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Tips for homeschooling children with behavioral issues.

Updated on August 17, 2015

Homeschool resources and tips

Summary: Ten tips to a homeschooling program

So, to review the above, there are several essentials:

1. Preparation up front will save you time. Just like with behavior management, proactive planning will make your life so much easier. Notice when you have the most difficulties - is it at a certain time of day? with certain subjects? around certain people? - and if you can't avoid these times/activities/people p[lan with your child around how you are going to manage. Perhaps you can have a secret signal (kids love this) - for both negative and positive behavior - and talk it up - this is like what spies do when they are getting top secret information, so if I see you doing something that I want you to stop, I'll scratch my nose & if I like something you do I'll pull my ear - and let the kids do the same for you!

2. Consistency is key. Simple, but not easy, like any behavioral intervention, the key is consistency. When developing a new behavior, the most effective way to increase this behavior is regular reinforcement for every time a child does the behavior. When trying to initially develop a behavior, you may need to reinforce any efforts towards the behavior - ie picking up dirty clothes off the floor may be the first step to a clean room, so that may get 5 points, putting away clean laundry - another 5 points etc.

3. Develop a schedule. Sounds simple, but is really the core of your program. It's important for a child to know that they have a regular activity at a regular time. This tends to be especially important for kids with emotional/behavioral problems as they often have trouble with transitions and unexpected changes. You may also want to do something like have a clock available so they can judge the time spent on activity (these kids often have a very poor time sense), and some kids need to be counted down to the end of an activity (a reminder at 10 minutes to, at 5 minutes to, at 2 minutes to etc) - for others this increases anxiety, so this really depends on the child.

4. Keep a list of rainy day activities for tough times. Collect interesting articles, web sites and activities for days when you or your child are not in top form. Remember, it's more important that you regularly do something than that you spend a certain amount of time on a certain topic.

5. Make games out of learning. Making words out of number plates can be as valuable as spelling, have kids count the silverware & group them, work out what food are in your lunch group, where do they come from, how are they made etc.

6. Regular reinforcement will increase interest (& make your life easier). Dollar stores are an invaluable source of little prizes, stickers and other motivators. Make reinforcement a big deal, put the sticker chart/points where everyone can see them & track progress (remember - a graph of progress counts as Math). Changing reinforcements regularly is also important to keep both of you from getting bored.

7. Involve your child in developing a program, make it individualized & personalized, use bright colors and folders for different topics. Learning is an adventure.

8. Access support systems, resources and practice self care, get back up for topics which are not your strength. there are tons of educational activities, videos and software on just about any topic.

9. Know your own strengths and weaknesses (self time outs can be a lifesaver)

10. Don't powerstruggle - move on, you can always come back to a topic, but it's probably not worth the meltdown.

Starting out

Homeschooling is, in and of itself a challenge and if you have a child with special needs and/or behavioral/emotional issues it becomes exponentially more difficult.

The secret to a successful homeschooling program with a special needs child lies in an individually tailored program which provides structure and direction and rewards positive behavior and an understanding of your child's particular needs and the ability to modify the curriculum to accommodate their special needs.

There are many educational philosophies which fit well with this ideology within and outside of the public school system. Waldorf, Montessori and unschooling all emphasize following the child's interests and strengths and place an emphasis on self discovery. Whatever your homeschool program it is important to give the message that this is important stuff. Although many parents who homeschool do so because of ideology or clashes with schools, it's important for your child's development not to slam the school system. Explain why you disagree and how you feel you meet your child's needs better, but bad mouthing the educational system teaches kids that being different is not okay. If you as a parent dismiss the educational system you can't expect your child to take it seriously should they ever return to a traditional school.

Another essential ingredient is a schedule, particularly with a child with behavioral/emotional issues, stability, predictability and sameness are paramount. These children often have difficulties with transitions or unexpected changes and regularity and structure indicate that the situation is under control. Many children with behavioral/emotional issues are not good with choices and quickly become overwhelmed. Limit the options to 2 things - would you like to do geography or English? Having a schedule doesn't have to mean Monday 10am is always Math, some kids, particularly those with mood disorders just don't function well without enough sleep. If it's been a rough night, the advantage of homeschool is that you can occasionally let them sleep in, but unless they're in total crisis, schoolwork still happens.

Children look to their parents both to structure and interpret the universe, so if you have consistent expectations this prepares kids for the real world where they may have to go into the office at a certain time each day. One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling, in my opinion is that you can follow the natural learning curiosity of a young child. All children love to learn, sometimes they think they don't because it's not a subject that pique's their interest or because they've failed, but curiosity about the world is inborn and homeschool has the unique advantage of following an individual child's development.

Teaching lessons

One of my favorite concepts, both therapeutically and educationally is the idea of teaching stories. Before the advent of writing, when the dinosaurs roamed people communicated ideas and knowledge in stories and we continue that tradition with myths, fairy tales and fables. Just about anything can be a teaching moment, that's the beauty of it. You and you child go for a walk down the street as part of geography, so they get a spatial and kinesthetic map of the area & have them draw a map on the way home, take a notebook and make a note of interesting sights and you've worked on some English grammar and composition when you compile it into a scrapbook, if you see an interestingly shaped leaf, pick it up, take it home and find out what type of leaf it is (biology) and it's life cycle, then figure out how it fits into the local ecosystem (geography & ecology), plus internet research skills, typing it all counts, it's what you do with it.

Grocery shopping? - have your child write down the list, break it down into food types (health), count the different foods in each group (math), estimate how much it will cost (& have a prize for each really close guess - you'll also be surprised at what many kids think things cost), go through the food pyramid, work out your menu and food groups, alphabetize your list or cluster under aisle, have your child add up prices as you shop and work out the tax and before you know it you've covered algebra, percentages, estimation, categorization, health and nutrition information, writing, organizational skills.

Whew, must be time for coffee...and what can we find there - a science experiment about the differential boiling points of liquids, the history of coffee - the substance, the politics, the role it played in other cultures and economically, milk production and distribution, glass coffee cup? how is glass made....I could go on, but I won't. The point is, being curious yourself models curiosity for your child and curiosity develops thinking, logic, experimentation and learning.

Saving your sanity

While homeschooling can be immensely rewarding, it can also be overwhelming and stressful (there is a reason we actually pay teachers). It's important to remember that you are as important, if not more so, than any lesson, so you need to keep yourself in good condition too.

Develop a list of resources, educational video's, lesson ideas and quick, easy activities so that you have a 'rainy day' collection for days when you are not on top of your game. Just as a teacher has lesson plans, so should you. Have at least a rough schedule so that you can map out which concepts you want your child to focus on for the week so that you have a reference point. Use available supports and resources.

The internet is great for finding groups of people who match your specific interests, there are also tons of places to get support and exchange ideas with others. These are great places to check in, get ideas and encouragement. There are also many (and check these out first) child friendly sites.

Another advantage of the internet is it's ability to connect us with people all over the world. One of my favorite sites is Journey North which has a great program which connects kids all over the world. One of the programs involves planting tulips (which they will send to you for a nominal fee) - kids all over the world do this and log in their location, then when the tulips start to grow, you can watch on a world map of exactly where they grow first. Another part of the program involved making Monarch butterflies and sending them all over the world & tracking it. Great interactive site for kids and one of those "you don't know you're learning sites." Breaking up activities (especially for those with attention difficulties) is often optimum for kids and having a child do several small related activities and then helping them combine them will improve a child's ability to see the overall big picture, which is something many children struggle with.

Having a reward based, rather than a punishment based behavior management system will also, not only save you headaches and drama, but is also a more effective teaching tool. Having frequent, regular rewards built in keeps kids motivated. Rewards don't have to cost a lot of money - getting to choose a favorite dinner, helping make dinner (just don't tell them they're learning), taking a walk with you, choosing a favorite library book, 30 minutes later bedtime, getting the front seat in the car (assuming they're old enough) -  this is a huge incentive!, getting to choose the TV/radio station, going to the dollar store (I love this one), having a friend over, the list is limited only by your imagination. Rewards involving socil time also builds social skills and models for kids positive interpersonal relationships (often an area of struggle). Making sure you focus on the positive, catching kids doing good and reward based behavior management will likely minimize behavior problems and make everyone's life a little easier.

And lastly, but certainly not least - proactive planning. Know your child hates Math - then anticipate difficulties, disguise exercises - finding out how many spoons of sugar in a soda is as valuable as 10 addition problems, make sure you alternate least favorite  with more enjoyable topics, take regular breaks - and give lots of praise and reward for less preferred tasks. Allowing your child to help develop the syllabus may also minimize some of the resistance.

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