by Kathy Kuhl Can you homeschool a small child with severe disabilities for kindergarten? It’s not for everyone. However, sometimes it’s the best option, and I’ve met several families who’ve done it successfully.
There are advantages. You have more flexibility to adapt the schedule than a schoolteacher does, working around therapies, doctors’ appointments, and hospitalizations. You can devote more time to your child’s passions and interests. Education at home can be integrated into daily life.
For example, you have the radio on, and you start clapping to the beat of the music. You might explore timbre by tapping different objects around the house, as Professor Carol Reynolds explains. Or suppose you’ve been studying colors, and then it’s time to go to the doctor. You and your child can start pointing out all the red cars and trucks on they way, reinforcing the lesson.
Recently, I got a letter from a mother who is getting ready to homeschool her five-year-old with autism and significant developmental delays for kindergarten. She asked about curriculum. Below are suggestions I gave her, which may help you as well.
First, I would start with letters and colors, as well as preschool math, art, music, and literature. I would also look at preschool curricula to get ideas. I’d probably buy one, if only in order to study it extensively. You will need to adapt, but it’s not hard. In the resources section of this post I’ve listed a few worth looking at.
Ideas for Teaching Colors
Keep it very tactile, very hands-on. For example, to teach the color yellow, my friend Heather Laurie devoted a whole day or two to flooding her young daughter with yellow things. They wore yellow shirts, made yellow gelatin, (with natural coloring, I’m sure), painted with yellow paint, and much more. Her daughter loved it. Heather describes this in her book, Homeschooling When Learning Isn’t Easy (see the Resources section below for a link to my review).
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this! You can gather many yellow things you have in the house into one room. After you enjoy them, you could go on a yellow treasure hunt around the house, looking for things with yellow on them.
Another benefit of this immersive approach is that it shows there are different hues and shades we call yellow. You could even go to the paint store and find paint chips in different shades of yellow. (But that trip may bother your highly literal child. “How can that be orange-yellow, Mom? Which is it?”)
To teach letters, yes, use those magnetic letters on the fridge. But don’t stop there. Use wooden alphabet blocks, foam letters, and whatever else you can find that lets them touch the letter shapes. Have them trace the shapes in a tray filled with cornmeal, or in the sandbox. Put a little shaving cream on the tile wall while they are sitting in the bathtub and let them trace letters there. Let them make letter shapes out of play dough.
Here’s an idea from the Therapy Street for Kids website: Fill a zip-lock bag with hair gel, adding coloring if it is clear. Zip it closed, then double-bag it in a second bag. Place the bag over paper on which you have written the letter and let them trace it through the gel.
Ideas for Literature and Math
By studying literature in preschool, I mean reading aloud excellent books with good artwork. Talk about them, discussing the pictures and the story. Even if your child cannot comprehend the story now, let them enjoy sitting your lap as you tell a story. Speech and language pathologist Adrienne has many great suggestions on her YouTube channel, Learn with Adrienne.
For math, try some beginning counting, matching, and comparing exercises. Practice a lot of comparing more and less rather than addition and subtraction. Take two sippy cups, one with a little bit of water, the other with more. Use a paper plate and draw a pretend pizza on it. Cut it in half. Make another one and cut it and equal quarters.
Divide five crackers among two people. Break one cracker in half, and you’re preparing her to understand the concept of division with a remainder. Denise Gaskins’ website and books in her Let’s Play Math series have many suggestions.
You’re can also adapt simple exercises to your child’s needs. For example, preschool and kindergarten math workbooks will show a picture of two pennies and another picture of five pennies, and ask the child a circle which group is bigger. But if your child cannot hold a crayon well enough to circle one group, let her point, instead. If she has trouble engaging, try making two small groups of real pennies, or use large plastic poker chips, which are not a choking hazard. Knowing your child’s specific difficulties, you will see that adapting exercises to fit her needs doesn’t need to be difficult.
Ideas for Working on Problem Areas
Even if you homeschool, you may be able to continue your child’s speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy through the public school where you live. In the United States, through the federally-funded Child Find programs, you’re eligible for free help until your child is old enough to be in school. Research the specific requirements for your location and situation.
If fine-motor skills are an issue, you have other options as well.
- Limited use of a few special educational apps on an iPad, such as Letter School or Dexteria.If cost is an issue, remember iPads can be purchased refurbished. One friend of mine has a nonverbal daughter whose occupational therapist prescribed an iPad as a communication device. (Her prescription persuaded insurance to pay for it.) Some tracing exercises on the iPad improved the girl’s drawing and writing ability significantly.
- Handwriting without Tears. Check their earliest levels for pre-writing skills.
- Learning Palette, an educational toy/tool. See below for links.
Special Needs Homeschool Conventions
Many homeschool conventions have special sessions on special needs. But few conventions focus on special needs. In early October, Arizona Families for Home Education is hosting their first gifted and special needs homeschool conference.
In November, 2014 and 2017, I spoke at the gifted and special-needs homeschool conference sponsored by the Florida state homeschool organization, FPEA. I highly recommend it. Familes with all kinds of special needs will attend. Arizona has launched their special needs homeschool conference, too.
- My post on getting started with homeschooling.
- This article on homeschooling preschoolers with special needs is old, but has some excellent points.
- My review of When Learning Isn’t Easy by Heather Laurie.
- Learning letters:
- Lauri Foam Magnet Letters.
- For those with lots of floor space, these large, interlocking foam letters.
- Make your own gel bags, as shown on the Therapy Street for Kids website.
- Learning Palette is a great way for kids with limited fine-motor skills to practice many basic skills. Like the Learning Wrap ups, kids match questions and answers, to learn letters, numbers, and much more. At her blog Wildflower Ramblings, Amy explains and illustrates how she uses them in her homeschool.
- Curricula to consider:
- Simply Classical Curriculum from Memoria Press. This curriculum is designed for students with special needs, developed by Cheryl Swope, author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child.
- Woodbine House publishes books for families with special needs. Don’t miss DeAnna Horstmeier’s books.
- These programs and others are good, but you’ll need adapt them for a child with severe disabilities. Remember with any curriculum not to just look at kindergarten, but also pre-K materials.
- My Father’s World and Heart of Dakota: Several parents of kids with special needs have recommended these two Christian curricula.
- Time4Learning: I’m not a fan of using much online curriculum, especially for kindergarten and other early grades. But several families report to me that Time4Learning has been effective.
I would love to hear what other parents are using to help children with severe disabilities. Please share your ideas in the comment section below.