Homeschooling for children and young people with SEND needs
You may be homeschooling by choice, you may be homeschooling as the schools allocated for your child have informed you that they ‘can’t support their needs’ or, as at time of writing, you may have very quickly been forced into homeschooling because of lockdown.
Whichever way, homeschooling can be a challenging undertaking, especially if you’re not confident in your own abilities to teach. Add onto that the additional needs your child has, and it may be tricky to know where to start.
The advantage you have over teachers in a school is that you know your child the best
This article lays out some foundations for homeschooling children with SEND needs. We start though, with the most important rule: do what works best for your child(ren), in this situation, for you – even if it’s not what someone else has advised.
There is a lot of well-meaning advice about homeschooling available. Some of it will be gold dust, but what works for some won’t work for all. The advantage you have over teachers in a school is that you know your child the best. You can decide what will work for them – and even that will be different day-to-day, minute-by-minute. It will depend on them and you – which leads to my first point…
1. Put your own oxygen mask on first
Forget everyone else for a minute. What are your own expectations of yourself around homeschooling?
If you hate maths, then don’t set yourself up with three hours every morning: it’s unrealistic and you will fail. Instead, find a way that will work for you. Maybe this is the lesson where your child becomes the teacher and you do it every other day?
Consider how you can emulate a safe learning environment within the household
Think of the practicalities. If you know you get hungry around 11am, eat breakfast before you start activities/lessons, and build in a food prep activity for 30mins each morning – that’s learning too!
If you are reading this during lockdown, acknowledge that a worldwide pandemic will be having an emotional impact on you too (let alone the children). Sometimes you will need to cry/scream/sleep yourself, and pushing yourself to maintain a strict school routine during that time may not be the most useful thing to do. (Though many people do find routines helpful – so maybe it’s a case of developing a different routine that works for you.)
That’s why you need to put your own oxygen mask on first. Remember: happy teachers/carers = happy children.
2. Safety first (learning second)
Many children with SEND need a certain environment to feel safe. Consider how you can emulate a safe learning environment within the household.
If children are used to going to school, they have a journey, a costume change, a change of personnel – which all signals you’re in a learning space now, expectations are different to at home, get ready to learn. Without these signals children may resist you being their ‘teacher’ and home being their ‘school.’
Create or re-establish a calm learning space – somewhere that is calm, familiar, consistent. It could be a ‘school area’ in your house, or prop/s that signify school has started. For example, depending on the age of the child, it could be a special table cloth for the kitchen table when it’s school, or a phones-in-the-box-during-lesson-time routine, or for little ones you may even have a teacher costume – got a blackboard and chalk?!
In a recent webinar I hosted on homeschooling, one parent shared a successful tip: they take a register before starting schoolwork!
3. School expectations
If you are still working alongside a school, then understand what their expectations are (while remembering that you have permission to make it work for you and your child).
At the time of writing (April 2020), there has been no guidance given from the Department of Education (DfE) on academic expectations during Covid19 lockdown. However, there are a whole range of expectations coming from schools. If you feel these are unrealistic – either too much or too little – discuss this with the school/s.
Any work you are sent by school or find online is unlikely to be ‘off-the-shelf’ ready for an individual
Do remember that many schools are running on a skeleton staff. Teaching staff have very quickly had to try and adapt to remote learning – often without the technology and training in place. Please communicate with your schools but do be patient if you’re waiting for work to be sent – the teacher you’re waiting for may be trying to work from home while simultaneously homeschooling their own children, or they may be ill themselves. Be kind.
There are many online resources available right now; it may be that for a while you find your own suitable ones for your child. (The DfE’s advice for parents and carers looking after children with SEND includes links to suggested resources.)
End of key stage tests, GCSEs and A level exams have been cancelled for this academic year (2019-2020). Your schools and exam boards should give you the latest in how this will affect your child. (Also the DfE have published some FAQs on cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels.)
This will have a knock-on effect on our children’s focus. They may be feeling lost, frustrated, untrusting – or elated! For GCSE and A level pupils, where grades will affect entries to colleges and universities, keep in touch with the school. You may be asked to gather evidence of work or re-take an exam in the autumn term 2020.
Differentiation is adapting materials and resources that already exist – you do NOT have to reinvent the wheel on this. There are MANY free resources for lessons, and your school may also have provided some – if not, ask.
When is your child most happy and calm? That’s the clue of where to start when introducing ‘formal’ learning. If you don’t think the work sent home is appropriate, it may be that there’s work intended for another year group which is more suitable.
Speaking to others regularly who are experiencing similar situations will give you ideas, support and a place to share
Your child may have specific learning needs: they might need to work in short breaks, have texts read aloud to them a few times before they can write about it, only have one sum put in front of them at a time so as not to become overwhelmed. Any work you are sent by school or find online is unlikely to be ‘off-the-shelf’ ready for an individual.
Sometimes, the root of distressing behaviour and challenges can stem from the work not being sufficiently differentiated for a child’s particular needs. If you are unsure how to do this, seek guidance from your school, or find a supportive organisation/group that specialise in your child’s type of learning need.
Who is your immediate day-to-day support? Do you have a network of others in similar positions?
Schedule in regular contact time with your network – you’re not alone in this. Parents and carers of pupils with specific needs will have specific challenges. Speaking to others regularly who are experiencing similar situations will give you ideas, support and a place to share.
Which brings us back to you, and my first point. Remember: happy teachers/carers = happy children.