Homeschooling Students with Learning Challenges

by DeeDee Hughes, Managing Editor of Oak Meadow’s Living Education

Overcrowded. Underfunded. Overwhelmed staff. No time for personalized attention, and no quiet space to provide it. As the litany of concerns over public schooling grows, so too do the numbers of families turning to homeschooling. For families facing the unique challenges of ADD/ADHD, homeschooling offers an even greater appeal, and often provides the best path to an engaging and effective educational experience for their child.Homeschooling allows many opportunities for families to tailor their child’s education to his or her unique learning abilities and needs. Homeschooling parents have the freedom to adapt and modify lessons as needed to help students get the most out of the material without being overwhelmed. This strategy of setting up for success can be a lifeline for children with learning challenges and their families.

Giving Students What They Need

According to studies by the U.S. Department of Education , modifying a student’s physical and social environment is the best way to provide behavioral and learning support. Homeschooling, by design, can help eliminate many of the environmental triggers that can make learning difficult: social distractions, chaotic surroundings, noise disturbances, etc. The one-to-one attention from the homeschooling parent can help the student establish better focus and stay on task. Executive functioning skills such as time management, following through on assignments, and meeting deadlines are all fostered in a low-key, organic way with the independent learning model.

Make Learning Relevant

Homeschooling parents have many choices of curricula and are encouraged to carefully consider the merits of each curriculum provider based on the specific learning needs of their child. Since frustration over learning can manifest in disruptive behavior, students often benefit from a learning approach that employs a wide variety of skills, activities and interests. When students are studying Ben Franklin, for instance, they may be encouraged to make a quill pen, vegetable ink, and parchment paper before writing a speech he might have made to the Continental Congress. When learning about animal classification systems, they might spend time digging in the garden for specimens, drawing what was found, and then researching the similarities and differences between them.  Giving students such varied, hands-on experiences makes learning more relevant, and allowing many different ways to demonstrate mastery of the material contributes to a higher probability of success.

Custom Ordered, Custom Fit

The ability to adapt the school schedule to suit the child is another benefit homeschooling can offer that can be of particular support to students with ADD/ADHD or other learning challenges. School can adapt to the child rather than forcing the child to adapt to the school. Homeschoolers can not only modify lessons as needed—simplifying assignments or adding complexity based on the student’s individual abilities—but the student’s work is self-paced. Students can move quickly through material that is easily mastered and take extra time with more challenging subjects or skills. Students can work at different grade levels in different subjects.

Curriculum that is organized into weekly lessons allows students the flexibility to focus on one subject per day, or to do a little bit in each subject every day—whichever method works best for that individual. They can tackle more difficult subjects early in the day, while they are well-rested and fresh. Students can gain confidence and feel successful using curriculum that gives clear instructions for each assignment, breaking into manageable blocks the multiple tasks and complex information within each lesson.
The structure and routine of a well-established homeschooling day can allow the student to accomplish quality work while taking breaks (outdoors!) as needed, and finishing the day before mental or emotional fatigue sets in.

Creative, Confident Kids

Many studies have proven the value of creative, artistic expression. Integrating an artistic or imaginative element into the child’s academic life can have far-reaching benefits. Creative pursuits encourage creative thinking and an agile, flexible mind, attributes increasingly cited as necessary for 21st century success. There are many ways to include arts, crafts, handwork, woodworking, etc. into a homeschooling program, whether or not it is specifically addressed in the curriculum. In addition, if students are given a choice of hands-on projects to complete that utilize different learning styles, this type of experiential learning is, in itself, creative.

Letting the student explore a subject from many angles—artistic as well as academic—communicates the value of the student’s own unique creative impulse. Acknowledging and honoring the student’s individuality engenders a sense of accomplishment, self-respect and self-assurance. These characteristics are desirable in all students, but particularly important for students who may be struggling in other areas.

Best of Both Worlds: The Distance Learning Model

While some parents may shy away from home learning out of fear of isolation or concern about the lack of academic or emotional support, there are homeschooling options that bring the best of home and school together. Enrollment in an accredited distance learning school allows students to have their work consistently monitored and assessed by a teacher, and to receive official academic credit, while providing support and guidance to the home teacher. Distance learning educators often have years of classroom experience as well as expertise in guiding homeschoolers and their parents. Through email and phone discussions, these teachers can be adept at providing support to both student and parent, and assistance with curriculum modifications as needed. Teachers generally provide detailed written feedback when student work is submitted (which is done on a frequent, regular basis throughout the school year), making distance learning a uniquely individualized learning model.

While homeschooling is not right for everyone, it can be an excellent choice for students who are not thriving in the classroom setting. With nearly unlimited potential for individualized adaptations, homeschooling can be the best choice for students with learning challenges, setting them up for success in school and in life.

1. Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resource for School and Home (U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, 2003)