Children with various learning challenges require more intentional thought and attention whether in the home or at school. We share these twenty-one tips specifically for our fellow homeschooling families. In most cases these tips were learned by our family over many years.

When I remember and follow these strategies, my children achieve more readily and contentedly. Both children, adopted twins, have ADHD, autism, speech or language difficulties, and mental illness (schizophrenia), as did their biological mother. You may know our story from Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child.

1. Be Active

Teach in short bursts, alternating between physical activities and seated activities. Low muscle tone or distracted minds can lead to fatigue. Provide movement or snack breaks to prepare students for the next activity.

2. Be Brief

Communicate your instructions clearly and speak concisely. Shorten assignments. Work toward step-by-step accomplishments. End on success.

3. Be Concrete

Ask Who?, What?, When?, and Where? questions with visual cues. Allow more advanced students to answer How? and Why? questions. Discuss these with manipulatives or illustrations to nudge students toward more abstract pondering.

4. Be Demonstrating

Use money, objects, and play-acting. Show with real apples: “Sarah has three apples. She gives two away.” Role play, illustrate, or demonstrate the actions within narrative language or word problems. Assign fewer practice items to allow extra time for demonstrations.

5. Be Engaging

Link personal interests to the topic whenever possible to promote interest. Include the student’s first and last names for speech articulation practice, in penmanship, or sentence writing, and in story problem examples.

6. Be Foolproof

“One-and-done” is not to be expected with students who have an intellectual disability or other special needs. Provide repeated practice with the lesson, preferably later in the day and throughout the year.

7. Be Giving

Give of yourself. Teaching a student with challenges is a matter of love and of art. Give tips to other caregivers, teachers, and therapists to create generous teamwork. Give generously also to your student, in quiet moments, such as a heart-to-heart talk after social difficulties, or by a deep hand massage after extensive writing.

8. Be Health-Oriented

Respect dietary, olfactory, or allergic sensitivities and difficulties with impulse control. Secure unsafe items and provide safe boundaries. Know and anticipate a student’s temptations. Give space for movement. Review and update notes regarding the student’s physical and medical challenges.

9. Be Incremental

Give the “big picture” but also break lessons down into small steps, whether shoe-tying or long division. Allow for mastery before introducing next steps and review mastered steps until they are integrated into the whole. See Simply Classical Special Needs Homeschool Curriculum.

10. Be Judicious

Give encouragement to students who need it, but avoid indulging with reward or praise for minimal effort. Expect students to rise to the standard of becoming increasingly diligent, thoughtful, and self-governing.

11. Be Kind

Watch how you respond to a struggling child. The child himself—and any child overhearing— will witness how you react. When handled with kindness, such moments can encourage students to imitate gentleness.

12. Be Lasting

Whether you teach one hour a week or every hour of every school day, remember the lasting impact of overcoming your own resentment, trials, and inconveniences to give a student nourishment for both body and soul.

13. Be Masterful

When possible, craft the day as you would a work of art. This may require periods of rising early or reflecting late. Whenever you fall short, refresh, recover, and begin again.

14. Be Need-Aware

Provide time in your school day to teach the necessities, such as washing hands, eating neatly, using a napkin, speaking politely, and other daily needs. Allow a quiet area for sensory load reduction and calming as needed.

15. Be Observant

Notice early signs of the need to become more vigilant, more flexible, more compassionate, more matter-of-fact, or more directive. Observation and prevention can be far more effective than merely reacting.

16. Be Persistent

Do not give up. Teaching takes time. For example, reading cannot be reduced to memorization of sight words, so persevere with phonics instruction and practice. Sometimes, as the child matures, lessons become easier to grasp and to integrate into reading, spelling, or writing.

17. Be Questioning

Ask the student to show or paraphrase your instructions. Pause to ask simple “repeat-back” questions during your lesson. Use simple recitation to accustom students to question-answer format for both pragmatic and academic language.

18. Be Reasonable

Set expectations to expand rather than outstrip the student’s capabilities. Reasonable requests respect honest struggles and engender willingness to persist in the effort.

19. Be Supportive

Consult physical and occupational therapists for seating or writing support such as a slant board, sloped desk, foot wedge, textured cushion, slate, mini whiteboard, or other physical and therapeutic aids.

Head here for more sensory tools to help your special needs child!

20. Be Transition-Minded

Assist students with transitions. Post picture schedules with clear left-to-right or top-to-bottom sequences. Review these. Use the same words “first, next, then, last” each time to impart predictable order and to promote smooth transitions.

21. Be Undaunted

Teaching special needs can be daunting, but preparation eases the challenge. Enlarge print from workbooks, design flip charts to accompany recitations, or create a wall number line for demonstrations. Be undaunted, if only because of your love for the student.

You are more qualified than you think.

Copyright 2023, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the Homeschool Compass by shopping through our page!

Enjoy this post? Read on, and sign up for our homeschool newsletter!

12 Lessons I Learned from Homeschooling My Child with Dyslexia

Thinking About Homeschooling? Here’s Our Best Advice

Special Needs Children – Keep Them Home!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cheryl Swope, M.Ed. is the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child and creator of the award-winning Simply Classical Curriculum, materials and lesson plans designed especially for children with special learning needs. Cheryl and her husband homeschooled their adopted twins (both with autism, learning disabilities, and severe mental illness) from the children’s infancy through high school. Her life’s work has become helping others bring truth, goodness, and beauty to any child.