Teaching Special Needs Children with Their Siblings
The Foundation Needed to Begin Homeschooling a Special Needs Child
By Stephen and Ramona Hull
We debated filling this article with helpful hints, but decided to attempt to first build the foundation that is needed to begin home schooling. It is our conviction that many families are striving to meet the standards they have seen the world set for their children. We desire nothing less than God's best for our children, which includes helping them reach their highest educational potential, but not at the expense of losing sight of God's standards for our lives.
The last issue of NATHHAN NEWS was a real blessing to us. Reading about your experiences with Attachment Disorder was an encouragement. We have reached many of the same conclusions you have come to. We were beginning to question our sanity as we tightened the circle around us. It is our prayer that Christians will be willing to try to begin understanding families with special needs children.
It was a big day for Jessica. She was getting her very first wheelchair. Jessica flashed great big grins at everyone around as she struggled to keep her head steady in the chair that would soon take her into a new world.
We had been waiting for an opportunity to meet Jessica's mom ever since we were told of the convictions that led Jessica's parents to homeschool their children. The occasion to meet came the day Jessica was getting her new wheelchair. As we chatted, Jessica's mom told us of her plans to send Jessica into public education. She felt Jessica would need "professionals" to educate her daughter due to her special needs. We wondered why this family, who had successfully guided several of their children almost all the way through their education, could not educate their disabled child alongside their other children.
During the past sixteen years as we have endeavored to blend our special needs children’s education with that of our children who are regular education, we have begun to look at education from a different view point. Families like Jessica's have challenged us to evaluate some of the reasons families have been led to believe that their children need "professionals" to educate them.
We believe God has chosen us as parents to cultivate, develop, and refine the mind and character of each of our children regardless of their disability. While seeking to merge our children's education together, we have found the following ideas important in creating an educational foundation and family unity.
Successfully teaching regular and special education children together requires having realistic goals and expectations. Experience has taught us that unrealistic goals lead to frustration. Finding appropriate goals involves recognizing two types of potential that we refer to as "theoretical" and "real world." Theoretical potential refers to what our special needs child might be able to do if we were to devote all our resources to one area of need. If we focused all our time, energy and finances on one area, we would overlook all the other important facets of our child's life, and risk neglecting the rest of the family. There is a delicate balance between our disabled child's needs, and the needs of our other children. Real world potential encourages us to determine the severity of our child's needs, considering the plans God might have for them, not neglecting the needs of our other children. This is an essential element in helping our children to form deep attachments to their special needs sibling, rather than resenting them. Special needs children often absorb more of the family's resources. We can invest a great deal in our special needs child by involving the whole family.
Keeping our children together can be a meaningful part of the solution. If the children are involved with their parents in the education of their special needs sibling, instead of finding themselves outside observers and increasingly isolated from the nucleus, they will become part of the family's resources. Often our special needs children's futures lie in the hands of their siblings. While the family learns to sacrifice out of love for one of its members, the family should never have to sacrifice another one of its members.
Together with being realistic about goals for our special needs child, we must accept them along with their limitations. Often it is our unrealistic expectations that make the educational process more difficult. Until we deal with our own attitude toward our child's disability, especially feelings of denial, disappointment or embarrassment, the goals we set may tend to be self-serving. Falling into the academic "show and tell" trap can be destructive to the child.
With intense effort it may be possible to teach your child impressive facts that will make the parent look like a super teacher, but will not serve the best interest of the child. For some children spending all their efforts to achieve academic skills that they do not have the ability to understand, or use in the real world, may not be the wisest choice.
Justin, a delightful child with Down Syndrome, had been pushed to learn academic skills by his parents. He had difficulty retaining the information and therefore needed to be drilled continually. Consequently he was one of the most frustrated children we have ever seen. He was emotionally too immature to handle "his" failure. Not only was he aware of his differences, but he had no idea how to respond because of his parent's difficulty accepting his needs. The parent who can avoid this trap will have more energy to work with each child and will foster an atmosphere of acceptance far more conducive to learning.
Taking control of the calendar is essential when schooling your special needs child at home with their siblings. Besides the regular interruptions dealt with during the day, there are doctors, therapists, and other professionals vying for your time. Successful scheduling requires that the parent take control of the calendar as much as possible. Try using appointments as a learning opportunity,
Our children have gained tremendous insight through attending medical procedures. They are able to carry on conversations with medical personnel using correct terminology, because they have listened and learned from real life experiences,
Initiative can also help to harness your schedule by bringing the needed resources into your home. Though various types of professional therapy offer benefits, there is usually a great deal that the responsible parent can learn to incorporate at home, In fact, most programs can only spend a short amount of time with the child each week and its success depends upon the family's willingness to follow through on their own.
One of our friends was taking her young son to therapy several times a week, while trying to home school her older sons. After describing to us what the therapist was doing, she realized that she could learn to help him with his exercises at home, saving time in her schedule and spending that time with her sons, working together for the child's benefit.
Flexibility is the link that bonds homeschooling special needs and regular education together. It often takes a divinely infused patience to handle the challenges that come along. When we realize that the program is there for the child, not the child for the program, we are freed to use the things that God brings into our family's life to teach creatively. Children with learning disabilities often learn better by participating in real life activities. Using life's daily chores to help teach simple academic concepts is sometimes more effective than staging learning experiences, and then trying to convert them into actual life skills. This is time well spent for a mother as she goes about her daily chores, teaching her special needs child as she works. During this time the other children may be given the opportunity to study quietly.
Many of our children have the potential to learn how to entertain themselves and gain some self-teaching skills. When schooling your children together, do not feel guilty for not devoting all your attention to the needs of a specific child.
Your goal is not to make them dependent upon, you for everything they learn, but to assist them in acquiring learning skills that will help them become productive members of the family. As this happens, educating your special needs child alongside their regular education siblings will be more fruitful and enjoyable.
Teaching Special Needs Children with Their Siblings
Sheila Scott, leader of the support group P.R.A.I.S.E.
Our 8 1/2 year old daughter Cortney was born severely anemic. She had lost so much blood through me in utero, that her brain was not able to develop as it should have. She is diagnosed as microcepahlic, dyslexic and educably mentally impaired. Her physical and gross motor skills, as well as her speech are all delayed.
When I started homeschooling I was uptight and felt as if I had to do it all! School was not much fun! I tried so hard to get the basics "through" to my children (especially Cortney) that I lost sight of the main reasons I wanted to homeschool in the first place. I felt like we had so far to go in the basics that we must spend all of our time working on them. WRONG! I quickly learned that doesn't work.
This is now my sixth year teaching my children at home. I have a 4th grader, Cortney, a preschooler and a two year old. I have to say that last year was probably my first truly successful year.
I started this change in myself by praying and asking for the Lord's wisdom and what it was He wanted me to do and be for His children (After all, they are only mine temporarily). I also, asked myself when my children look back on homeschooling, what it is they'll remember? Will they remember mom yelling all the time? Or mom stressed out? Or mom the slave driver? I wanted them to look back at this experience as one of the best times in their childhood.
I began this change with consistent devotions and Bible. I used Greenleaf Press (1570 Old LaGuardo Road, Lebanon, TN 37087 (615) 499-1617) Old Testament History. They give you the chapter to read in the Bible and the questions to ask afterward. It was quick and easy and it facilitated excellent discussions between our children and ourselves. Cortney followed along in a picture Bible and enjoyed this time the most in our day. Secondly, I decided doing more science and history activities would be necessary. It's been proven that children that have been exposed to science increase their knowledge and capabilities in all other subjects.
Having time to create more hands on activities that are both fun and educational is not an easy task. We all know children learn best by experiencing things, but finding the time to do it can be overwhelming. I decided that sharing the teaching of science and history with a friend would be the way to go for me. This enables both of us to spend more time on research and preparation for the times we teach. We used Greenleaf Press History and divide the chapters between us. It holds us both accountable to one another, because we're counting on each other to do our very best. Cortney may not remember every date or detail about Egypt, Rome or Greece, but she understands the idea of what took place in those times. She didn't write any big papers or do some of the harder work, but she did participate in ways she was capable of. She drew pictures, made crowns, built pyramids out of sugar cubes etc.
For science I decided unit studies would be the best way to teach. I organized a group of about 9 moms who all take turns teaching in a particular unit that we're studying.
For the body systems, we divided them up by digestive, circulatory, respiratory etc. We teach approximately 20 children, one time a week, for about an hour and a half in our homes. We gear it to around a 3rd to 4th grade level, even though our age ranges are 6 to 12 years. This means that some of the children understand it all, and some glean bits and pieces of what's being said. We make the class as hands on as possible so the kids are able to understand much more than if we were to just read the information out of the books.
These are just some of the ways I was better able to teach Cortney with my other children. Experiencing school as hands on as possible works for her as well as it does for her siblings. Giving her the experience of learning different concepts, vocabulary words and not limiting her learning potential, has all worked to help her blossom academically.
Tricks of the Trade - Homeschooling a crowd
By Tom and Sherry Bushnell
One of the most helpful things we do all year long is to keep a journal. Ours is a hard bound, blank, lined page, book. It is kept in the kitchen on the counter next to the cookbooks. It is opened all day and we jot quick notes about each child as they are doing school work, working, or playing. Our older children have gotten in to the swing of things and will also write down their activities. At first it was hard to remember to write, but like other habits we have, good or bad, it just takes a week or two to consistently make ourselves write in the journal, and soon it was a habit.
Another thing to remember is that the mere experience of learning to live and function in a home is "school." The written work is important, but not as important as an opportunity to learn how to fix an engine, make the bed, sort the socks, cut the salad or watch any hands on demonstration. Hands on demonstrations are what moms and dads are excellent at! If we plan to live with our special needs children for the rest of their lives, now is the time to train them for pleasant family life. It may be too late when they are 13 years old and skill-less.
When we list the priorities on our children's goal sheets, at the top of the list is not learning to read, but spiritual and character development. Public school IEPs don't even have a column for these! There is a time for academics, but we cannot make these the top priority in our children’s lives.
Having trouble finding time for everything in a day? We suggest making a schedule. This can be as simple as a file folder stuck to the refrigerator listing the time slots available in the day and listing what each child should be doing for how long. When we have done this, it only takes a week or two and everybody gets the general idea of what is expected of them. We usually end up taking this course of action when Sherry is pregnant and out of commission, or our schedule is so hectic and confusing that we find ourselves slipping away from our priorities.
Our older children have their morning school work for the week and we are flexible in what gets done within reason. For instance, if Dad is working outside, we will choose to allow them to side a building with cedar wood or repair the tractor, instead of doing a page of math. When the weather is bad, we do a lot more school work. When our older children do their school work, we have them accomplish it in a bedroom. They know they have an allotted time to finish and we hold them to this. When our children have questions, we do not allow them to yell for us to "come here" from across the house. They need to come to us at the appropriate time. This takes some training.
While the older boys are getting instructions, our 5 preschoolers do the dishes. On "school work" mornings when they are done, we work at the kitchen table together first thing in the morning. We all work on different levels of the same concept. We work on the color blue, triangle, follow the dots, tracking Braille and the letter "B" all at once. We will give each one their individual instructions and sit there with them. They are usually only good for 20 minutes of this and then it is on to hands-on activities of their choosing such as: Legos, farm animals, puzzles, pattern blocks, play dough, water paints, crafts of all kinds, wood working, tinker toys, Lincoln logs; view master (we have a projector so many can watch at once).
Working with many children at once has shown us by experience how important it is to maintain a peaceful home. This means working the rest of the day on attitudes, obedience, diligence, no fighting and all the other things that make for a pleasant environment. We can have a busy life and lots to do, but still feel calm and in control if we are working on the priorities in life all the time. If our home is in order, homeschooling many children, even with a wide range of needs, is fun.
The homes that seem to have to most success homeschooling couple working together on projects as a family and book work. The two go nicely hand-in-hand once we get in the habit of pointing out the math in the baking, science in the tub, biology in the garden, chemistry while cleaning, reading at devotions, history while driving, social studies at the ethnic restaurants, and physical education while splitting wood!