Recently I received a call from an exasperated mother who was desperately trying to find a way to teach her son. After homeschooling for 14 years and graduating her oldest who was also a struggling learner due to a brain injury, she felt she had exhausted her teaching arsenal and was still coming up short in being able to teach her younger autistic son.
Our conversation started with this mother asking if I knew of any different curriculum options she could try. But, instead of offering my best advice on curriculum, I led her through a series of questions to find out what teaching techniques had worked with her son and what his main interests and hobbies were. At first, her responses to my questions centered around all the curriculums she had bought in the past that were now filling her shelves but no longer being used for one reason or another. But, as I continued my questioning she started deviating from talking about curriculum to talking about her son and the success he had experience through their homeschooling endeavors. Eventually, our discussion moved into ways she could use the curriculum she already had, employ the services of her local librarian to find books focused around her son’s interests, and start to build learning around those interests.
As our conversation came to an end, this mother confessed to me “Maybe I just need to change how I teach my son instead of trying to find another curriculum.” Of course, this conclusion had been the main goal of my questioning, but if I had just told her to change her way of teaching at the beginning of our conversation, she wouldn’t have understood what I was talking about. It was only after leading and letting her discover the importance of individualizing her son’s education, that she truly understood how teaching her son was more about what she did instead of what she used.
Did you know in a survey done in 2002 of special education homeschooling parents “the majority of survey parents (58%) designed a curriculum for their children.” As a matter of fact, this same study reported that “All the parents in the case studies designed the curricula for their children based upon their ability and interest levels” And, “most of the mothers criticized packaged curricula.” Now, you must understand that back in 2002 when this survey was conducted, there weren’t many homeschool curriculum options specifically targeted to children with learning challenges.
It is interesting to note though, that in 2012 when special needs homeschooling curriculum was starting to abound across the country at homeschool conventions and book fairs, Dr. Brian Ray of NHERI summarized in an exploratory study of homeschooling outcomes the main advantage of homeschooling both learning disabled and gifted children was “The informal environment that homeschooling provides allows ‘differentiated instruction,’ not a one-size-fits-all version that is typical in public schools where teachers must meet the varied needs of twenty or more students in the classroom. The personal approach of schooling at home provides a natural environment to customize the curriculum for learning disabled and academically gifted children alike.”
In looking over many studies and surveys, including those cited above, as well as drawing from my decade of experience in consulting with special needs homeschooling families, it’s clear that differentiated instruction utilizing student specific accommodations and modifications is not only the best way to homeschool a struggling learner but a homeschooling freedom that’s particularly advantageous to utilize with children who do not adapt well to traditional teaching methods.
I apologize ahead of time to anyone I may offend with my following remarks, but the reason I feel many special education homeschooling parents have moved away from implementing specific differentiated instruction has to do with special needs homeschooling curriculums marketing products towards a specific diagnosis or learning disability. Now, I love curriculum and do feel parents can benefit from using both regular and special needs homeschooling curriculum, but when a parent believes a specific curriculum will teach to their child’s specific need to the point the curriculum itself provides the necessary differentiated instruction, that is a problem.
Too many homeschooling parents have reasoned themselves out of providing specific and individualized instruction for their child because they believe their special needs curriculum is providing enough learning variation on its own. Unfortunately, with the vast spectrum of learning disabilities and challenges confronting special needs homeschooling families, it’s impossible for curriculum providers to create materials able to meet the specific needs of all these unique children.
Ultimately, parents who homeschool children with special educational needs will find the most effective way to teach their child doesn’t come in a package. Rather it comes from being a student of their child, learning how to implement specific teaching strategies and methods and figuring out which ones work best in teaching to their child’s needs, locating resources that work with their child, and coaching their child one-on-one through the learning process.
Written by Peggy Ployhar at SPED Homeschool
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