Meet your HSLDA Special Needs/Early Childhood Specialist Consultant Krisa Winn. She is a homeschooling mom to two daughters. Krisa lives in Arkansas, where she enjoys gardening, watching old movies, and also loves to sing, play the piano, and leads worship at her church.

Q: How do I teach reading, math, science, and other academic subjects to my child who has global developmental delays? Age wise, he could be in the 2nd grade, but he is actually functioning at a preschool level.

A: I have great news for you! Even though your son has developmental delays, you can still give instruction in the areas of reading, language, mathematics, science, and social studies.

It will definitely look different than a typically developing child’s academic program, but that’s all right! Generally speaking, all of us on the HSLDA Special Needs Consultant Team encourage parents to place students in the level that is close to their child’s current developmental level in that subject, without regard to grade level.

For instance, reading and language for your son will probably focus more on literacy development. Much like with preschoolers, playing is actually a young child’s work—it’s how he learns. You could play with your son in a dramatic play area and use that time to do all sorts of things that will lay a foundation for reading instruction that will come later. You can model polite conversation, teach your son how to talk on the phone, help him learn to make lists, assist him in creating signs for a pretend store, etc.

Math can happen in a dramatic play area too, or in everyday happenings around the house—as you engage your son in matching socks, counting steps, pointing out patterns in an article of clothing, and so on.

For both pre-literacy skills and basic math, you can take these informal experiences and then gradually transition into more formal instruction.

For example, suppose you talked to your son about and then together practiced or made a game of sorting toys into their proper containers. Later, you can move him into more formal instruction by asking him to sort teddy bear counters by size or color.

For reading and language, if you go on a field trip, take pictures while you’re there and talk about the different things you see, hear, learn, etc. Turn that informal experience into more formal instruction by making a book about “Things You See at the Farm.” Print out the photos, write down what your son says about them, and then staple or otherwise attach the pages together to make a book. If he doesn’t have much language yet, you can supply the words.

Science is easily taught by focusing on nature or by offering opportunities to explore the five senses each season—ask your son: “What do you smell, see, feel, hear, and taste?” in the fall, winter, spring, and summer. Or at holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.

Preschool-level social studies won’t focus as much on history as it will on learning about family and homes, holidays, community helpers, getting along with others, and other similar topics.

Of course, your son may become fascinated with a particular subject that is well beyond these topics. If so, definitely take advantage of his curiosity and interest!

By introducing your son to basic skills starting with example and play and gradually turning some specific activities into formal instruction, you will have addressed academic subjects in a way that is developmentally appropriate for him, ignites his love of learning, allows you to document his progress, and keeps the process fun for both of you!

As a homeschooling mom, I loved the wonder, curiosity, and delight of the preschool years. I hope that you and your son also find much joy and freedom in new discoveries and new skills as you adapt your homeschool program to his developmental level. And if other questions come up as you move forward on your homeschooling journey, please feel free to ask me!*

* If you are an HSLDA member and you are reading this, you are welcome to reach out to me with your questions at

Want more inspiration? Here are some resources that will keep you supplied with fun developmentally appropriate learning ideas galore:

  • Mommy Teach Me and Mommy Teach Me To Read by Barbara Curtis
  • The New Language of Toys by Sue Schwartz—This book is very user friendly and practical. I love that it gives ideas for using common games and toys that many families already have at home and how you can use those things to develop language, verbal grammar skills, as well as thinking skills with children. (Although this book is out of print, it’s a great tool if you can get a copy.)
  • Special Needs Homeschooling—Founded by Heather Laurie, the mother of five special needs children and a nationally known homeschool conference speaker. Her website and Facebook page offer families a supportive community, resources, and a blog with helpful tips, recipes, and sensory and art project ideas!
  • SPED Homeschool—This nonprofit organization was founded by Peggy Ployhar, a homeschooling mom and former special needs consultant for a state homeschooling organization. SPED offers you support, encouragement, and resources through experienced special education homeschooling parents sharing relevant information and ideas. It is also a place where families can be connected with helpful services and online social groups.

Oh, and if you would like information, encouragement, or resources specific to other learning challenges or special needs,  just type “special needs” into the search box in the upper right hand corner of this blog page—and then stop by and browse our  special needs section of HSLDA’s website.


Photo Credit:  iStock.