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Homeschooling Tips During Covid-19 for Special Needs Learning

Ella Herlihy

Development & Learning

Advice From a Veteran Homeschool Mom

School at home? 
But my student struggles.
How in the world will she get what she needs without her teacher?

You are not alone. Thousands of families across your state and the entire country are facing this same dilemma. As much as your student normally struggles in school, everyone is struggling with this new normal and school at home. The level of struggle will vary as much as the reasons for which students find school challenging. This time will probably make you appreciate your child’s teacher more than ever, but as the parent, you are their first teacher and you can do this. You may not know all the answers or the latest techniques, but with patience and love, you and your student can thrive in this season. 


Here are some suggestions to navigate school at home with special needs.
Students with ADD/HD or who can’t sit still

Use your home as an advantage. They don’t have to sit still. Don’t make them sit at a table and work. Instead, allow them to lie on the floor, sit on the trampoline, bounce the basketball while memorizing, roll a ball or tap something as they are working or reading. It may drive you crazy, but grab some headphones (for you) and let them do what makes them comfortable. 

  “Study after study shows that any kind of physical activity activates the brain, improves cognitive function, and is correlated with improved academic performance”.     

  • Let your child stand up if they prefer standing to sitting. 
  • Set a timer (microwave, Alexa, watch, old fashioned clock) and after 20-30 minutes, have them take a 10 minute break to go for a walk or do jumping jacks or other physical activity.
  • Shoot hoops, practice tennis against a wall, make hopscotch in the driveway or sidewalk, hula-hoop, practice soccer ball-handling skills, do an exercise video – anything to get them moving. 
Students with ADD or who can’t focus

Set your student up for success. Young children with ADD will need as much supervision as possible.

  • Give your child individual tasks to accomplish with a break in between tasks. Put each daily task on an index card and have them pull one out of the pile to do next. Keep tasks short and specific. 
  • When reading, have them use colored pencils or markers to highlight, underline, or circle what they need to notice. 
  • If they are studying or memorizing, allow them to stand up or move while working. 
  • Alternate tasks like reading and completing worksheets or answering questions. 
  • Some students who struggle to maintain attention do very well with headphones on and music playing. Various studies have shown promise for improving attention through music, especially that without words or ads mixed in.
Students with dyslexia (difficulty reading)

Schedule your child’s reading time at a time you can be available. 

  • Let them read to you (regardless of subject) and you can read some to them. 
  • Provide opportunities for your child to listen to a book, use Audible or the public library’s free online audiobooks (check your public library’s website for information about this service). 
  • Have your child call a relative or friend and read out loud to them.
  • There is a resource called “Learning Ally” which has books and textbooks read aloud by volunteers for use by students with learning challenges. 
  • Provide opportunities for your child to listen to a book, use Audible or the public library’s free online audiobooks (check your public library’s website for information about this service). 
  • Taking notes onto Post-it notes while reading the book is an accommodating idea to help your student go back and find important details for a report to save time and frustration later.
Students challenged with executive function skills:

Have your child work with you to make a ‘do-able’ list from their classroom assignments. Help them break down their assignments into individual tasks and then schedule each task.

  • It is important for your child to be able to see the assignments all at once, not on multiple web pages or in different areas of their online classroom.
  • Add to their list the other activities they must accomplish each day. 
  • Make a new list each day and adjust if needed, so they can successfully accomplish the tasks. 
  • Color coding each task for school, chores, reading time, screen time, family time and exercise, may make it clearer for your student. 
  • Your child may also work better if the schedule has specific times associated with the tasks.
  • Have a list of things they can do if they finish early. (If you set up new tasks to start on the hour or half-hour, what can fill the time until the next task?) 
  • Setting a reminder to buzz at the :50 minute mark to take a break and at the hour mark to start on the next task may also give your student the nudge they need like the bell does at school.

Whether your son or daughter normally struggles in school or not, they may struggle to keep themselves on task during this unusual situation. We all are a bit on edge with the constant stream of news and health updates.  Try to keep your frustration at bay. Take frequent breaks and don’t put too much academic pressure on your child or yourself. When this season is over, your child will make up for lost progress when they are back in their routine.

Think of ways to incorporate downtime into both your student’s schedule and that of your family. Being outdoors or watching a fun movie can break up the monotony of schooling at home. Don’t let school take up the whole day or be the only thing in your child’s life during this time. School is important, but so is balance. Our mental health as individuals and as a family unit will be improved as we seek to nourish ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually each day. If one of those areas is lacking, how can you give it some attention? We are all in the same boat. Yes, each family has unique circumstances, but we are all adjusting to a new normal, at least for now. Together we will come through this stronger than ever.

Check out other articles on Homeschooling Tips during Covid-19:

For Elementary School-Age Kids

For Middle School-Age Kids

For High School-Age Kids

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Ella Herlihy

Being a mom to five children has given Ella Herlihy enough mistakes and victories to fuel her passion for guiding other parents along the road to raising responsible children without losing their minds in the process. She writes to help others learn from her many mistakes and victories, and what she has gleaned from all the books and seminars it takes to raise five children in today’s world. She is currently working on a book to encourage parents to choose to step back so their kids can move forward on the path to unentitled adulthood. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram @ Ella Herlihy.