Originally Sent: 3/14/2013

HSLDA Homeschooling a Struggling Learner

March 14, 2013


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Secrets from a Preschool Teacher

By Krisa Winn

Very often, I talk to families who have children about to transition from an early intervention program involving home visits by therapists, to a preschool program. Usually, this happens at age three. They call because they suddenly feel uncomfortable with the choices presented to them by the public school. I’ve spoken to families whose closest facility is nearly an hour from their home. Definitely not ideal for a little one, especially one who has special needs. For other families, the program is conveniently located, but feels a little ‘too close for comfort’ in many other ways. These families want the best for their child, but they feel the draw to keep them at home. They’re weighing this desire with the information that they’ve been given about the importance of early intervention. “Is it possible for us to provide the early intervention program that our child needs,” they ask, “can we do it?” Parents can provide a wonderful early intervention program at home and in this newsletter I will offer suggestions for doing so.

About the Authors

Krisa Winn
Krisa Winn

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To say that the first five years of a child’s life are critically important is a huge understatement. Pathways in the brain, foundational to all later learning, are being formed. Growth in every area of life is rapidly occurring. I like what Jan Bedell of Little Giant Steps (www.littlegiantsteps.com) has to say, “When the brain is stimulated, dendrite connections are made. Stimulation= connection=function.” Having been an Early Intervention Preschool teacher myself, I thought I’d share some ‘secrets’ that can help you make the most of those critical development years if you decide to home school your toddler with special needs.

First of all, if your child was receiving speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. we encourage you to make plans for those services to continue. See our Struggling Learner website for more on this subject.

Next, in the following paragraphs, I’ll be offering many suggestions for activities to offer your child. Please don’t think that all of these opportunities need to happen everyday. That would be fabulous, but it’s quite unrealistic. Really, the ‘name of the game’ is intentionality. You’ve been homeschooling since your child’s first breath. Now, you just need to be a little more intentional about how you interact with your little one. Notice that there’s no real suggestion to make sure the alphabet and sounds are mastered. That is not the goal, although it may occur. Instead focus on building a foundation, making connections, and having fun! You can provide a wonderful early intervention program at home! Here’s how:

Provide Opportunities for Social and Pretend Play
Use dolls, role play materials, play scenes (doctor's office, restaurant, beauty shop, etc) puppets, stuffed toys, play animals, transportation toys, etc.

Provide Opportunities for Exploration
Sand and water play, peg boards, wooden blocks, legos, puzzles, pattern making materials (these can be store bought or items found around the house such as buttons, cereal etc.), games, books, dressing, lacing, and stringing materials are all great ‘tools’ for exploring the world.

Provide Opportunities for Child Initiated/Creative Art
Allow access to fingerpaints, water colors, chalks, sequins, glue, play dough, clay, craft sticks, pom poms, and a variety of papers so that your child can ‘create away’.

Provide Opportunities for Music and Movement
Expose your child to musical instruments—drums, xylophones, shakers, wood blocks etc. Sing a variety of songs: call and response songs (such as “Are You Sleeping?”), singing games (e.g. “If You’re Happy and You Know It”), and traveling songs (think, “Ring Around the Rosie”).

Provide Opportunities for Gross Motor Play
Spend time playing with push and pull toys, balls and other sports equipment, swings, hanging bars, and slides. Adaptive outdoor equipment is available from companies such as: www.abilitations.com or www.specialneedstoys.com Crawling, running, spinning, and hopping are just a few of the gross motor movements to incorporate throughout your child’s day.

Provide Opportunities to Move
Promote movement over sitting throughout the day, with activities being more concrete than representative. For example, instead of just reading about butterflies or gluing and pasting a picture of a butterfly—go outside and watch for butterflies or get a ‘butterfly farm’ and watch caterpillars change into butterflies.

Provide Opportunities to Explore Nature
Exploring trees, bugs, flowers, birds, plants, and other aspects of nature that are readily available are a part of the wonder of childhood. Even if your child is more drawn to technology, taking time to touch, smell, and observe the great outdoors is very important.

Provide Opportunities to Enjoy and Engage in Rich Vocabulary
Spend time each day reading quality children’s literature. If you’re playing ‘house’ or ‘doctor’ consider using props that lend themselves to print and vocabulary. (i.e.—cookbooks added to the housekeeping area, OR clip boards, magazines, ‘prescription pads’ added to the doctor’s office play area). Make several ‘blank books’ for children to fill with their own illustrations and dictated stories. Utilize the technique “Envelope of Language”. In her book, Homeschooling Children with Special Needs, Sharon Hensley points out, “Although we don’t mean to, it is a fact that if we have children with language and/or communication difficulties we naturally talk to them less. This method of teaching…basically involves talking to them, but in a very structured way. …we literally surround the child with language. Sometimes this is also called ‘Verbal Labeling’ because we describe everything that is being done.”

Provide Access to Books
Expose your child to picture books, reference books, fiction and non-fiction selections, as well.

Provide Opportunities for Field Trips
A field trip can be as simple as a trip to the grocery store. However, sometimes even the most common trip can bring on ‘sensory overload’ in some children, and can be quite difficult to deal with in public. Having another ‘grown up’ in tow can help make trips to the theatre, to the fire station, to the post office, etc. a little more ‘do-able.’

Provide Opportunities for Lots of Picture Taking (by You)
You can use these pictures to document various experiences, activities, trips, etc. Then, you can use the pictures to review places you’ve been and things you’ve seen together. These pictures can also be used as the illustrations for books that you and your child write together.

I hope that, after reading through these suggestions, you feel equipped and encouraged to home school your special needs child through the early years. Be intentional, but don’t make it too complicated. Learning opportunities are everywhere!


Homeschooling Children with Special Needs—Sharon Hensley

“Neurodevelopment” webinar by Jan Bedell www.littlegiantsteps.com

The Right Stuff for Children Birth to 8–Selecting Play Materials to Support Development—Martha B. Bronson

The New Language of Toys, available www.woodbinehouse.com

More early childhood resources are available at the HSLDA Bookstore.

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