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Homeschooling a child with learning challenges

February 23, 2024
Homeschooling a child with learning challenges takes commitment and patience.

In Australia, requirements for homeschooling are different between states and territories. The specific regulatory requirements in each state and territory of Australia are outside the scope of this post, which is focused on how to support a child with learning challenges who is being homeschooled.

How can you accommodate your child’s learning challenges, and at the same time make a success of homeschooling? Let’s dive in!

Create a personalised plan

When homeschooling a child with learning challenges, the key lies in understanding and leveraging their unique learning style. Whatever their preference, it’s better to work with their strengths and design a personalised plan. This plan would work in concert with your chosen learning curriculum, informing how best to teach your child the contents of the curriculum.

homeschooling plan

First, identify your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses.

  • Observation: Pay close attention to how your child engages with different activities and environments. Do they seem to remember things better when they hear them, or do they find noise distracting? Do they remember better when they are physically active and involved?
  • Consultation: Talk with previous teachers or healthcare specialists who have worked with your child. They will have valuable observations about your child’s learning style and challenges.
  • Assessment: Formal diagnostic assessments by a health professional can identify specific learning strengths and weaknesses. Our online cognitive assessments, while not intended as full diagnostic tools, can help you see where your child needs help.

Homeschooling communities & resources

As with anything in life, support is crucial – and that includes support for you, the one in charge of your child’s education. Depending on where you live in Australia, there will be support and resources – for example, the Home Education Association (HEA) gives legal advice and even has a free hotline. HEA help homeschoolers across Australia. If you live in Victoria, there’s the Home Education Network. In Western Australia there is Home Education WA. Sydneysiders will find the Sydney Home Education Network (SHEN) to be very helpful.

homeschooling communities and resources

It’s not really practical to list all the Facebook Groups out there, but there are many where you can connect with other parents in a similar situation.

Incorporate multi-sensory techniques

Multi-sensory techniques, which engage multiple senses during learning, offer a powerful way to unlock understanding, overcome difficulties, and make the learning process fun and engaging. 

homeschooling multisensory

Examples in action:

  • Maths: Build 3D shapes with clay while learning geometry, or sing multiplication tables to a catchy tune.
  • Science: Conduct hands-on experiments, create models of the solar system, or listen to podcasts about exciting discoveries.
  • History: Dress up in historical costumes, create timelines with tactile materials, or listen to dramatised historical events.
  • Reading: Use audiobooks alongside text, highlight key words with different colors, or act out scenes from the story.

Balance flexibility and structure in homeschooling

Finding this balance will depend very much on your child – some thrive on routine, some need far more flexibility. Parents can establish a routine that while providing a framework for the day, also allows room for adjustments based on their child’s needs.

homeschooling flexibility and structure

How to do it:

  • Establish routine: A visible, even colour-coded, class learning schedule will help you child know how long they will be doing one activity for, when they will have a break and what comes next in the day.
  • Regular breaks: Allow for breaks and physical activity to help keep energy levels and attention up
  • Predictable transitions: Signal upcoming transitions between activities with a short warning, allowing them to mentally prepare. For example, “5 more minutes and we’ll have a break.”
  • Break it down: Break tasks into manageable segments so your child isn’t faced with a massive task that overwhelms them. For example, for a history project on Ancient Egypt, you could break it down into brainstorming, researching, and presentation segments. You could even break down each segment into smaller tasks with time estimates.
  • Offer choices: Allow your child choices within boundaries, like picking between two learning activities, or even where they can do the activity.

Utilise technology as a homeschooling educational tool

Use educational technology to target your child’s specific learning challenges. There are a number of research-backed, neuroscience-based online programs that build the underlying skills needed for learning.

Young girl holding EF Kids ipad homeschooling

For example:

  • Attention issues: EF Kids (for children 3-8 years old), Fast ForWord (ages 6 and up) and Cogmed (ages 6 and up) use adaptive game-like exercises to improve attention.
  • Reading fluency: ClearFluency is an online personal, interactive reading tutor that gives immediate feedback when the child mispronounces a word.
  • Reading comprehension: The 3 Step Reading program builds the underlying skills that support reading and writing development and then targets fluency and comprehension.
  • Writing: The Writing Skills Training Course works on the foundational skills needed for writing – working memory, attention, sequencing and processing speed.
  • Memory: Fast ForWord (ages 6 and up) and Cogmed (ages 6 and up) help you improve working memory in an easy and fun way.

Foster a positive attitude towards learning

A child with learning challenges may very easily feel that that they are ‘dumb’, or that it’s not worth the effort to learn. None of that is true, and as a parent supporting them your support is crucial to them having a positive view toward learning.

homeschooling positive attitude

Some ways parents homeschooling children with learning challenges can help their child have a positive attitude:

  • Build a safe and supportive learning space. Make sure your child feels comfortable asking questions and making mistakes.
  • Reframe mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth. Also called having a ‘growth mindset’, encourage your child to see challenges as puzzles to solve.
  • Expect achievement. This is not to be confused with giving your child pressure to perform. Expecting achievement means expressing confidence that your child can achieve their learning goals. It’s amazing how students blossom when others believe they can succeed.
  • Teach positive self-talk. When faced with a learning challenge, your child may be used to telling themselves “I can’t do this,” or “I’m too stupid to learn this.” Teach them there are better ways to use self-talk. Give them specific wording: “I can do this if I keep at it,” or “If I’m stuck, I’ll ask for help.” If appropriate, you could even teach them about brain plasticity – the idea that the brain changes in response to how it’s used – to help them understand focussed, sustained effort will pay off.

Monitor homeschooling progress, celebrate success

Homeschooling a child with learning challenges means you need to be alert to celebrate achievement. After all, everyone needs to feel like they are progressing.

homeschooling celebrate success

How to be alert to progress and celebrate it:

  • Set SMART Goals: Establish Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals for each subject and skill. Break down long-term goals into smaller, manageable steps. For example, if your child wants to improve their reading fluency, a specific goal of how many words to learn in a session can help them be motivated to progress. The ClearFluency online reading tutor has this kind of goal built in, with a Word Wall for all words to be learned, as well as a quiz at the end to check for knowledge.
  • Praise effort and results: Celebrate effort, improvement, and even small victories. Even just saying “I’m so proud of you for trying!” can go a long way. It’s important to focus on the effort put in, not just the result – because putting in effort is a skill in itself, and is crucial to anything they do.
  • Celebrate milestones: Celebrate major achievements like completing a project, mastering a new skill, or overcoming a learning hurdle. Plan a special outing or create an achievement certificate. At the same time, don’t focus too much on learning for the sake of rewards, but rather the joy of learning and personal satisfaction. This is known as intrinsic motivation.
  • Visualise progress: Create a “success board” to display their achievements and progress. This serves as a constant reminder of their journey and how far they have progressed.

Help homeschooled kids with learning challenges thrive

While homeschooling a child with learning challenges requires dedication and tailored strategies, it’s also a journey filled with opportunities. Embrace their individuality by learning what their learning style is, leverage research-backed online learning programs from Sonic Learning, and help them cultivate a positive attitude with a growth mindset and milestone celebrations. Remember, your love and dedication are you greatest tools to help them succeed. Ready to unlock their potential? Take the free “Find your program” assessment here and discover personalised programs for reading, writing, maths, and more. Empower your child to thrive!

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