How To Combine Homeschooling and Special Needs Therapies (Without Losing Your Mind)
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Does this sound familiar? How will you fit in math, therapy exercises and an OT appointment after breakfast and reading, Speech and preschool work for your younger child in the afternoon, and oh, yeah, they need to play with their friends and go outside and just be kids and then there are meals to fix and a house to clean and therapy exercises and baths before bed and more books to read and something you need to research on the computer after they go to bed but you forgot what it was because your brain no longer works at this time of day and you are Just. So Tired.
We’re doing so much to give our kiddos what they need while also meeting the needs of the rest of the family, and trying to take care of ourselves in the process (maybe). We won’t actually lose our minds, but it just really feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?
I was a homeschooling mom who went from one special needs kid who pretty much had things under control to having a second child completely in crisis and a preschooler along for the ride. I felt overwhelmed as to how to fit special therapies, a sensory diet and other activities into our already busy life of learning.
But I saw and read about strong mommas doing it all around me, and I marveled, learned from them, soaked it up. I’m no expert at this, for sure. We’ve only been at this a year but I’ve learned a lot in that year. I’m sure I’ll learn more.
I have a friend who is already spending many hours a day with therapies, exercises and activities for her special needs toddler and wondering how in the world she is going to fit homeschooling into that when her daughter is older.
Our family adjusted and hers will too. So will yours, if you find yourself in a similar place. Already been doing this for a while? I’d love to hear more from you. Please leave a comment about how you combine homeschooling and special needs home therapies or activities.
Do Whatever You Can at the Same Time
Guess what? There’s a name for this. It’s called “embedding therapy into every day life”. Christie Kiley, who blogs at MamaOT, told me that. She advocates a realistic approach of “weaving” therapies with learning and combining them with other therapies because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
Examples of embedding:
My daughter is learning to skip count but she also has motor-planning issues to work on so we made it into a game that combines both: Indoor Hopscotch. The numbers on the board are what she is working on and she is learning how to hop on one foot, then two, then one, then two.
Anything that needs to be counted (jumping on a trampoline, taking steps, throwing a ball, crossing the midline in a pattycake game) can be utilized for math, whether your child is learning to count to twenty, to count by 5’s, or to memorize multiplication tables.
My daughter has also begun horseback riding to work on her trunk strength, motor planning and sensory sensitivities. As far as she’s concerned, she’s riding because she loves horses. This wonderful obsession with horses has inspired her, for the first time, to choose non-fiction books from the library. We read about horses every day. She makes lists of types of horses and writes her own books on how to care for them. We call that Language Arts in our house.
Don’t feel like you have to do it all.
Prioritize in both school and therapy areas. When my daughter was first diagnosed with SPD, we cut way back on her academics. She was in crisis. She needed to stabilize. Our main focus needed to be going to OT appointments, doing therapeutic activities at home every day and for me, learning as much as I possibly could about her diagnosis and how to help her.
You don’t have to follow the public school’s time table as to when your child needs to learn which subject, which skill, etc. and this has never been clearer for me than when I felt overwhelmed with the combination of home therapies and homeschooling. We also learn all year long, taking breaks when we need to, schooling more lightly in the summer so we can go to the pool and hang out with our publicly schooled friends more.
Don’t volunteer for more stuff, join more groups or take on caring for other people’s kids or adopt six more pets. You are in service to your child and to do it well, and care for the rest of your family and yourself, you can’t take on more.
Any kid you have that can do schoolwork independently, have them do it. I like working with my 9 year old, and I could literally do that all day, lounging on the couch reading endlessly and solving math problems together and looking up stuff on the internet, but I can’t. I need him, more and more, to do what he can on his own. We have time together each day, of course, but my other kids need me. His sister’s special needs are a big darn deal right now and his four-year-old brother needs to learn some stuff, too, rather than just watching LeapFrog Letter Factory and playing with trains all day, which pretty much sums up most days of his preschool year last year.
Get your spouse more involved, even just a little. Involved in school or involved in therapies. My husband took over part of one subject with my 9 year old last year. It was a huge help. They read together one evening a week and did a project together.
My husband is a pretty involved parent but he doesn’t go to the OT appointments with the kids or read all the stuff about their diagnoses that I do. But, finding myself completely exhausted and low on patience with the kids at the end of the day, I appealed to him to learn how to do some of their therapy exercises and do them in the evenings with the kids. They thought this was great fun to have Daddy time with him on the floor and I had some much needed time to myself. Note: You will have to resist the urge to jump in, because he might not be doing things “quite right”. Learn to go with the “close enough” approach and pour yourself a glass of wine or go out and get a pedicure. Much more therapeutic for the whole family, especially the momma.
Don’t do school every day. Last school year, we did not do school on Mondays. Monday was OT day for my older two kids, it involved us driving 30 to 40 minutes each way, depending on traffic and two hours at the therapists office. That took our entire morning. We got into the routine of eating lunch afterwards at a restaurant with a play place because even after 2 hours of therapy, you would think my kids would be tired, but nope. Then we would stop at a new-to-us library on the way home each week to return books and get new ones. That was plenty of activity for all of us for the day. School started on Tuesdays.
Don’t do all subjects every year. Yup. It’s true. We don’t do that. Not because of therapy but because it’s kind of a rhythm we fell into. We’ve gotten really into our history studies, the kids wanted more so we went with that and just never really fit in the science curriculum we planned to use. Luckily, these things have no expiration date so I put it on the shelf and didn’t worry about it. It seemed more important to have a history intensive year. Next year we’ll have a science intensive year. Don’t worry. In the meantime I let them watch a lot of Bill Nye the Science Guy videos on the car’s DVD player while I drove them to therapy appointments so I don’t feel bad that they didn’t get any science this year. That’s my Get Out Of Guilt Free card right there. You can have one, too.
Bring therapeutic activities into your home.
After watching a specialist working with my child for a while, watching friends who worked with their own children, reading other blogs about special needs kids and seeing cool stuff on Pinterest, I picked up a few things. Safely incorporating those into our home has been helpful. For example, my daughter needs more tactile input to address her sensory sensitivities so I put an indoor sandbox in our house. I’ve gotten a lot of comments on various social networks about how insane that is, but mostly because people think it’s messy (it’s not, I promise). It works for us.
My kids frequently choose to use exercise balls to sit on instead of chairs. This strengthens their core and helps them focus on balance. And we will be adding more things this fall, consulting with our OT on what would best suit our everyday needs, things like a platform swing and a scooter board. David’s Mom over at Laughing With Aspergers has a great post about how she learned to bring Occupational Therapy into their home.
Rebekah at The Golden Gleam is homeschooling her kids, some with special needs. They do in home therapies in the mornings and their schooling in the afternoon. Appointments with therapists are easier to get in the early part of the day, with most clients needing appointments after public and private schools let out. She does art projects with her kids while one child is having an in-home therapy.
Another momma who is homeschooling her special needs child and writing about is Tabitha over at Meet Penny. She has lots of posts about homeschooling with autism, including how to teach specific skills and where to find resources for doing activities and exercises in your home to help your child.
More on this topic… I’m planning to write more posts about other parents who are homeschooling special needs kiddos with practical advice on how they do it. Of course, sometimes my best blogging plans don’t actually get to the blog, because I get distracted by other cool stuff I want to write about. So, if you want to read more about this, tell me. That will motivate me to follow through. What would you like to know from the mommas who are in the trenches?