and adapt them. It is work to put together, but it is not as hard as it sounds.
To see the selection of curriculum available, I strongly recommend going to a homeschool convention, even if you aren’t sure you want to homeschool. With your goals in mind, browse catalogs and the Web, and read up on the different curricula ahead of time. Then hit the convention floor to see and handle materials for yourself. Many people working at booths have used or written what they sell; they can talk to you about it. As you shop, notice that each curriculum has assumptions behind it. For example, some writers create curriculum to go with a particular teaching style, such as Charlotte Mason, unit study, or classical. Decide which style is for you.
Connect with Other Homeschoolers
Get in touch with other homeschoolers online and in person. Both kinds of connections have advantages, as I described in an earlier article. (“Finding Support When You Homeschool a Child with Special Needs,” The Virginia Home Educator, vol 19, issue 2, p. 14.)
Plan Your Time and Space
Make a plan for your year, quarter, week, and day. Write in pencil or on a computer, because you will change it. I kept a copy of our weekly schedule posted on a whiteboard. Set up the physical space where you will homeschool. You may not have a designated room, but your child will benefit from a seat that lets his feet reach the floor and a setting that doesn’t distract the distractible child. But also remember this: when you homeschool, the world is your classroom. Get out and enjoy it!
So, if you have a child who learns differently, homeschooling is a great answer. Once you identify your goals, check out the curriculum options, and connect with other homeschoolers, you can build on his strengths and create success. Though it is more work, homeschooling can be much more satisfying to everyone.
Kathy Kuhl, author of Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner and other books, is speaking at the HEAV convention in June. She reviews books, speaks internationally, and gives private consultations. Visit her at LearnDifferently.com. This article first appeared in the Virginia Home Educator, Summer 2016.