As the new school year approaches, I find I am being asked this question all the time – What’s the best curriculum for children with learning differences?
Nine years ago, we started homeschooling.
That first year, I actually thought very little about curriculum (I look back on now and wonder, “What in the world was I thinking?”). I purchased the very first one I heard about from a friend. It had worked well for her family for a couple of years, so I figured it would for us as well.
$800.00 and a whole lotta tears (mine and my boys’) later, I knew better.
I think every family needs to find the educational resources that work best for their individual needs.
I think this is exponentially true when we are homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs.
The truth is, some programs are just more effective with out-of-the box learners than others. Another truth – finding what works makes life so much easier, for the kids to be sure, but also for their teacher!
With that in mind, today I want to share my basic approach to choosing learning materials and educational programs for my boys.
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How To Choose Curriculum For Kids With Learning Differences
Flexibility Is Critical
The very first thing I look for when considering any new program or supplemental material is how flexible the overall coursework and work flow will be. Any program that schedules lessons to a tee and has mostly worksheets with text, is just simply not going to be the best fit for my boys. (Tip: Often the Teachers Manual will give you more information about how to modify the program than the student pages. I look for things like “Additional activities for Practice” and “Extras” in the manuals – often, the additional activities end up being our primary learning.)
Finding a program with a multi-sensory approach, particularly one with hands-on, tactile learning, is critical for my youngest son. In order for him to truly grasp a concept, he usually needs some sort of hands-on interaction with it. The problem is that coming up with new activities and scouring Pinterest for ideas takes a ton of time. If I can find a program that already has it planned out for me, I’m in!
A Patchwork Quilt Approach
When it comes to a particular subject, I tend to find a variety of options, rather than sticking to a single program.
For example, when my son began US History last year, I selected Beautiful Feet for his primary learning. We loved the program, and also soon added in Pin-It Maps and historic coloring books to help make the learning stick. We also ended up cooking a few period specific foods and taking a field trip to a local history museum.
I call this my Patchwork Quilt for learning. It’s got a lot going on, but once complete, it all works together beautifully and covers what we need it to.
While this may seem costly, the truth is, we move through curriculum slowly when adding in so many extras. A typical year’s worth of coursework may take us two years to complete, so the cost is spread out and more manageable. Also, the best thing about manipulatives and maps is that they last and can be reused again in later learning.
What Grade Level?
For any child, and particularly one with learning differences, I think grade level is at best, only a suggestion when it comes to selecting the right learning program. My boys are all over the place in terms of where they would actually “test” for typical school grades. The best way I have found to select the right level for my sons is to take a look at sample exercises typically offered by publishers. (I explain much more in this post about our current Language Arts curriculum.)
It’s Not The Boss, You are
It’s taken me seven years to learn this (and, honestly, I am still learning it). No matter what, I am the one who decides how we use the curriculum. No book or sample schedule can define what’s best for my family’s progress.
When I start to feel a little nervous about how far we are straying from the initial instruction, I try to look at the end-result. Are my kids progressing? Are they learning? Are they enjoying the activities? If the answers are anywhere near yes, I’m good, no matter how far off the traditional curriculum course we may be.
What’s The Best Curriculum For Children With Special Needs?
This is the post I wish I would’ve read that first year when it seemed like we were doomed to fail and had no idea how to make this homeschool thing actually work for my children. I spent way too much time worrying about “doing it right” and checking all the boxes. Not only was it not serving my boys well, but none of us were having any fun at all.
The very best curriculum for any child, and especially one with special needs, is the one that works best with his or her strengths and interests.
Loosening my curriculum expectations and allowing myself to just find the products that make sense for my learners, has lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders.
It has allowed us to latch on to learning in a way that inspires enthusiasm and brings joy.
For more on homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs:
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.