Dawn Spence

During this time of COVID-19 closures and the world’s reliance on the web for information as well as learning, it all can be overwhelming to navigate what resources to use or how to use them in your homeschool.

 

One thing to consider is building time into your homeschooling schedule to try out a new product since so many vendors are offering their services for free or at greatly reduced rates while public schools are closed.

 

This is especially advantageous to special education homeschooling families as internet learning sites and mobile apps can be powerful tools for students who struggle with pencil and pen assignments.

 

Here are some of my favorite resources that are giving away free trials right now and the type of learner they support.

 

#1 – Learning Ally 

This is a great resource for children with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, vision issues, or other learning disabilities that make it hard for a child to read. With libraries being closed and long waiting lists for audiobooks to check out from your local library, this is where Learning Ally can help. If you are needing help but can not pay at this time they have a fee waiver form you can fill out. They provide audio and your child can also follow the highlighted text as they listen.

 

#2 – Audible

Another great, and currently free, audiobook resource for auditory learners is Audible. Using this service, children can listen to a wide range of books, from classics or one of my daughter’s favorites, Hank the Cowdog. This resource is free as long as school buildings are closed, so now is a great time for the family to listen to stories together and use their imagination and build those skills of making movies in their minds while listening.

 

#3 – Boom Learning-Boom Cards

Boom cards is a website you can use to create digital games and activities. Right now you can sign up for a free account and use the free premade games, create your own, or create more elaborate games with add-on items using their online store. These activities are great for visual learners as well as children who need a hands-on approach to learning. There are also speech activities you can use to fill the gap while your child’s speech therapy is on hold. Additionally, they offer videos that walk you through how to make your own boom cards. You can also share your boom cards, find them free on Teacher Pay Teachers, and download links to your Boom Learning account!

 

#4 – BrainPopJr  and BrainPop

These sites are online tools that help engage your learner and provide a unique way to teach concepts your learner might be struggling with. Both of these websites are free right now. BrainPopJr is geared to K-3 and teaches the basic concepts of science, health, reading, writing, social studies, and technology. Each concept starts with a video for your visual learner and then allows the student to apply the concept in various ways, like playing a game, drawing, acting, doing a printable hands-on activity, or even sharing jokes. The activities are interactive and can be modified to meet your child’s needs. These tools will especially support your reluctant writers and give them a way to uniquely present their understanding of the concept they have been studying. BrainPop is very similar to BrainPopJr but targets learners K-12 and goes more in-depth teaching and evaluations.

 

#5 – Boardmaker Online

This website is an online platform that supports education, communication, and social and emotional learning using PCS( Picture Communication System). This is great for children with Autism and other learning disabilities. They are giving 90-day trials right now and you have access to over 40,000 PCS. They are also providing many other resources that can be found here. If your child needs a visual schedule or behavior support you can download them. Their website provides webinars and video libraries you may access for free as well. The free activities provide hands-on themes that can be downloaded for free. If your child has an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device they are also providing free downloads.

 

I hope you find these resources for struggling learners helpful to try out while they are free. Who knows, you may find a new way to instruct your student that makes homeschooling easier for your struggling learner.

 

 

 

 


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Dawn Spence

I had the privilege of interviewing the Northcutt family and want to share their beautiful adoption story with you.

 

What opened your heart to adoption?

My husband worked in the social work field and we had friends that worked in the field too. Too many times my husband, his co-workers, or friends had to sleep in their offices with foster kids because there were no foster homes to take them in.

When my husband took another job, after 13 years in the field, I said we are going to foster because now I can do something about it. We said we would take one of each (we have 2 bio kids one of each) but were licensed for 6 total (state’s limit for our space). The first call we got was for part of a sibling group of 6, they needed 4 beds. I didn’t have the heart split them up, so we accepted them into our home and that was the start of our adventure. We were parents of little ones again.

This last year we completed our first adoption. Our son came as a very tiny and sick NICU baby that we brought home when he was 3 days old. I walked into his hospital room and the nurse looked at me and called me mom. That was weird and very unexpected. I asked to hold him and as I held him the nurse stood there and said: “Well mom he needs a name”. I looked at my husband and we knew this baby would be ours forever. How did I know this? I don’t know, it was just a God thing.

We have fostered for just over 2 years now and 29 beautiful babies have walked into our hearts. We have adopted 1 and this year will probably adopt 2 to 4 more. Why adopt them all? Because God commands us to take care of the orphans and this is our homeschool family’s adoption journey. We have been called to love these children. 

 

How did adoption change your homeschooling life?

We homeschooled our 2 biological kids. I graduated one at the age of 16 and she is now a senior at SHSU, at the age of 19. We have another in high school who still lives at home. Our homeschool day looks nothing like public school. We have 5 toddlers/babies right now who are all under age 3. My son gets an education that no curriculum could ever provide because of our home environment. I am a school teacher at heart and we did a lot of table learning when he was younger, but it is very different now.

I look forward to starting the homeschooling journey all over again with my littles because I learned so much when we homeschooled our older kids. Like the things I wish we could have done differently as well as things that were just perfect that I look forward to repeating.

My older kids will be better parents and more compassionate after being part of raising these littles. They have more life skills than any curriculum could teach. Both of our kids tell us they are thankful we opened up our home to love other children because it showed them so much about how to really love. We know we can’t save the world, but we can make the world look a little better for at least one child as we love them.

I don’t sit and teach my son anymore, but mostly that is because he is in high school and his lessons are self-paced. I give the bones of what he needs to do to him and then he finds the time to get his schoolwork done. Sometimes getting his schoolwork done is very hard because of everything that goes on in our home with fostering and raising babies. We are on the go a lot so he does school in the car, sometimes while holding or feeding a baby, or while watching the babies play. I help him when he needs it but my son is very self-driven so that doesn’t happen often.

 

Both of our kids tell us they are thankful we opened up our home to love other children because it showed them so much about how to really love.

 

What is the best part of adoption for you?

I can’t pick just one thing, so here are two:

1) Getting to enjoy my newly adopted son while he grows, laughs, learns, and is healthy. He is 17-months old, he is not sick anymore, he is absolutely spoiled, and I am beyond blessed that he calls me Mom.

2) Getting to watch my big ones love on these babies with Christ’s love.

 

What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is thinking about adoption?

If you are thinking about adoption then just do it. Don’t wait. The timing is never perfect in our eyes. You will never be financially stable enough, have enough room in your home, or any other excuse you can come up with. If we don’t step in and do our part, who will?

We adopted our son as an infant but we did that because God sent him to us as an infant. This year we hope to finalize an adoption for a sibling group of two girls ages 2 and 7. We will possibly adopt another sibling group of two special needs boys if they cannot return home.

All of our kiddos have some major trauma in their pasts which in itself causes a lot of special needs. My biological kids are Neurotypical so I am by no means qualified to parent a special needs child, but who is ever qualified to parent right out the door? You learn as you go, and you just figure it out.

Don’t be afraid of adopting because you are not sure you can handle a child’s needs. We are moms and dads and God has equipped us for whatever He calls us to do.

As my husband says, “Don’t think about the what if’s. Think about who, and how that ‘who’ needs you right now.”

 

 

 

 

 


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Dawn Spence

I am very much a type-A person. I love to find ways to organize my house, my life, and my homeschool. I also find my children do better with organization, and it sets the tone and expectations within our home and homeschool.

Children need structure even though their natural inclination is to resist it. This is especially true for children with special needs. Knowing the order of the day and a checklist of what needs to be done provides comfort and stability.

I have found that finding little things to help me organize my day amidst therapies, teaching, and everyday life can be rewarding and stress relieving. Here are some simple things that have helped organize our homeschool days that I hope will help you organize your homeschool.

 

Provide Daily Checklists

I provide my children with weekly checklists of their assignments. I love that my children wake up and can tackle their assignments without asking me what they need to do. They can choose to work and complete all their math in one day if they choose. It provides self-discipline and independence.

The checklist is especially helpful when my daughter has therapy because then my other children can look at their lists and work on one or more of their independent lessons. They know if they need help they can circle the lesson and work with me later when I become available.

 

Calendar With Visuals

Another helpful tool is a wall calendar with pictures. This tool is valuable to everyone in the family. It helps us see when things will be taking place during the week like field trips, doctor visits, and special holidays. My children, like most, work better when they know what to expect and can count down to an exciting activity. Using pictures ensures even the non-readers in your home can take advantage of these calendar reminders.

The size of the calendar is up to you. You can use personal-sized calendars or a wall-sized calendar. One additional item we add to our calendar is special dates about the places and people we have been studying in our lessons.

 

Organized Work Areas

Organized work areas are a simple organization tool, but can save a great deal of time. My children have everything they need at our group work station and their student desks. Not having to stop to provide utensils and paper helps everyone stay on task. I take a little extra time on Sunday night preparing these areas for the week. Trust me, a little prep ahead of time can save you lots of time throughout the week.

 

Yes, homeschooling can be hard, but implementing ways to organize your homeschool doesn’t have to be.

 

 

 

 

 


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Dawn Spence

When babies are born they communicate in cries to get their needs met. We lovingly meet their needs and wait to hear their first words. Sometimes those words take longer to hear or may come in a different form. My daughter has a global developmental delay, and even though we know why she has a communication disorder, waiting for her to be able to communicate was frustrating for her and us as well. Finding strategies to help your child with a communication or language disorder helps lessen their frustration.

Strategies for Helping with Language Disorders

 

Sign Language

When she was younger, my daughter had a speech delay and needed a language and a voice. We started using functional sign language with my daughter such as more, finished, work, all done and stop. Then we moved on to colors, animals, and everyday language. Giving my daughter a way to communicate her needs helped her to have a voice. We used Signing Times, and she would watch the videos and learn to sign the new vocabulary. The songs and the characters made learning enjoyable, and it kept her attention.

 

Pictures and Schedules

To a child with language deficits, the everyday life and busy schedules of the day can be overwhelming. My daughter would be overwhelmed with activities and expectations, which would then lead to a meltdown. I had to learn that her frustration with the difficulties of communicating and understanding our day led to her meltdowns. She needed structure and an order to her day. We made picture schedules of her day from therapy to meals. We took pictures and laminated them and had them posted around the house. Her day in pictures and what was expected of her became a tool and gave her day meaning. I also took pictures of her doctors, therapists, and places that we would visit frequently. If our schedule would be different or involved a doctor visit, seeing the picture would help with her anxiety. I used hands-on tools in anticipation of going to the dentist. I found that situations where new things that she may not expect needed more tools of preparation.

 

 

 

She practiced brushing off her sugar bugs to help her get prepared with the unexpected and the anxiety. The more we talked and practiced for the doctor visit the more relaxed and successful it became.

 

Giving Time

My daughter has both an expressive and receptive language disorder. This basically means that she struggles with understanding what others say to her and with expressing herself. I know that she needs me to give her time to respond to what I say and time to put her words together. When I ask my daughter a question, I give her extra time to answer. Using verbal and visual cues helps her organize her thoughts and her language. I can see on my daughter’s face that she knows what to say but needs help getting it out. I have learned that I need to stop and allow her the time to gather her thoughts. If she still needs help, giving her options or verbal cues helps her to produce her answer.

 

Having a communication disorder has no time frame and it takes patience for everyone involved. Give lots of praise and give your child grace and time and love. Using these strategies to give your child a voice and the opportunity to work through the frustrations of learning to communicate gives them more than just tools for language; it speaks to them a language of love.

 

 

 

 


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By Dawn Spence

Holidays can be exciting and overwhelming for anyone with all the lights, sounds, crowds of people, and excitement. Many companies and churches are recognizing the need for sensory friendly activities or events; but when so many people show up, those too can become overwhelming. 

 

When my daughter was younger we would create all the sights and sounds of the holidays in a way that she could enjoy them in our own home. I am sharing my top 5 five fun sensory friendly activities that the whole family can enjoy.

 

 

5 Fun Sensory Friendly Activities for the Holidays

 

1. Playing with Candy Cane Rice
This activity combines the smells of the holiday and looks like a candy cane. All you need is white rice, food coloring, and peppermint oil or extract. Half your bag of rice and put one half in a gallon size bag with food coloring and the oil/extract and mix it well. 

Then take it out the bag and place on a tray to dry out for a couple of hours. When dry, mix the white and red and let the fun begin. The smell and feel of the rice is fun for any age.

 

2. Making Play Snow
I love real snow, but we do not get much real snow in Houston, which means we have to make ours. It makes a great inside activity. I found this recipe and it easy to make and easy to clean up. You will need 3 cups baking soda and one-half cup of white conditioner.

Mix together, and have fun. For even more fun, use ice cubes to make igloos and add in some toy penguins.

 

3. Creating Holiday Scented Playdough
My kids love homemade playdough. Not only does it feel great but you can make unique colors and holiday scents. I got the recipe here.

After making my dough I would make peppermint for the pink or red. You can add a few drops of peppermint extract or oils. I used pumpkin spice seasoning to make my orange playdough smell like pumpkin. You can make cinnamon flavored and more. I suggest keeping in an airtight container. It also makes a great gift.

 

4. Enjoying the Christmas Lights
Going to a display of lights or events where you walk through tunnels of glowing lights may be overwhelming to your child. When my daughter was young, it was just too much to walk around in the crowds; but she loves lights. So we started our own tradition of getting on our PJs, grabbing a drink and snack, and driving around to see lights. We would play a Christmas themed movie in the car until we would get to where we were going. We still do this activity to this day.


5. Reading Books In a Blanket Fort

Sometimes our kids need the warm and cozy feel in the hustle bustle of the holidays. What a great time to build a fort and read some of their favorite Christmas stories. You can add some battery-operated Christmas lights to your fort. Make it fun and memorable.

 

Whatever you do this holiday to make it special for your family, may you enjoy the memories that you make. 

 

 


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By Dawn Spence

Am I the Best Teacher for My Child? This is a question that I still ask myself all the time. I know it is driven by two things guilt and fear. Guilt that I am not doing things perfectly and the fear that I never will.

 

Well I am right I am not doing it perfectly and I never will, but that is okay. I am learning that my kids don’t need a perfect mom or teacher. Instead, what they need is for me to keep going and never give up on them or myself.

 

Homeschooling is a journey of trial and error and finding out what works. Sometimes it is trying 5 different math curriculums before you find the one that is the right fit. Just because you make the effort to try each of those options and don’t give up is is what makes you the right person to homeschool your child. You kept looking and searching. No one loves your child like you and wants him or her to succeed like you do. You make it your mission to wake up every morning and help your child to do better to learn something new.

 

Teaching special needs children can be tiring when your child is not catching onto a concept you have been teaching for weeks. But you have the gift of not moving on because you are homeschooling and can set the pace based on the needs of your child. I would think I was failing my child because she was not learning to read or learning a new math concept, but I realized in the midst of that struggle that I am the best teacher for my child because I push her on and we work through it together.

 

My daughter has a learning disability and remembering things for her can be a struggle. We keep trying and working through lessons until she gets them. My heart takes it personally when she is not learning and the fear comes when I start to think I am not teaching her what she needs.

 

Momma guilt is real. Anyone can teach your child, but it’s your heart’s pursuit to teach beyond the struggles which will make your child soar. Just the other day, my daughter reminded me of this exact thing. While she was playing, and she looked up at me and said, “Momma thank you for believing that I am smart.” I melted. Then, I prayed. “God let me see teaching my children is not about me being perfect, but having a willing and open heart to teach them the best I can each day.”

 

So yes, I am the right teacher for my child and so are you.

 

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By Dawn Spence


When I taught public school, the one thing that inspired me to teach was creating units. A fellow teacher and I created a space unit for our 40 fourth graders, and the learning and excitement that our students expressed made teaching come alive.

 

When I started teaching my twin girls preschool, I knew that units are what I wanted to do. I created units on the ocean, fall, winter, and the zoo. It was the most memorable year of teaching. I still enjoy doing units with my kids with lots of interactive learning and activities.

 

Creating a unit is not hard but it does take some planning. When you write your unit you can use it as your only curriculum.

 

 

Planning Your Unit
 
Topic
First, plan out what excites you and your learner. If the learning is engaging and holds the interest of your learner, the learning will come. I found “fall” to be a unit that can be adapted to older and younger students. “Fall” also works will all types of learners. 

 

Map Subjects
Next, map out what subjects that you want to be included in your unit. You can easily involve your core subjects, but you can usually include much more. When I created my “fall” unit, I was able to include math, science, history, language arts, reading, and art. You can make the lessons simple or complex. I would draw a map out and under each subject, I would list out what I wanted to cover. 

Math using pumpkins was hands-on and everyone was ready for school in the morning. If your state includes Good Citizenship you can add that as well. Do not forget to add in field trips to allow your unit to become real life for your learner. Make sure also figure out how long you want your unit to last.

 

Develop Lessons
Third, it is time to develop your lessons. This step can be fun and overwhelming at the same time. There are so many activities that you can add to your unit and many places to get ideas. I started with Teachers Pay Teachers, File Folder Heaven, and homeschooling blogs. I would gather ideas and sometimes the activities that I saw inspired me to create my own. I have created a sample graphic organizer to help with your planning. (Click here to download the below image as a free document.)



Determine Assessments
Last, decide how you want to grade or assess their learning. You can create a lapbook, and at the end of the unit your student could present what they learned with a hands-on project or report. For more ideas on how to grade or assess you can read Amy Vickery’s article: Making The Grade: Strategies for Grading your Homeschool Student .

 

Units can be a great way to have fun while learning and can engage your student. I also found that I was able to see what my child’s interests were and what made them excited to learn. Have you created a Unit Study that you would like to share? If you have, comment below or share it on our resource page.

 

 


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By Dawn Spence

A new school year is just around the corner and with it comes new IEP goals and objectives. Sometimes your goals may be continuing from the year before, or you may have new goals. As you start out a new school year with new goals, you want your child to embrace those goals and enjoy the new challenges. Here are 4 ways to start out your year with new goals.

1. Break Down the Goals
All your goals do not have to be introduced at one time or even in the same week. Let your child get comfortable working on a new goal before introducing more goals. You can do read-alouds or play games so that there is something to look forward to after working on a challenging activity.

2. Take it Slow

IEP goals are usually set for a school year or a physical year, so you have plenty of time to work on meeting goals. You could work on language arts goals on Wednesdays and Fridays, and then work on math goals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Make the schedule work for you and your child.

3. Make it Exciting

If you are excited and have joy about teaching the goal, that will go a long way to help your child look forward to the activities. You can take their goals and make a game. If a goal is hard for the student, make the challenge something that they will look forward to tackling.

4. Be Flexible

If you introduce a new goal and the method that you are using is not working, you can always change it. You might realize that writing with pen and paper will not produce that paper but typing it will. You can even ask your child what would help him or her to achieve the goal.

IEP goals are a great way to organize your academic year and show progress. Allow yourself the space and grace to learn alongside your child.

If you would like more help in establishing an IEP for your homeschooled student, check out these articles well as our IEP Information page and free IEP template download:

4 Things to Prepare Before Writing Your Child’s IEP 
How to Write IEP Goals and Objectives
Writing an IEP: Accommodations and Modifications
How to Track IEP Goals

 


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By Dawn Spence

We have been blessed to have a wonderful Occupational Therapist that comes to our home to work with our daughter. Occupational Therapy (OT) can be a valuable tool for children who have special needs. They help with sensory integration, fine motor skills, everyday living skills, and much more.

What if your child needs OT but insurance does not cover it or does not cover as many visits as your child needs? 

Here are some tips and links to products that you can use at home to help your child.

1. Special Pencils and Adaptive Tools
My daughter used golf pencils and Y pencils when she was learning to write. Golf pencils are small and force your child to hold the pencil with their thumb and index finger. Broken crayons can also serve this purpose.

Handwriting Without Tears  sells  these small pencils, but you can buy any type of golf pencil. The next pencil that helps children who have a tight grip or need extra help to put their fingers in the correct position is the “Y” pencil. You can find them on Amazon.

Another adaptive tool that helps children who need to have input when they are writing are weights for the pencil. Each weight is a little different, and you will have to figure out which one is the best fit for your child. Here are some examples.

2. Slant Boards
Some Children need a slant board to visually track while they read and write. They can be expensive, so I took a 3-inch binder and attached a clipboard with velcro. The slant board can also stabilize their paper so that they can focus on writing correctly. 

 

 

3. Cutting Skills With a Smile
Cutting is not always easy for children with special needs. Sometimes figuring out where to place their fingers can be difficult. Drawing a smiley face on their thumb is a great visual reminder for their finger placement because the face needs to be facing up. KUMON books have great cutting skills books.

4. Using Tweezers to Improve Fine Motor Skills and Pincer Grip
Tweezers can be a cheap, easy tool that can help your child. You can use tweezers to pick up buttons or beads, and while your child thinks they are playing, they are also working their muscles and grip. Lakeshore has some games that you can buy called  Feed The Animals Fine Motor Games.

5. Using Special Paper
Writing can have challenges, but finding the right paper can help your child. Using raised lined paper can help the child who needs a tactile writing experience. If your child also needs a visual cue, there is paper that has raised colored lines.

These are some of the tools that you can use at home to help your child be successful in everyday learning activities.

More Ideas
To find more ways to provide DIY therapy for your homeschooled student, make sure to check out the SPED Homeschool Therapy Resources page as well as the SPED Homeschool Occupational Therapy Pinterest board and the SPED Homeschool Therapy Pinterest board .

 


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By Dawn Spence

 

A common abbreviation that is used in special education is an IEP. It stands for your child’s individualized education plan, and it defines your child’s academic and behavioral goals. Your child’s IEP will be unique and is based on their abilities. This can help guide you in reaching their learning goals.

 

Before you get started writing your child’s IEP, you will need to gather the necessary information to form appropriate goals and objectives.

 

1. List Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses
You should start with a list of what your child is doing well and the areas that need growth. When you are listing the strengths and weaknesses, you are defining their present levels of performance (PLOPS). I found a form for $1.00 that is a great checklist to start with.  You can find that form here. I found others when I searched “present levels” in the search engine on Teachers Pay Teachers: some were even subject based (i.e. math, English, etc.). You may also search the acronym “PLOPS” and different forms will appear and many are free. 

 

This is one of the most important documents for writing your IEP. This information builds the foundation of what you want your child to learn and what you want your child to achieve. Their strengths and weaknesses should be written for both academic and behavioral areas.

 

2. Gather Former Testing or Observations
This can comprise of any testing that has been performed by a school district, home testing, or tutoring. Most testing always has a section that lists areas to work on and may even list some goals.

 

3. Collaborate with Therapists
If your child receives therapy, their therapists are a great resource. Therapists have checklists that they use to make their therapy goals. My daughter’s therapists and I work together so that we cover as many goals as possible. Therapists can also see different strengths and weaknesses that you can not always see.

 

4. Compile Work Samples from Current Curriculum
For example, if you are working on math and your child can add but not subtract that would help you develop a goal. Also, many curriculums have placement tests that you can use to find where your child is currently working and where their progression should lead. These placements are available on many websites and most times are free.

 

Now that you have gathered all your resources and information you will be ready to start writing your IEP. Later this month,  Amy Vickrey will be writing a post that will address the next step of writing an IEP.

In the meantime make sure to check out the IEP resources we have on our IEP Pinterest board.

 

 


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