Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Homeschooling Special Needs Kids: Curriculum Choices and Methods

I have had two kids with professionally diagnosed ADD, who are now in tertiary education and doing well in the polytechnic/polytechnicon/TAFE context. This was before the time of much knowledge on how to help kids with special needs in the home schooling context....but just going at their pace and unknowingly possibly pushing them a little harder than most would think them capable, has helped. For ADD (minus the hyperactive aspect - just the visual and auditory processing) I have found that setting a date for something a very useful thing to learn and I wish I had done that more often.....as long as it is a realistic date, it teaches them to commit to paper - which is particularity hard for ADD students, and particularly important for further studies. My ADD kids tend to be perfectionists, and want to do well - so get a mental blank about 'getting going' and therefore finishing an assignment - I am told this is very common in ADD circles. They also struggled with wanting to know every inch of the curriculum before they start a project/assignment/test ... an impossible feat in the real world usually and so dare I say in home schooling maybe we can help kids learn to skip the not so important things sometimes, if they have this tendency! ( I find we have the tendency to want to cover everything as home schooling mums too!)

Two other of our kids is on the autistic spectrum, although high functioning, one has developmental needs while the other is academically gifted, their needs are a mixture that overlap with another kid who has no label at all but struggled with school work - just for the sake of it :-) .

Re speech therapy needs I have had two, one was very severe, and reading for both of them was/is very difficult to learn. But saying that I did find that reading/practising sounds etc was a double up for speech issues. (I had a third child who did not have the speech issues only the reading)  I eventually nicknamed these kid's reading problems as having 'reading dispraxia' as it followed the same pattern as speech dispraxia - I don't know if there is such a label???

Their greatest difficulty for reading was to learn firstly the alphabet/phonics and then to see and read a whole word. Essential whole words that could had to be learnt as sight words seemed insurmountable for these kids for years.....learning words like 'the' for 3 years seems unfathomable to us, but is sadly a reality for some. (It needs a compassionate, kind and gentle teacher indeed!)

Once they grasped the basics of alphabet and phonics, I hit another problem with these kids with reading; that is when they sounded a word out they had forgotten the letters at the beginning of the word by the time they came to the end of the word. And I am not talking about this happening for a little while - but again an ongoing such agony for years!

Eventually I discovered a 'Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons', which I hate for any normal reading process but it is brilliant for kids with this type for reading problem! http://www.rainbowresource.com/product/Teach+Your+Child+to+Read+in+100+Easy+Lessons/002274/1297112102-1061901

Something I figured with these children was that having a different curriculum for the younger sibling especially if they are very bright great ( even if you have to borrow something different for them for a while) At least initially they are not always constantly being compared as the younger child inevitably flies ahead of the older. It is worth the extra work and effort on your part when it is very tempting to just 'combine your class' for a while!

Another thing I figured is to use the special needs child's special interest/gift to help with difficulties in reading ...one of these children is good at art, so we bought the Draw Write Now program, she has been writing out things she cannot read for months - just for fun! And it definitely has helped the reading process as she becomes more familiar with words. (copy work - with a difference!)  We started a personal recipe book (recipes typed out) for the other when he was little. He has caught up and is at his age level now as he hits high school, although he still struggles with stamina though a whole day.

Maths: My big older boys who love maths cruised through Saxon, while I have found that kids with issues seem to do better with Teaching Textbooks as they can instantly see when they have got something right or wrong! This instant response is fabulous and unless you have one child it is impossible to maintain such avid attention; and even if it were possible to sit and watch a maths lesson and mark every question as you go along would be pretty excruciating; at least I think so!

English: I have just discovered a Charlotte Mason program for English called Language Lessons by Sandra Queen, and love it particularity for those with extra needs as it is so gentle and interesting. It is concise and for me, none of it feels like a waste of time - I come away feeling uplifted after teaching with it! See  http://www.rainbowresource.com/prodlist.php?sid=1297112102-1061901&subject=4&category=6960  Of course nothing beats reading to a child a lot either!

I add vocabulary cartoons when kids have learnt to read well, it makes vocabulary such hilarious fun see http://www.rainbowresource.com/search.php?sid=1297112102-1061901 . And then add Winston Grammar for early high school/late junior depending on the child - it uses multiple learning styles http://www.rainbowresource.com/search.php?sid=1297112102-1061901 . And everyone from 20 to 3 has used/uses Macroworks Word Wizard Spelling program, http://www.macroworks.com.au/word-wizard.php . By high school I introduce ABEKA literature, before that we just read and read and read whatever we love reading. We also use all of Excellence in Writing Courses as a child becomes fluent in thought and writing.

I love the South African SMILE educational toys etc for early Maths and English / thinking skills and have used those particularity for my kids who have extra needs. I really, really love them! http://www.smileeducationaustralia.com.au/international.htm

On-line computer programs: Starfall for English reading has been really helpful for remedial work, More Starfall is excellent and worthy of payment when you have done all of the Starfall for free. More Starfall has excellent basic maths too...learning numbers, learning +-x/ etc . Matheletics http://www.mathletics.com.au/  looks good and is highly recommended but we have never had the money to try it, the boys do their world maths day for free though!

I keep a child at G 1-3 level until they are ready to move on to more serious work, even if they are not at age appropriate levels....it is just agony and discouraging for both teacher and child if they cannot cope with G 4 level and are being pushed beyond their ability, besides they miss out on essential basics that are necessary building blocks. ( You have to try Ruth Beechicks books, the 3 R's to understand this fully. Her books are wonderfully practical with lots of game ideas)

For science and social studies I can often read/teach well above their reading/writing ability. I use Abeka Science for g 1-3 level with lots of nature study! Then Apologia Science right through to the end of high school - together with science kits, science DVDs and experiment books for fun (Usborne/Kingfisher type). The kids mostly are self motivated for science kits and experiments. We do scrap booking or just reading for elementary work and when kids are ready they combine Excellence in Writing with science write ups/ or use the proper science journaling that Apologia recommends, when our children are ready. The hardest jump is to the General Science, that 1 st chapter needing the most help from the teacher, especially for those who struggle.

Initially we use Story of the World and Mystery of History audio for social studies. We progress to scrap booking/journaling Mystery of History combining with Excellence in Writing when kids are ready. At high school level we move to Abeka History and Geography, minus all the American stuff! And add things pertinent to the countries we have lived in.

Gifted children are often not in this category of special needs but they do require a program that has extra stimulation and from that point of view needs more effort and thought.  SMARR English is good for a meaty English program.  Excellence in Writing's Advanced courses, SAT prep etc are a must.  And we are looking forward to using Apologia Advanced courses for one child.

This is just a skeleton - hope it helps. Feel free to add your tips in comments! Teaching Special kids is a real blessing if we can have the right attitude of patience, love and kindness! God bless you all, Joy