Sometimes, the challenge a child faces is more than just a learning style. Here’s how to be flexible and sensitive to a child’s special needs. This is day four of my series on handling the “difficult” student in your homeschool co-op.
From the start, I’ve made it clear that I don’t believe in difficult students – only difficult circumstances.
Over the course of this series, I’ve offered suggestions for changing the circumstances of your homeschool co-op classroom. We’ve talked about factoring in the average attention span of a child (10-15 minutes) and switching activities accordingly. We’ve talked about recognizing the multiple intelligences of your students and providing opportunities to use them. But there are two more things we haven’t talked about, and I’d be negligent if I didn’t bring them up. First,
A fantastic teaching toolbox is worthless without flexibility.
Sometimes, the challenge a child faces is more than a learning style.
The importance of flexibility
Do you ever feel like the only constant in motherhood is change? It’s the same in teaching; whether we are working with our children at home or with others in a co-op classroom, the environment is in a constant state of flux.
I admit I struggle with change. But I struggle even more with the alternative: a complete breakdown in learning relationships when it’s my way or the highway.
Let’s say you’ve decided to try some of the activities I’ve suggested over the past few days. You’ve given your instructions, provided the materials, and set the kids in motion. Everyone gets to work – except John.
He’s sitting in the corner, scowling.
Why isn’t John as excited as his classmates? Is he being recalcitrant? Is he a troublemaker?
Probably not. Chances are, John just doesn’t learn or think in the way the activity requires. He’s not enthusiastic because he doesn’t know what to do, or he’s concerned he might make a mistake.
As I said in the introduction to the series, sometimes addressing multiple intelligences can feel like a dog and pony show, especially when you realize not every child will like every activity. Fortunately, there are solutions:
- Incorporate several activities into one class. Offer opportunities for discussion, creation, and presentation.
- Offer choices to your students through classroom activity stations.
- Develop a rapport with students so they are comfortable trying new things.
- Be open to changing the lesson if it just isn’t working.
You can’t make everybody happy all the time. But if you maintain an attitude of flexibility, the students will respond in kind.
The impact of special needs
In a diverse group setting, a teacher can expect to encounter students of all talents and backgrounds. This includes students with special needs, such as Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders, anxiety disorders and chronic depression, giftedness and twice-exceptionality, and dyslexia, ADD, and ADHD.
A special needs student is any child whose pre-existing condition prevents her from fully accessing the curriculum.
In layman’s terms, they are creative, beautiful, wonderful children whose brains are wired differently.
Even if you are providing a variety of activities to engage different learners, you still may find that children with special needs are difficult to engage. A need for routine, an attachment to objects or ideas, or an abreaction to noises, textures, or odors are just a few of the difficulties such children encounter. Some children face more than one difficulty: for example, both of my girls are twice-exceptional – gifted, sensory kiddos with an added dose of anxiety.
What does this mean for the classroom? For the student, it’s like climbing a hill with a bag of rocks around your neck. The feat is possible, but it’s harder, takes longer, and wears you out a lot faster. Without flexibility and accommodations, this opens the door for elopement (leaving the classroom), defiance, outbursts, and meltdowns.
Supporting the special needs child
If you know a child in your co-op has special needs, be sure to avail yourself of appropriate accommodations. Work closely with the parents and other adult members of the co-op to provide for the child’s needs as discretely as possible.
If you suspect a child has special needs but have no confirmation, approach the parents as allies:
- Begin the conversation with a positive comment about the child
- John is a joy to have in class. He knows so much about Greek history loves sharing that knowledge with us.
- Explain what you’ve noticed in the classroom, but gently
- I’ve noticed that John gets frustrated easily when there is a lot of activity in our classroom.
- Ask what you can do to help
- How can I help him be more comfortable when our discussions are lively?
When you approach the conversation this way, the focus remains on your desire to help the child succeed. The parents can reveal information as they are able, and you’ll preserve the family’s right to confidentiality and safeguard their emotional needs.
Reaching every child may seem like a monumental task, requiring mountains of preparation and classroom ingenuity. Truthfully, though, it only takes a bit of planning at the start. When systems and activities are in place, the children take ownership and construct their own knowledge with you as their guide.
This is where we cultivate an interest in education for education’s sake. Isn’t that the reason why so many of us decided to homeschool in the first place? To light a fire to their curiosity and foster a love for the true, the good, and the beautiful? When we seek to reach every child through their individual intelligences, we open up a world of exploration and discovery that will serve them well, even into adulthood.
This is real learning – for every child.