Teaching a “special needs” student is a very special opportunity! It will help you to really reflect on the world from another person’s perspective because you will spend more one-on-one time to get to know that person as you help him or her. It will cause you to think more creatively. You will likely need to adjust your expectations (raise or lower them) to something that you originally hadn’t planning on doing. It can strengthen your character and lead you in a direction you never imagined. You likely won’t end up with a boring, routine life at all! And you might even learn something about yourself along the way. Regardless of how dismal or frustrating your experiences become, try to make good memories and remember everyone enjoys refreshing laughter; so calm down take things one step at a time!
Peppermint Stick Learning Company does not currently publish specific “special needs” resources, however, many of our curriculum books and ideas can easily be used with at least some “special needs” students successfully in a home or classroom setting. Here are some aspects that are general features of the curriculum which Joy develops and publishes:
- larger print than typical resources is a common feature.
- less distracting graphics and text is written at a student-level, such as giving simple-to-read instructions. This also means that it doesn’t require an adult-reading level to teach something. An older sibling likely can help a younger sibling with a lesson (to give mom a break).
- with printable books, you can choose to print pages in white paper OR pastel-coloured paper which can help some children learn better. (With our first edition big science books, kindergarten math, and social studies books, we printed on toothier cream paper. Black ink on pure white paper has too high of contrast for some children to feel comfortable using.)
- hands-on learning is incorporated into many lessons, definitely much more than traditional curriculum.
- quite a bit of visual learning, for example, teaching the word “look” by making the “oo” into a picture of eyes in glasses that one can associate word with looking through glasses. We like maps and drawings in geography and diagrams in science, etc..
- project-based learning in a number of subject areas rather than “standardized tests”.
- “around-the-home” type of supplies are common rather than obscure craft or chemical supplies (safer for families with chemical sensitivities)
- less colour-ink used means less ink in the air for the same above reason (plus it is cheaper for you to print pages). It also means that children aren’t distracted with full-colour pages all of the time but can have more of a balance between a full-colour world and a simpler page to look at. Even for our family, if we had chosen all full-colour workbooks for most or every subject or full-colour digital animation, that colour aspect would have been too overwhelming to catch the real lesson the first time.
- optional use of digital technology – examples – if vision-impaired children need to view something in super-size, the printable books are ideal to zoom-in on-screen; if less or no technology is desired for attention-deficit children, lessons can be fully on paper.
For help with the placement of students in a Let Me Read Step level, our tips for teaching struggling readers, or to understand a bit more about different approaches to teaching literacy, please download these (free) pages here. (They are in pdf format.)
Disclaimer: None of us here has official training in “special education”; we only have a background with experiences. Regardless of our background or ambitions we can give no guarantee that our curriculum will be suitable for everyone, including your child. You remain fully responsible for your choices.
This is our background as to why we chose to develop curriculum to reach all kinds of learners, including being somewhat sensitive to those with “special needs”:
My (Joy’s) post-secondary education included a fair amount of “pre-medical” type of coursework (because I was interested in physiotherapy at the time). During my childhood, teens, and young adulthood, I occasionally interacted with, assisted with, or taught children who had physical challenges, autism, or other “special needs” at church, camp, and at my school. Before I was married, I also briefly tutored a learning disabled student in the summer to teach her how to read and do basic math so that she could enter grade 3. In my third year of university, I myself became a “special needs” student and required assistance from disability services. (In hindsight, the cause for my disabilities were likely related to my environmental sensitivities but at the time, all we knew was that I needed help and understanding from the school staff in order to graduate with my degree successfully.) So I do understand “special needs” education from that perspective as well.
Our family and business beginnings: When we began homeschooling, it was very apparent that we had not only “gifted” children but some of them were very strongly “hands-on learners” and simply could not learn in a traditional manner without getting seriously distracted or discouraged or even failing. Change the curriculum and it would make a huge difference and she/they would soar! We continue to see that methods and curriculum do indeed matter at least for a number of people, as we hear from other homeschool moms over the years. (And come to think of it, I too had been like “a square peg in round hole” in school but thankfully, most of my teachers were creative or flexible or both!) Seeing that methodology/curriculum design can make such a significant impact on whether lessons are grasped with fervor or not, we began our business with that point being one of our main reasons. (The other reason was that there was a lack in Canadian science and a few other subjects for homeschooling.)
Because we could understand that how a lesson is presented makes a big difference, we did some investigating and talked with others to find out our options for homeschooling. Here are the 2 options people generally give:
- Either focus only on a student’s learning style strengths (i.e. each kid gets an individualized plan) OR
- Be more balanced in approach and do something that creatively includes all learning styles into one curriculum for all the children in our home and in so doing, help each of them to learn how to succeed in their “weaker” learning style as well as their “strengths”.
Regardless of those options, I also wanted something that would be fun for the children, easy enough for home-life, and eagerly anticipated by everyone rather than a disciplined chore for schoolwork. We also wanted some assurance that homeschooling would not result in many or any learning gaps. We personally chose the more balanced option and are thankful, especially since our family size and complexities continued to expand. Besides being a more sane choice for families with several children (in comparison to having each child on a separate plan), the advantage to balancing both strengths and weaknesses is that, in the long-run, each child has more future options because one’s skills have a broader base. For example, instead of only being able to aim for a “hands-on” career, one might be able to do well with written work in a university.
(I’ll add a note here too that had we only decided to home educate one or two children, we might have chosen the first option. But with 4 or more children, that approach gets too hectic for me (and I’ll dare say, most other moms with larger families). And of course, the expensive cost to buying separate approaches for each child can really add up when, in my opinion, there has to be a better way.)
I don’t tend to get a lot of written feedback but I know that at least one of our books has been enjoyed by a “special needs” student in a school setting while the rest of the class used a different curriculum, and that a homeschool mom contacted us years later to get the digital version of “Let Me Read” because the original version had been so helpful with her first child. I also know that with using very similar methodology for literacy lessons over the years, my mom taught or tutored hundreds of children, of varying abilities and challenges, to read well AND they had fun learning to do so in the process! (She was a well-loved teacher. You can read more about my mom’s background by clicking this link and/or by downloading the Tips for Teaching Older Readers free pdf found at this link here.) My mom used to tell me, “In all those hundreds of kids, there was only one boy [with a very severe disability] whom I couldn’t teach how to read. Whenever you teach, use variety so that in one way or another, the lesson [skill] will stick!”
So PSLC can be a great option for the whole family or just one child within a family. It really is up to what the parents think will be most ideal in their situation. I believe it is the parents, the ones who personally know the individual, who should know “best” as to what type of curriculum might a good “tool” to work with. A program doesn’t need to have a research expert evaluate it for it to be “effective” or “successful” and we have never been interested in submitting our curriculum for analysis or awards. We simply know that it works well for the children who have used it – to the best of our knowledge and experience.
Homeschooling children with “special needs” is a reality which many of us face and it challenges us to remain creative and open-minded since they provide us with a fresh view on education while we seek to find ways to overcome barriers to learning.