I believe the special needs student has been hit the hardest in the wake of the pandemic this spring academic semester. These students thrive in a small group with specialized instruction from Certified Special Educators. That all ended when students were sent home to continue learning. Most of the student population has gone to Online Learning; an opportunity for students to become one with their technology device. This, however, has proven to be an extremely difficult alternative for special needs kids who don’t perform the same as their age-appropriate peers. This scenario has proven equally challenging for the parents of these special learners for they have taken on the role of teacher. Thinking back when I was in college, we used to describe certain situations as BT’s. This meant you had to “Be There.” In a word…delivering instruction to students who don’t learn in the traditional manner is nothing less than a BT. You gotta Be There…remote instruction is simply not an option.
For many families with special needs children, summer learning will be in the forecast. Here are some tips that I hope will make the process easier:
- Set a summer school schedule - Choose the days/times that you will focus on school work. Write them down in word or picture form. Stick to the schedule!
- Build in scheduled breaks and be flexible - Be ready for spur of the moment breaks too! After a specified break, return to the academic task. When you return to complete a non-preferred task, your child quickly learns that the time you have set aside to learn is important...non-negotiable.
- Have a bag of tricks nearby - For the times when your child just can’t seem to focus for even short periods of time - be prepared. Have your supply of gum, peppermints, essential oils and stress balls ready.
- Keep their eye on the prize - At the beginning of each week, decide what your child will be earning at the end of the week for a job well done and what it will take to earn it. Keep it attainable. Choose one or two daily goals, such as following directions, staying in their seat during learning time, remaining positive, etc. Keep track of this behavior with checks, smiley faces, stickers, etc. on an index card or grid. Remember your child only earns these when the behavior is displayed. These are NEVER taken away. Use positive reinforcement only.
- Follow a simple lesson plan - Start the lesson with a previously mastered skill. Then, introduce a new skill. Practice the skill. Finally, transfer the skill to a paper/pencil task. Use manipulatives and props, if appropriate. (base ten blocks, counters, number line) Complete the first two problems together, then allow your child to do a few on their own.
- End each learning session with a fun activity - It can be a game, simple arts and craft project or a short video. Ideally, it ought to relate to the subject area.
- Keep all completed work in a notebook - Separate the work into subject areas and purchase dividers. Now you have the beginning of an at-home curriculum. Check the bottom of the worksheets for the website where you printed the subject matter. You’ll need these websites when you want to re-introduce, reinforce or build upon these skills.
Parents wear many hats and although the “Teacher Hat,” may be one of the most difficult, it is also one of the most important. Every teacher knows...their best ally are their parents...So hats off to YOU!