Tips for new homeschoolers
I started homeschooling my daughter when she started kindergarten, after homeschooling my oldest son, who has autism, the last semester of his senior year in public high school. Halfway into Laura’s kindergarten year, a tragic event stopped us cold in our tracks – my husband was shot and paralyzed in an attempted armed robbery.
As his caregiver, I felt (at the time) like I couldn’t give him 100% and homeschooling 100%, so Laura was enrolled in the local public school for the remainder of kindergarten, and for the next two years. A double-whammy diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD, coupled with chronic migraines, re-opened our homeschool almost three years ago.
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Laura has thrived in homeschool for third and fourth grades. Yes, she could have done better on tests, but homeschool is where she thrives (and her migraines went from 15 a month in public school down to about four a year).
When I started homeschooling, I had tons of questions: curriculum? Dedicated homeschool space? Socialization? Do I follow my state’s course of study?
Because of recent events in our nation, there is an unprecedented rise in the number of homeschooling families. This post serves to answer some questions I had as a new homeschooler and provide some resources.
What about socialization?
With public schools’ mandated masks, six-feet-apart, have lunch and PE and specials in classrooms, not to mention library, the socialization question is now moot. If homeschoolers have other homeschooling friends over to play, do seatwork together, or work on joint projects, they will have more socialization than kids in public school. With my daughter, because she is with adults most of the day, she can carry on conversations with adults and kids alike with confidence. Don’t worry about this.
Dedicated homeschool space?
If you are blessed to have a space in your home that can be a dedicated homeschool space, by all means, go for it. I live in a three-bedroom, two-bath house where the “open concept” is alive and well, and the living room/dining area/kitchen are all open to one another. Now, the smallest bedroom doubles as a guest room/office, so I still don’t have a dedicated homeschool space, and continue to use the dining area.
The dining area is right off the kitchen (again, open floor plan) and I really like this. Laura can do seat work while I put something in the slow cooker for dinner, or wash dishes. I’m right there within earshot and sight line if she has a question or wants to talk through the lesson.
We have a small shelf in the dining area that holds this year’s curriculum so we don’t have to dig for it. We have another cabinet that holds resource books and things we don’t use all the time but still need to have handy. A chalkboard and dry erase board on the wall complete the ensemble. When we read books together, whether it’s literature, history, or science, we go to the sofa to read as it’s more comfortable and we can both read along in the same book. When we watch a YouTube video to explain a concept, we watch it from the sofa.
Our entire home is meant for learning – we have science experiments in the kitchen, large craft or art projects strewn on the living room floor, and the dining table is for seat work. This works for our family.
There are many choices for curriculum. You can do an all online curriculum, or buy printed, all-inclusive curriculum. You can do what I do and put together an eclectic curriculum based on your child’s needs and where they’re at academically. Or, you can do all three. The most important thing is to do what is best for your child, even if you have multiple children – each child is an individual with individual needs. Homeschooling is the ultimate individualized educational plan.
The beauty of homeschool is that you as the parent choose the course of study. You don't have to follow a set course of study from any state. With high school, if your child is interested in going to college, have him choose two or three colleges or universities that he's interested in applying to, and work with your teenager to develop a high school course of study based on those college/university requirements.
Budget is also a consideration. You can have a completely wonderful and acceptable homeschooling curriculum without spending a lot. Or anything. Just because someone buys a $500 curriculum doesn’t mean that any better – or worse – than someone who spends $20 on curriculum.
I like old-school textbooks that existed before common core was common. So, for the third year in a row, I have purchased some textbooks for my daughter on EBay. Her math, science, and English textbooks for 5th grade have all been purchased, and I spent less than $20 on the entire lot.
For spelling, I find spelling lists for her grade level on Pinterest, and create activities for them. A good dictionary book (not the Internet) provides definitions which she writes down. For cursive writing and spelling practice, I use this website to create cursive writing worksheets that are her spelling words. I use this website to create word finds and crossword puzzles. Playing board and card games and Hangman using her spelling words helps her learn them, too.
Laura will have some new subjects this coming year, such as Spanish. I utilize Schoolhouse Teachers for her Spanish class, and as supplemental material on other subjects such as history, unit studies, and grammar. Schoolhouse Teachers is wonderful because they mail a quarterly magazine, included with your membership, about homeschooling that is rich with ideas and encouragement.
For set curricula, I like to buy from a website where I can browse and read about each product, such as Christianbook.com. For some subjects or as supplemental material, I use Evan-Moor workbooks which are an incredible resource for all grade levels.
When Laura reaches high school levels, I’ll use 7 Sisters Homeschool, which has no-busy-work curricula and is all PDF based. They host a wide variety of subjects written by veteran homeschooling moms.
As you can gather from my daughter’s diagnoses, special needs is a thing in our house. Actually, all four of my children have special needs, though the three oldest are adults and have moved on to their own houses (and, one got married!). It can be downright exhausting to parent special needs children, let alone homeschool them.
I have found that my daughter thrives at home, where there is less stress and zero bullying. Still, parents who are homeschooling children with special needs require encouragement and inspiration. That is why, with the Lord’s incredible help, I’ve developed the Homeschooling Special Needs Online Conference, the first of its kind in the nation. Featuring over 20 speakers presenting over 30 sessions on homeschooling special needs, including the incredible Temple Grandin in a keynote. The conference boasts all pre-recorded videos for your convenience, and lifetime access to boot, for just $22. For more information, click here. To register, click here.
In public school, kids have “specials” – library, PE, music, art. Homeschoolers have these things, too. We go to the public library once a week, Laura is constantly making art projects that tie into what she’s learning in history or science, and she goes outside to play, and play hard, for PE. We’ve also been known to incorporate health lessons in “physical education.” She also learns life skills, such as doing her own laundry, cooking (she loves making eggs for her own breakfast in the morning), and baking. Just today she finally (!!!) chose an instrument to learn, as we told her she needed to choose one for the fifth grade. She chose the ukulele!
For attendance, we use the AppleCore online attendance that is a perk of membership with Schoolhouse Teachers. When Laura starts ninth grade, it will be used to house her grades, too. The AppleCore program then takes her grades and generates an official high school transcript. I tell you, the annual membership for Schoolhouse Teachers is one of my most favorite -- and utilized -- resources.
Homeschooling can be a delightful time, if you relax and allow learning to happen, at any time. For us, homeschooling is not between the hours of 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. It is 24 hours a day. We focus less on education and more on learning. Every experience can be a learning experience, and that is the attitude we choose to adopt.
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I wish you all the best!
© 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
homeschooling special needs
Homeschooling is the ultimate individualized educational plan for children with -- or without -- special needs. You're not bound by any restraints on time or subjects so the child can move at his or her pace -- actually learning, not regurgitating facts quickly forgotten.
There is a problem with homeschooling special needs children, tweens, and teens, and that is a lack of assistance and encouragement. Parenting a child with special needs is hard enough; homeschooling a child with special needs can be unmercifully brutal. Homeschooling parents of special needs children need to be encouraged and inspired and know they are not alone.
When my oldest son was in the middle of his senior year in public school, in the special needs department because of autism and bipolar disorder, he had some pretty severe behavior issues that were directly related to being bullied. While I didn't officially homeschool him (as in, withdraw and make a homeschool), I did facilitate home-bound studies and teach him much more than was required -- it was my first foray into homeschooling. He walked at graduation that June and received an occupational certificate of completion.
Now, I teach my youngest daughter in our [official] homeschool. She has dyslexia, chronic migraines, and ADHD. Irregardless of the specific special needs, it's impossible to find a homeschool conference dedicated to teaching special needs of all kinds.
As a mom with four special needs children, who is a homeschooler and a homeschool blogger, I am ecstatic to announce the Homeschooling Special Needs Online Conference. My nine years' worth of event planning has helped me recruit giants in the homeschooling blogging community and special needs advocates such as the renowned Dr. Temple Grandin.
I know, full well, that parents of special needs kiddos have a very difficult time going to in-person conferences -- that's why it's online. I also know that live online conferences are hard, too, because you have to be committed to sit at the computer and watch live sessions. Special needs parents don't have time for that. All the sessions for the Homeschooling Special Needs Online Conference are pre-recorded, so you can pause, help a child, go to the bathroom, and not miss anything.
The conference brings participants over 19 speakers with over 30 sessions on encouraging and inspiring homeschooling parents of special needs children, tweens, and teens. A few sessions include:
I am so excited to announce the keynotes of the conference. Not only is Durenda Wilson sharing her wisdom in the keynote "Unhurried Homeschooling: Why We Need to Slow Down," and Lee Felix of Like Minded Musings is speaking on "3 Keys to Parenting the Heart of Your Special Needs Child," and Carol Anne Swett of Homeschool Answer Mom is speaking on staying the course and overcoming doubt during your special needs homeschooling journey in her keynote "Homeschooling When You Can't See The Finish Line," but renowned autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin will be sharing her thoughts on teaching special needs children of all ages in a conversation she had with me.
I am so honored to have these incredible men and women -- giants in the homeschool blogging world and special needs advocates -- join me for this first-ever Homeschooling Special Needs Online Conference. Participants will receive lifetime access for the sessions, plus a digital swag bag of coupons, printables, and freebies from speakers and sponsors. In addition, participants will have access to a social media group for interaction and community-building, because, you are not alone.
Sponsors of the conference are Homeschooling One Child, BJU Press Homeschool, True North Homeschool Academy, Powerline Productions, and HSLDA.
This conference is just $22. For just $22 you as a homeschooling parent of a special needs child can be encouraged and inspired to keep on homeschooling your precious gifts -- your children. The conference goes live on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, so don't delay! To register for this incredible conference, click here today.
After a loved one has a diagnosis that will be lifelong, applying for disability is one of the next steps. Social Security-Disability (SSDI or SSI, depending on individual circumstances) not only provides a small source of income, but also provides Medicaid as health insurance.
Having Medicaid opens a multitude of services available to the disabled person, from transportation to day programs to in-home care, among others. There are tricks and tips, though, for applying for disability.
Do your research
Before visiting the Social Security Administration office near you, visit their website. Make sure that the diagnosis you have is covered under the disabilities the Administration recognizes. Some aren’t—especially if it is something that will eventually go away. Find your local administration office, and call to make an appointment – this will save a great deal of time at the office itself.
First and foremost, go to the Social Security office prepared with the documentation needed: birth certificate, Social Security card, identification card (ID or drivers’ license), and any and all evaluations. The evaluation results could be medical, educational, or psychological. Make sure all of them are the original documents that can be copied by Social Security staff. There are some instances where one can apply online without leaving their home--check the website to see if you qualify.
The evaluations or medical records should be signed by a doctor or therapist, with their addresses and phone numbers readily available.
On the day of application, go in prepared with all the documents in a manila-type file folder or envelope. If you are prepared, the application process is a great deal faster and no one —you or the worker—get irritated. If you are applying on behalf of someone, make sure you bring that person along. Do not apply for someone without that person there, even if it’s a child with autism who is having a terrible day. It’s much more difficult to say “no” to a person than a name on a piece of paper.
Also, if you do bring the child for whom you’re applying, try to bring another adult who can take the child outside or to the restroom.
Understanding that getting denied the first time you apply is not the end, nor is it abnormal. Appeal the decision, and if necessary, hire an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability cases. However, one of the most popular reasons a disability case is denied is because someone is trying to get disability who does not qualify as disabled. Another reason is that the appropriate paperwork was not submitted.
For example, let’s say that Mary and Jane both have migraines. Both have missed work because of them, and both apply for disability. Mary takes over-the-counter meds and fights through. Jane goes to a neurologist, is put on prescription medication, saves all her receipts, and has her work document days absent due to illness. Jane has her migraines documented whereas Mary does not. Mary gets denied disability but Jane is approved.
If Mary sees a doctor for her migraines, saves OTC and prescription medication receipts, and had her work document her absences, she could possibly win an appeal. It would be extremely difficult to win an appeal based on non-documented doctor visits, hospital stays, or work absences.
Applying for a chronic condition
If a child is born with a chronic, life-long condition that will affect his livelihood or ability to work for the rest of his life, applying for disability is an appropriate avenue which, along with Medicaid, opens doors for that child for therapies, housing, transportation, and other services.
To apply for a child with a chronic condition, first look up the condition on the Social Security website to ensure it’s one of the disabilities recognized by the government. Secondly, if it is recognized, call your child’s primary care doctor for a complete physical, and any specialists the child sees. Tell the doctors you’re trying to gain disability for the child, and that you will need copies of the medical records.
Children public schools’ exceptional childrens’ programs have Individualized Educational Plans to document educational strengths and weaknesses, as well as show need for therapies. Homeschooling parents need to document and portfolio their child’s work, and it would not hurt at all to keep a running journal on your laptop about your child’s progress (or lack) in homeschool. Make sure each entry is dated.
If the child receives in-home or outside therapies, even if you pay out of pocket, each therapy should document and write an evidentiary letter about the child. Documenting is key when trying to receive disability.
Applying for a child before she is 18 years old is extremely important. When a disabled child turns 18, they are no longer bound by income restrictions from her parents. However, it is important you gain all medical records that show the disability started before she turned 18, as this indicates a life-long issue.
Have your child evaluated by a psychologist who is trained in performing Social Security psych evals, and take the original copy of the evaluation results with you when you apply. Also, take the person for whom you’re applying, even if he is having a bad day. Sometimes, a bad day indicates disability more than pristine behavior.
You will want to open a checking account for the child with your name on it as well. Take routing and account numbers with you to the application appointment, and a copy of the balance sheet for the checking account, noting that it should have only enough money in it that was used to open the account. The person’s disability payments will be direct deposited into this account.
Applying for disability is one of those necessary evils when one has a life-changing illness or injury. Doing your homework, documenting everything, and getting all the paperwork in order helps the application process tremendously.
(C) 2019 Terrie Bentley McKee All Rights Reserved
The last year my son was in high school, he was bullied mercilessly, which caused significant behavior issues with him. Autism is cruel enough--being bullied because of the autism is unacceptable.
After many tries to remedy the situation through IEP, teacher, and administration meetings, I finally pulled the "homebound" student card and taught Sam at home with academic resources from the school. He still graduated--and walked--with his class, but we were thrust into the world of homeschooling quite by accident.
My other son, Jacob, was still a student at the school, a year behind Sam. It was odd, at first, Jacob getting up and rushing out the door to meet the bus in the morning, leaving Sam at home with me. But, like many parents of children with autism and other special needs, I found out quickly what worked and what didn't. The thing about it was this: I was homeschooling one child while the other went to public school.
In that particular season, it was what we needed to do to meet the needs of both boys. It would not have been fair to Jacob, who was active in band, to pull him from public school because his brother had significant issues. Public school met Jacob's needs; it did not meet Sam's.
Throwing out the IEP
The IEP--Individualized Education Plan--was made to provide specialized public education to my son, who has learning disabilities. At home, though, he was getting one-on-one, highly individualized education. I found that a lot of his IEP was based in the behavioral issues and problems he would have with teachers and peers; about 60% of it was dedicated to academics.
I found that Sam was really, incredibly, mind-numbingly bored with "menu math" -- addition, subtraction, and a wee bit of multiplication based around restaurant menus, food prices, and grocery store circulars. He wanted something different. He wanted codes to break and exploration, so I introduced him to algebra. No more "Mary orders a pancake for $1.49 and an orange juice for 59 cents. How much change would she get if she paid with a $5?" -- no, he not only relished 2x=6 but he was thrilled by the adventure of what that x meant.
The truth is, every child can benefit from individualized education. If you are homeschooling one child and not the others, I would encourage you to do one of two things: be as proactive with your publically-schooled children, in their schools, with homework, with extra-curricular activities, as you are with your homeschooler, or homeschool all your kids. Public school now is not like public school 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. There's less education and more indoctrination. Just be aware, parents.
Homeschool and Homework
The biggest issues occurred we had when homeschooling one and not the others were when Jacob disembarked the bus at 3:45. Sam can be quite chatty when he's excited and nothing would get him more excited than his brother arriving home. Jacob had homework to do and his tenor sax to practice. Sam was technically finished with school long before Jacob (more on that in a second), so there was the problem of getting Sam to be quiet while Jacob worked on his homework.
I learned to keep reading or another subject back, and required Sam to read or do math facts --something! -- while Jacob was busy doing his homework. It brought in a semblance of normalcy to the new routine. The beauty of homeschool is it's not 8:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. It can be any time, so it can be when other kids are studying, too, to minimize distruptions.
Keeping to a tight schedule was fundamentally the most important thing with homeschooling Sam. Autism doesn't take kindly to a hither-and-yon schedule. I would have the same subjects in order, the same way, every single day. Spelling, math, a break. History, lunch. Science, a long break. Jacob would come home, and Sam would do his reading. I found that Sam got more done, retained more information, and was done before the afternoon bus pulled up, on most days. He was happier and was learning--without being bullied.
Some days, we had to pick Jacob up from school, and on those days, Sam went in with me, saw familiar people, talked with the assistant principal. He still participated in graduation preparations. We balanced his educational needs with Jacob's, and his desire to do neuro-typical things like graduation. We made it work.
Parents, you need to do what works for your family, and ultimately, it's your call whether or not to homeschool, to have your kids in public school, or private. The most important thing is to be present, and active, in your child's education.
(c) 2019 Terrie Bentley McKee All Rights Reserved
This post was proofread by Grammarly
Terrie Bentley McKee is an author and speaker who homeschools her youngest daughter. Married to her husband Greg, they have four children, all of whom have special needs of varying degrees. Terrie is a follower of Jesus Christ and tries to glorify God in all she does. To read more about her testimony, click here.
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