Throughout adolescence, a child’s ability to transition from one activity to the next is influenced by factors such as environment, routine, behavior modeling, and self-motivation. For many children, being able to independently navigate from preferred to non-preferred activities is a struggle. For many parents—especially those raising a child with autism or other intellectual exceptionalities—schedule, structure, and predictability are often the key to having a successful day.

With assistive devices like smartwatches and iPads/iPhones being used more and more for communication and time management, the role technology plays in homeschooling is also increasing. However, technology can be as much of a distraction as it is a tool. The broader issue many of us face is how to use technology as a task manager and timekeeper while also keeping our curriculum meaningful.

Consider Nicole, who has been homeschooling her three children for the past five years, one who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Nicole alternates between maintaining a consistent schedule and being flexible enough to focus her teaching time in response to the individual energy levels of all her kids.

Using photos and videos of her home classroom, she created a schedule for her kids using a self-determination app to know “what’s up next” during the school day. When the kids tap the green check mark next to a completed task, the next scheduled activity appears in the left-hand corner of the screen. Nicole can monitor their progress remotely from another room or when working with another child, to see who’s on task (or not, as the case may be).

To help her children become more selfdetermined and independent, Nicole has dissected several routines down to the task level. For example, when tidying up the classroom, the kids use photos of where different materials should go after a lesson is complete. The reality is some children are more engaged with learning when information is presented visually, and this can be even more effective when the child is literally in the picture. So Nicole included her kids in the pictures and even made a short video offering words of thanks and encouragement. This helps the children stick to the routines that have been integrated into their homeschool day.

Nicole knows firsthand that reminders and timers can affect children differently. For example, one math program uses a test that’s set to a timer. “The timer was stressful for our daughter but was a reward for our son where it served as a reminder of when he was done,” she explained. “My daughter and I talked about how the timer impacted her feelings and learning. Ultimately, we adjusted the program, removing the timer and giving her more time and space to complete the problems at her own pace.”

In situations where a child does not respond well to verbal transition reminders, visual task prompting from a device can elicit more positive behavioral outcomes. In other words, some kids respond differently to picture of a routine, or the dinging from a digital “bell,” than from Mom or Dad’s gentle prodding. Some parents find a blend of both methods works best.

In homeschooling, we are intimately familiar with our children’s personality traits, needs, and unique learning styles that accelerate successful development. This insight gets lost if we don’t keep records of it. Electronic portfolios, progress reports, digital notes, and records offer a transfer of knowledge when the “next step” to an independent and self-determined life is right for your children. This is especially important for older children who are rounding the bend toward college or entering the workforce. Technology can help create and build an electronic portfolio throughout adolescence.

Twenty-one-year-old Andrew, who was diagnosed with autism, will likely be receiving some form of lifelong caregiving support from his family. This year Andrew “aged out” of his community living transition program, where he received independent living skills instruction for the past three years. During that period he spent time at various work sites as a volunteer. With the help of his parents, Andrew uploaded photos and videos showcasing his work experience to an electronic portfolio—essentially creating a digital scrapbook and demonstrating his job skills for potential employers or vocational programs.

No matter where you are on your homeschooling journey or the ages or abilities of your kids, the role technology plays in our lives is becoming more ubiquitous and mainstream. How we incorporate this technology in our homes will continue to progress, just as we do as parents, educators, and human beings.

Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

Julie Henning

Julie Henning is a published author and mom to three kids, ages fifteen, thirteen, and twelve.