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Tips for Homeschooling Kids with Unique Learning Needs by Lindsey Casselman

Parents that are homeschooling their children with unique learning needs, make up a huge demographic of home learners. Why is that? It comes down to the amazing fact that all homeschoolers have discovered. That fact being that a tailored and individualized program, delivered in a low ratio and loving environment, is the ideal way for a child to learn. This fact applies even more so to our unique learners. Learners who are either struggling, bored, or just unable to be adequately served by the public school system.

Many Schoolio families with neurodiverse children are giving us feedback that our program is working wonderfully for their unique learners. Below are some general tips for homeschooling kids with unique learning needs. Regardless of the program you choose to use. Also included is a little more information on how the Schoolio program strives to meet these unique needs.

  1. Have a flexible learning environment.

Sometimes learning happens at a desk, or at the kitchen table. Other times learning happens while jumping on the trampoline, swimming in the bathtub, laying upside down on the couch in your underpants, or on a blanket at the park. Many neurodiverse learners need change and visual and tactile stimulation consistently. So it’s important to be flexible about where you perceive that learning should take place, and then don’t hesitate to change it up!

Schoolio is a digital PDF downloadable program, which gives you flexibility to take it on-the-go. Whether that’s room to room or to the park, or even to grandma’s house. If you choose additional printing services, you can have books that require little more than a pencil and you’re fully mobile. 

  1. Figure out the ideal learning and working conditions for your child’s unique mind.

Some kids need complete silence to focus on their work. While other kids don’t like silence and prefer music to be playing during learning time. Some kids can’t learn from you when you speak orally. Rather they get a lot out of you drawing a diagram on a piece of paper while you talk. Whether you need noise-cancelling headphones or rock and roll music blasting from the stereo. It’s important to figure out what conditions work best for your child. And remember, it may be different depending on whether they are learning from you or doing independent work. The next tip in our 11 tips for homeschooling kids with unique learning needs.

  1. Have predictable schedules and routines when homeschooling kids with unique learning needs.

All children thrive on routine, this has long been a known parenting hack. Many of our neurodiverse learners depend on routine for regulation. It’s ok to have routine changes at times. As all kids need to learn to deal with routine change to some degree. However, striving to keep a fair amount of predictability in the week will go a very long way.

Additionally, you can display schedules in written or pictographic form so kids can see the plan for each day for themselves. You also can discuss the plan for each day the evening before. Try to give your child as much notice as possible, and frequent reminders leading up to, any out of the ordinary routine changes that you think may upset them.

Along with this goes transition warnings. As children are often served well by getting a few warnings before changing from one activity to the next. Try something like a 10-, 5-, and 2-minute warning before stopping the current activity and beginning a new one. Click to read about establishing a good homeschooling routine.

Schoolio provides sample weekly schedules for customers in our exclusive, customer-only community. There are many versions in printable formats for you to download and display as needed.

  1. Hands-on and tactile learning.

Who doesn’t love hands-on learning? Neurodiverse kiddos often learn much better through tactile experiences and real-life relation of facts. Art, crafts, science experts, and games are all amazing ways to learn hands-on. One of the wonderful parts of homeschooling is that if you do a science experiment, your child isn’t one of 30 watching from a desk, or hoping to be that one special kid asked to be the helper. Your homeschool child is always the helper and always right there, in thick of the experiment, learning as they do.

Schoolio programming has lots of hands-on and tactile learning. From science experiments to art projects to card games, board games, or cut-and-paste activities, we all love to get beyond the bookwork for learning opportunities at Schoolio! 

  1. Clear instructions broken down into manageable steps.

This is a big one for our unique learners. They often need us to be very clear in our instructions, and sometimes even break the instructions down into simpler steps. Executive functioning can be challenging for many people, not just the neurodiverse! Be sure to explain things in kid-friendly terms. And don’t be afraid to ask your child if they feel like they fully understand. With homeschooling, there’s no one for them to be embarrassed in front of if they do ask for a little extra help understanding or remembering what’s needed of them!

  1. Work at whatever level they are at in each subject area.

This is one of the greatest accommodations you can make for a unique learner by homeschooling. Age means nothing in homeschool. Are you working at an 8th grade level in math? Great. Are you working at a 3rd grade level in Language Arts? No problem. You don’t push them ahead when they aren’t ready, or hold them back when they need more, simple based on the year they were born.

Schoolio’s unique unit-model for purchasing programming is one-of-a-kind. You don’t need to purchase all your material in the same grade level. You don’t even need to purchase all parts of a subject area at the same grade level! Is your child a rockstar in Algebra but struggling with Geometry? You can purchase each unit at a different grade level and specifically tailor their entire learning program around their unique learning needs. ! 

  1. Incorporate their interests into learning.

Kids learn so much more when the content is relevant to their lives and relatable for them. Often, our neurodiverse learners benefit from these even more as they tend to have an amazing ability to focus on the things that interest them! 

The Schoolio program is designed for maximum flexibility. Our units cover the essential points needed to cover each topic. While also allowing lots of room for you to tailor that information into any format you choose. For example, our Physical Regions of Canada unit asks students to research a region each day and write about it in a booklet. By the end of the unit they have a complete booklet they wrote on all the regions. One customer recently shared with us that her unique learner was obsessed with dragons, and so after they discussed and researched each region, her learner invented a type of dragon that would live in the region. Along with details about what it ate, where it lived, and how it looked, all aligning with the details she’d learned about the region. What a creative twist to make the learning content even more engaging! 

  1. Don’t be afraid to “skip or stick”.

In a classroom, they determine the average amount of time needed for an average child to learn a concept. That may be 3 days of studying and then they move on. But your child isn’t an average! What happens if your child understands it after one day? Or if they need 5 days? Or 15? In a classroom, kids who understand quickly sit around bored, and those who haven’t mastered it when the class moves on, get left behind. So, don’t be afraid to skip ahead if your child is easily understanding a concept and needs to be challenged. Alternatively, don’t hesitate to stick with a concept as long as is needed to achieve full understanding. Remember, it’s not a race to June like in public school. There’s no finish line, just a constant life full of learning! 

Schoolio’s program is designed to make skipping or sticking easy for you as the teacher. Each concept is introduced and practiced 1-2 times. Meaning you can assess for yourself when your child is ready to move on. You aren’t paying the price of a program that gives you that “average” amount of three practice days. Instead, you see what concepts should be covered and dive as deeply or as shallowly into them as you’d like.

For example:

The Schoolio unit Ancient Civilizations covers 5 ancient societies in 20 lessons. This is obviously a fairly brief coverage (5 lessons) of each group. This allows you to add and subtract where you, or your learner, need and want. Is your child completely uninterested in Ancient Egypt? Do the 5 lessons in 5 days, knowing you’ve covered the most important parts and skip on ahead. Is your child fascinated by Ancient Rome? Stick here and learn more! Watch documentaries, create art, cook some recipes of traditional foods. You can turn 5 lessons into 5 weeks of learning if it suits you!

  1. Incorporate alternative media into your learning.

We know all brains work and learn differently, so why do we keep insisting all kids learn by reading print materials? Anyone who says an audiobook isn’t “real reading” hasn’t seen the imagination come alive of their dyslexic child upon discovering the world of reading through an audio option! Photos, illustrations, diagrams, audiobooks, podcasts, and video are all valid ways to learn. So don’t hesitate to use these additional tools! Some people learn best from a how-to book, but others learn best from a YouTube video, and there’s not one way that’s “better” or “smarter”.

Schoolio lessons include visual components to enhance programming as often as possible. Units are filled with full colour photos and diagrams to help explain concepts. As well as illustrations and graphics to add fun and engagement to practice worksheets. Media recommendations such as curated YouTube content or episode guides for popular television shows like Magic School Bus or Wild Kratts are listed within lessons for you to use or ignore as you see fit for your learning.

  1. Allow alternative ways to demonstrate understanding.

Can we talk about how outdated and unfair standardized testing is for our unique and neurodiverse learners? There are so many other ways to demonstrate understanding of a concept or topic! 

At Schoolio, we really don’t like standardized testing. That’s why you’ll find very little of it within our programming. Instead, we ask students to write about things, talk to people, and present their ideas to show comprehension. And because you’re not hindered by a strictly formatted program, you were able to “stick” on any concept you needed to. So you know without a test that your child understood each concept you went through!

Don’t hesitate to allow your student alternative means of showing that they understand. Public speaking might be hard for them, but they might shock you with their understanding if you let them write a story about the topic. Writing might be a struggle for your learner, but you might be amazed at how much they can teach their younger sibling about the topic. Some kids have a difficult time verbalizing or summarizing their thoughts in writing, but they may be able to highlight all the evidence you’ve asked for within a piece a content.

Some ideas of ways to demonstrate understanding when following the tips for homeschooling kids with unique learning needs:

  • Oral vs Written
  • Highlighting vs. Summarizing
  • Teaching vs Presenting
  • Art or Experiment
  1. Incorporate lots of opportunities for small successes in your day and in your learning.

Try to incorporate lots of opportunities for success, by setting attainable goals that they can achieve regularly. Be sure to praise not the accomplishment itself (ie, “That presentation was great!”). But rather the effort and growth of your child (ie. “You really learned a lot to create that presentation! I can see you worked very hard at it!”) 

One of the greatest gifts we can give our unique learners by removing them from the school system, is self-confidence. No one is teasing them, pressuring them, or making them feel stupid or like a nerd. There is no “ahead” or “behind”, there is just exactly where they are meant to be. And remember, when you homeschool with Schoolio, you aren’t going at it alone. We’re here to support you and provide community for you and your learner all along the way!

I hope these tips for homeschooling kids with unique learning needs has been helpful for you.

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