By Kimberly Vogel

I see many families traveling to visit colleges and universities while their children are in high school. Just this morning my parents and I planned a trip for my daughter to visit a university we are considering. What about the child who is not ready to make the jump from high school to college? 

A gap year or trade school instead of a university is becoming more and more common. I have another idea that is gaining popularity, and I must say… it’s my favorite. This option, which is truly life-changing and faith-deepening, is a gap year at a mission center.

Our Family’s Recent Experience
I recently spent the weekend at Twin Oaks Ranch. We stayed in the hotel for a small suggested donation and found the accommodations delightful. While staying there, we were able to take our meals in the PFC and mingle with those who live on base. They even had a free movie night where we watched “Muffy” and ended the night praying for missions. If you are there on a Sunday evening, they have amazing worship and messages at the Family Night Service where all on campus meet together for a message and worship. There is a tour you can take to learn about the schools, and all that is offered right on the base. It’s an incredible community and the messages are life changing!

5 Organizations to Consider for Missions

Mission training for just about anything!
Youth With A Mission (YWAM) has bases around the world and offers many different schools to train students not only for missions but for life and a deeper relationship with God. This is the route we went for our daughter. The school aspect is key to building a strong foundation before sending young adults out to spread the Word. I plan on sharing more about her journey, and what I’ve learned from this experience.

Passion for helping orphans?
Coreluv has three phases
Equip – a teaching and discipleship program which is stateside
Send – the missions program which sends interns on a 5-month mission trip
Defend – full-time missions work with orphans

Interested in relief missions?
Adventures in Missions has disaster relief mission trips around the world. You can find long term, short term, family, youth, or just about any kind of mission trip! They focus on discipleship and are an interdenominational organization.  See what they have to say about taking a gap year!

Looking ahead to college?  
Campus-based organization with mission opportunities for all ages: cru, Formerly Campus Crusade, they are known for their Four Spiritual Laws, a simple and effective evangelism tool. Cru also released the Jesus Film, which has changed lives worldwide.

Don’t forget your local church
Most large denominations have their own missions organization. Check with your local church to find what mission opportunities they support.

When my kids started high school, I was leery of the concept of a gap year. Why not go right to college? Now I see the benefit of waiting. The most important thing is to look at your child individually and decide what is best for them. Doing a gap year to study and share God’s Word will give your child a foundation that is needed to navigate in today’s world. We did it, and it was life-changing for more than just my daughter.

Are you still working on your student’s homeschool high school years?  Looking for some help navigating how to help a struggling learner during their final years of homeschooling?  Make sure to check out the SPED Homeschool’s High School Checklist and SPED Homeschool’s Final Stretch YouTube Playlist .




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By Cammie Arn

What do you think of when you see a puzzle piece?

I am always fascinated how those unique pieces with different shapes only provide glimpses of the full picture they are forming. And how many times it is usually not the picture I first imagined.

This is how I see the family of God. Each person is handcrafted by God to fit together with the rest of the body.

Society today screams at us that we can do it all and be all the pieces of the puzzle ourselves.

I disagree.

We were intended to use our uniqueness to benefit others and be part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom.

In observing the unique nature of puzzle pieces, I realize they are all different, some more so than others. They have different boundaries, different colors, different ways of connecting with other pieces, and different places they fit to make the puzzle come together.

Likewise, we all have different perspectives and roles. One is not better than the other, but all are needed to connect and finish the bigger picture. Only when the bigger picture comes together is the image on the puzzle finally revealed.

Unity happens when the picture is complete.

Unity in the body of Christ happens when we allow others to use their God-given gifts to minister to one another. We have to be careful not to think others are to be just like us. No person is like another, just like no homeschool mom is like another homeschool mom. We all need to be just like Christ in the unique way He is making us as part of His kingdom.

Only by allowing God to shape and mold us can we fit into the exact place He has for us. This may mean we are ”rubbing shoulders” with some unexpected people and being called to come together with others who are not at all like us. That is okay. 

Coming together in our uniqueness is what sets us apart from the world. We choose not to fall into comparison traps or in judging others on their walk with God.

Instead, we strive only to be like Christ. That is when we each fit perfectly in the kingdom and perfectly into God’s bigger picture.

Would like to be part of a community of special education homeschooling families who will love you as you rub shoulders through the ups and downs of special education homeschooling life? Then ask to join your regional SPED Strong Tribe or the SPED Homeschool Facebook Support Group.  I will see you there!



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By Amy Vickrey, MSE

There are days my son just needs time to play. As a homeschool mom, I feel accountable for his time during the day and ensuring that he is spending the time he should on “school.” So on the days when my son expresses a deep need to spend time engaged in play, I have to remind myself that play is learning too. Whether by himself or engaged with other children, my son is learning from his interaction with toys, his brother, cousins and friends.

Specific Skills Learned Through Play
There are many skills that are learned through play. From playing with blocks to pretending and playing with friends, the skills learned while engaged in play are beneficial to any child. Our special children need to be engaged in play even more! For a child like mine, who develops social and other skills at a slower rate, play is so important to reinforce his skills and teach him new ones as he is ready to learn them. Take a look at the kinds of things our kids are learning through play.

Social Skills: Sharing, turn taking, negotiating, compromising, and leading or following

Physical Skills: Fine motor (in preparation for or to reinforce writing skills), large muscle, spatial awareness

Language and Literacy Skills: Phonological awareness (how sounds make up words and are used in words), conversation skills (taking turns, responding appropriately, discussion between character toys), communication skills (expressing desires and needs), new vocabulary they need for play with a certain toy

Cognitive Skills: Math, problem solving skills, science skills (physics), trial and error, learning how to make it better the next time

Self-Esteem: Show accomplishments and abilities, trying out new things without feeling pressured, relating accomplishments to peers or adults nearby (“See,” or “Look at me”)

Preparing for Life Ahead: Learning independence, thinking, making decisions, cooperating/collaborating with others, problem solving, goal setting and accomplishment

Social Developmental Stages of Play
As children grow and develop, the way they play changes. Each of these stages are important and children must grow through these stages at their own pace. There are ways to help them grow into the next stage if a child has difficulties.

Unoccupied Play: When a child is busy playing but they are not engaged with any people or toys, and the play appears random.

Solitary Play: Playing with a toy by themselves and not being interested in the toys or activities of others.

Onlooker Play: The child watches others play but does not join in the play.

Parallel Play: The child plays side-by-side with other children, with the same toys, but does not interact with the other children.

Associative Play: The child plays with other children, but they do not share a common goal.

Cooperative Play: Play becomes organized into groups and teamwork, children learn to share the goal of the group and play by the group “rules,” willing to both contribute and accept others’ opinions.

It is fascinating to watch children grow and learn through these different stages, and the stages are important to learning how to work with others later in life. Even time spent in solitary play can help a child gain skills as they have their toys interact with one another, and they interact with their toys.

Supporting Your Child in Play

Learning how to play with your child takes time and practice, but it is fun and worth your while! Here are some suggestions for playing with your child:

Observe: Watch what your child is doing. What he doing well? What might he need help with? What are his favorite activities?

Follow: When you join in, follow along with what your child is doing, try not to “take over,” but to follow the rules and guidelines they set up

Be Creative: Don’t worry about looking “silly,” enjoy playing with your child! I have worn many things on my head or “drank and ate” many made up meals. Also, use toys in different ways to show new and unique ways to do something your child might not have thought of yet.

Ask Questions: Talk with your child about their play and make conversation. Just enjoy being in the world of your child for however long you have, even if it is just 5 minutes! A little time can make a big difference!

Make a Plan: When you transition to or play, have your child make a plan of what they are going to go play and how they are going to do it (“I’m going to build a house with blocks”), then help them get started on their plan. This teaches how to set a goal and accomplish it! Then, they can go on and play other things.

If your life is like mine, the time my children are engaged in play is about the only time I have for myself to catch my breath, wash dishes or prepare for the next subject in school. That time is important, but I also try to make time everyday to play! Have Fun!

Learn More About Play
Information from some of these sites were used in writing this article. If you would like to learn more about learning through play, we encourage you to check them out.

10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play
3 Benefits of Learning Through Play
What Children Learn Through Play
Children Learn Through Play
Supporting Play Activities
Six Stages of Play: How Children Develop Social Skills
How Kids Learn to Play: 6 Stages of Development
Tools of the Mind

Also, make sure to check out all the great resources from SPED Homeschool on our YouTube Channel, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Podcasts (on Podomatic/iTunes/GooglePlay), and Twitter.




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By Dawn Spence

I first learned about workboxes and visual supports when I taught a self-contained classroom for children with special needs. I saw how the organization and the predictability of workboxes and visual supports helped my students to become independent. 

Independence is important to all learners, but it is especially so for children with special needs. Now that I homeschool, I use a workbox system and visual supports for my own children. Even my older son who has no learning challenges thrives with his system. 

Workboxes for Older Students/Typical Learners
Here are some examples of how I have organized workboxes for two of my children.


You can download free tags from different sites to label the drawers. I found this on one of my favorite pages I find my workboxes on Amazon, and there are many options to choose from.

My kids know that when the work in the drawers is done, then their regular school day is done. This way my children are responsible for checking and completing their own work. You can label each drawer of your workboxes with a number and they will complete each drawer in numeric order. 

Another way to label your workboxes is with the subject of what is inside. I even added a label that says, “work with mom ‘so they know that the task inside needs more direct instruction. 

Workboxes for Struggling Learners
My other daughter’s system is very different because I have tailored it to her needs. My daughter needs a more structured system. She knows that when she completes her boxes in order from 3 down to 1, that she then gets to pick a preferred activity for her reward. 


She can pick Play-Doh, puzzles, or her all-time favorite: bubbles. Knowing that something fun is coming helps her make it through the challenges. I found labels and visual supports I like on Teachers Pay Teachers, and I have included the link:


As you can see in the picture, I use the same visuals on the wash tubs I bought at the Dollar Tree and on her desk. As she completes a bucket, she puts that number down until she is all done. When we started setting up this routine, I had to remind her of the end goal and the fun activity that awaited her, but now she knows and anticipates it on her own and will complete her work.

Workboxes are a tool to help you and your child organize your homeschool day and also provides expectations and independence. I was amazed when I used this system with my curriculum I was already using how it made our day flow better.



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By Mary Winfield

Dr. Stanley Greenspan developed The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model (DIR Method) in 1979. Dr. Greenspan’s work was a response to the growing need to help children with autism (or other special needs) to learn and develop both academically and socially.

The DIR Method helps parents and educators to determine goals and map out the best way of reaching those goals through structured interactions. While this method was originally developed for children with learning struggles, I think it is helpful for all students.

What I love about DIR is that it is not a bulk, one-size fits all solution to a problem, but rather an intensive look at a specific person with individual needs, wants, and interests. Instead of just treating symptoms of a problem, it builds a solid foundation for healthy development.

Below I am going to take you through the individual parts of DIR to help provide a more in-depth understanding of this teaching model.

“D” stands for Developmental
This model starts with the premise that a student must make incremental steps in development. You can’t take a nonverbal child and set their next goal at having problem-solving communication with a peer. That is unrealistic. You should assess where they fall developmentally and what the next natural step is in their progression. Not knowing the developmental steps often leads to skipping important developments that act as building blocks for future goals. Skipping these necessary incremental steps only sets all involved for unnecessary frustration.

“I” stands for Individual Difference
Each child has their own quirks and interests that make them unique. Because of that, there is no one solution to fix a problem. There are as many solutions as there are children. Helping children engage in learning means taking into account their interests and dislikes. When you approach learning from an interesting standpoint, they will grasp onto it and dive right in instead of having to be dragged along behind you. We learn so much better when we care about what we are learning. We have all seen that gleam in a child’s eye when something grabs their attention, and that is where we should strive to place our teaching.

“R” stands for Relationship-Based
Have you ever heard that saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”? We don’t have to be taught this principle as children, it is pre-programmed in! Children can tell if they are an item on a checklist. They know when someone cares about them and when someone is just trying to cross something off their list. When we take the time to develop personal relationships with our children in areas other than schooling, we are able to approach learning from a position of love and equal respect. When they know our teaching is flexible enough to allow for bad days or to push it back to deal with a personal crisis, then they will feel loved and thus be better able to learn.

The DIR Method Applied
When I was working in the public school system, I worked one-on-one with a rambunctious kindergartener who I will call Steve. It was a huge struggle. He had a hard time sitting still which meant we took a lot of breaks to burn off energy before returning to his classroom. He had a hard time focusing on anything because his mind wanted to move as fast as his body. He acted out by running away, throwing things, and yelling loudly when we tried to do work. I was exhausted from trying to keep up with him.

Normally during recess, the one-on-one aides would take a break along the sides of the playground (since that was the only time we could other than a short lunch) while the kids ran around. One day I decided to play with Steve during recess instead of sitting down for a few minutes. We pretended we were pirates and were being chased by crocodiles while we searched for hidden treasure. After coming in from recess, I braced myself for another hard afternoon. We sat at the table and as we started to do our work, I continued to call him “Captain Steve” when I gave him instructions or guidance. He sat and focused for longer than I have ever seen him work!

As I continued to work with him, I continued feeding this relationship with him during recesses. I also started incorporating his interests (like counting buried treasure for math, etc.) into his learning. At the end-of-year IEP meeting, everyone was astonished at the progress he had made. People had written him off (I was not his first aide that year, he had gone through several before it was my turn), but all he really needed was someone to care about him and his interests. In receiving those two simple things, he suddenly had all he needed to blossom.

A Method to Nourish Change
Learning and teaching are always going to be hard work, but it is possible to make progress. I like to think of The DIR Method as a tree. The developmental and academic goals we have for our children are like the fruits of a tree. They are our end goal. But we cannot reach those goals without a few other things first. We need a solid trunk of interests and talents that work with those goals to hold them up high and support their learning. And, we also need deep and nourishing relationship roots to feed the whole tree and keep it safe and secure.

There is a lot more to DIR than just these small suggestions, but implementing them can make a huge difference no matter how much or little homeschooling you have left ahead. There are a lot of resources to learn more about The DIR Method, but is a good place to start if you are interested in finding out more about this method and its implementation.




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By Jen Duncan

Homeschooling a gifted child has its joys and challenges.

Their intensity, their thirst for knowledge and discovery, and their asynchronicity can be difficult to keep up with, especially when it never seems to end. Eventually, in some subject or another, your child will outpace you. My son moved beyond me in math when he was 10.

By that point, I had a few choices:

Option 1 – I could spend money we didn’t have on a math tutor who may or may not know how to work with a profoundly gifted 10-year-old.
Option 2 – We could seek an online program that we might be able to tweak to meet his needs.
Option 3 – I could choose to learn along with him, alling him to teach me as part of his skills evaluation.

We chose option number 3.

Learning With and From Your Gifted Child

At first, learning from your child seems like a bit of an oxymoron. Aren’t we supposed to be the teachers? How do I go about letting my child take on that role? To be clear, I didn’t allow my son to fully become the teacher at age 10. I did, however, allow him to teach me his understanding of the information.

In doing so, two main things were accomplished. First, he was allowed to dig into the information at his pace and level. He sought to learn for learning’s sake, rather than in order to pass a test or check a box and move on. Second, by having to figure out how to teach what he understood to me, he had to learn how to break it down into smaller pieces.

Gifted children are often able to take in massive amounts of information, categorizing and analyzing it quickly. They tend to retain this information wonderfully.However, it can be difficult for them to later explain it to people who don’t learn like they do. Considering the fact that the vast majority of people on earth don’t learn like they do, this can hinder them later on in life.

By being allowed to learn with and teach me, my son learned in his own way how to communicate with and really teach people of different ages, different cognitive abilities, and different backgrounds. This has been one of the largest benefits of homeschooling for him. So much of what he does today as an adult centers around teaching and strategizing to meet the needs of a wide range of people.

And, as an added benefit, I finally came to understand algebra!

Extend It Out
This pattern didn’t stop with math, or even with school subjects in general. As my son grew, he learned to tackle larger challenges. Through each of them, he has taught me so much.

He has taught me how to confront those who enjoy bullying or manipulating others. Rather than just complaining or ostracizing them, he finds the issue behind the action and addresses it creatively, firmly, and in an attitude of love.

He has taught me the value of moderation in my reactions. When a controversial issue arises, he only speaks when his words will really matter. He doesn’t react emotionally or in the heat of the moment. Instead, he analyzes all sides and responds with passionate reason.

He has taught me how to truly teach – how to go beyond imparting information to get to the heart of the matter. He’s taught me the importance of going beyond the “who?” and “what?” to the “why?” and “so what?” behind the lesson.

He has taught me how to trust in God when I can’t see a way forward. When he faces obstacles and transitions – and he faces large ones – he waits for God’s direction and acts on it without question.

He’s not perfect at any of these. He’s a flawed human being, just like any of us. But he’s willing to teach by how he lives, and he’s willing to mentor anyone who wants to learn from him.

To me, this is the best outcome that homeschooling could offer. Allowing my gifted child to teach me has allowed him to learn to become a teacher in every aspect of his life.

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By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

In a recent email I received, a mom wrote:

Hi Dianne, I just came upon your website and articles for the first time and I am very intrigued. You keep mentioning that different teaching strategies and therapies work for ‘bright, hard working children who have to work too hard to learn’. Our son (13) is described as a “slow learner.” We think he’s pretty smart but the teachers and psychologists in his private school don’t agree. They have tested him and found that his IQ is 81. To me, his problems look like dyslexia and severe dysgraphia but the school psychologist told us that his IQ isn’t high enough for that diagnosis. Do you think different teaching strategies and methods will work for him?


IQ Testing
This mom’s email poses a very good question. Let’s look at how a child’s IQ is tested, and how these tests are interpreted.

Generally, the cognitive (IQ) test, the WISC-IV, is given to determine whether a not a child has a learning disability and qualifies for an IEP (special education intervention). The rationale is that if a child tests with an average (90-109), or high IQ, but is testing far below that level in core subjects such as reading, writing or math, that the child has a learning disability. The child is then given an IEP, with the intent of using different teaching methods (small groups, etc.) to help that child achieve up to his/her ability level. 

However, if a child tests with a low IQ, and also tests far below level in the core subjects, it is determined that interventions would not help this child, because he/she is learning at his/her capacity. This is a cruel position for a child to be put into. The child is then assumed to be a “slow learner” and is saddled with low expectations throughout his/her school career.

Could a child be “smart,” and still test as having a low IQ using the most common tests? Let’s look at the parts of the test.

There are generally four parts to the IQ test:
1. Verbal Comprehension
2. Perceptual Comprehension
3. Working Memory
4. Processing Speed

After 30 years of working in special education, many of them in public schools, I no longer have much faith in the IQ tests and their interpretations. Why? A child may be thoughtful, creative, and curious, with a great speaking vocabulary, but test low in Verbal Comprehension and Working Memory because of an Auditory Processing Problem. 

Working Memory frequently “sinks their ship” in this test because it requires very good auditory memory, such as auditory sequencing skills and ability to hear one’s “silent voice.” In this part of the test, the child is given a sequence of numbers and letters orally and asked to repeat them back to the examiner, and then repeat them in reverse. 

While the intent is to test their IQ, in my opinion, it really is testing a child’s Auditory Processing skills. I have found that one of the ten Auditory Channels is the ability to sequence unrelated sounds. That actually is what this part of the test is checking. Thus, when I was reviewing a student’s file, before creating a learning plan for him, if I saw that the Working Memory and Verbal portion of the IQ test were low, I would pull out all the Auditory Processing correcting therapies to do. 

In addition to these therapies, I would teach this child to use his visual, right brain memory as his strength, bypassing the weakness, so that learning would become easy. If a child had a low score for Processing Speed, I instituted eye tracking exercises to help with his visual processing speed when reading. If the “coding” score (rapidly copying symbols) was low in the Processing Speed section of the test, then I knew this child had some form of Dysgraphia, and I instituted a midline writing exercise that transferred the writing and spatial processing to the child’s Automatic Brain Hemisphere. These are all correctable areas.

Low IQ and/or Auditory Processing Problem
One year, in my pull out Middle School Resource Room (IEP special education classroom), I had four sixth grade students who had previously been in self-contained classrooms for “slow learners” (think low IQ) for their elementary years. Now they were entering middle school, and the parents wanted them to go to the school in their neighborhood rather than being bused to a school that would have a self-contained classroom. Thus, those four students came to my Resource Room for reading, writing, and math, while being mainstreamed for the other subjects. 

It was my opinion that all four of the students had severe Auditory Processing Problems. One student, in particular, stands out in my mind. Her name was Janet. She was a lovely, tall, quiet sixth grader. She had such a severe auditory processing problem (which was interpreted to be a very low IQ), that when playing “tag” with the kids in her neighborhood when she would close her eyes and count, she frequently could not count past 18. 

Now, you can see how this would be interpreted as a very slow learner since this is a skill children have in first grade. However, I saw it as the auditory sequencing channel being blocked, independent of her IQ. This, of course, affected her reading, math, and writing ability significantly. 

Viewing this issue as a result of a “disconnect” between her auditory and visual brain hemispheres, I did the Brain Integration Therapy that I had learned. (Any Neurodevelopmental therapy could be used also. I chose this one because it took little time which allowed me to do it in the classroom along with teaching the other subjects to my students. Most importantly, it did not cost any money, just my time).

After working with Janet for that year using the daily midline exercises and Brain Trainings, and teaching her to use her photographic memory for spelling, reading, and math, she made huge progress (three year’s growth). But the most satisfying part was that in the IQ test that the school psychologist gave her at the end of the year, she tested with an average IQ. 

I will never forget that staffing with Janet’s parents where the school psychologist told the parents that their daughter was no longer considered a “slow learner.” The wonderful thing about that year was that all four of the students who had tested with low IQs experienced the same result. In fact, that psychologist has written an endorsement for using Brain Training exercises in the classroom for children who test with a low IQ.

Low IQ and/or Dyslexia and Dysgraphia
In the mom’s email at the beginning, she said she thinks her son has Dyslexia and Dysgraphia, but the school psychologist said he couldn’t be diagnosed with a learning disability because of his low IQ. This implies that a child who tests as a “slow learner” cannot also have Dyslexia and Dysgraphia. I have found the opposite to be true. The students I have worked with who test this way almost always have either Dyslexia or Dysgraphia and most of the time it is both issues.

Allow me one more story. An eighth grader named Joshua came to my Resource Room for reading, writing, and math as a new student. In his previous years, he had been in a self-contained classroom of children and teens with a low IQ. He was basically a non-writer. This was assumed to be because of his low IQ testing. However, when I had all my students write a paragraph at the beginning of the year, just to assess their writing levels, he made almost all of his letters backwards.

None of his words, beyond, “the” were readable. He even misspelled his last name. He was also a non-reader, struggling with reading words from back to front, and not being able to sound out any words. To me, that was both Dyslexia and Dysgraphia.

I used the same teaching strategies and therapies that I used with Janet. Since kids with an IEP are only tested every three years with an IQ test, I did not have those results as this was not a testing year for Joshua.

However, that year Joshua gained three years in reading and spelling using the Woodcock/Johnson Achievement Test. Besides academic improvements, Joshua’s skills improved in many ways. He changed from being so spatially challenged that he needed a Para-Pro to walk around with him in his old school because he would get lost, to now not only navigating this large middle school alone but working as a counselor’s aid for one period which involved taking telephone messages to the teachers in their classrooms. 

In addition, at Joshua’s annual staffing, along with his parents, his neighbors came to find out what we were doing with Joshua that was making such a difference in his confidence and behavior. In fact, there was an entire newspaper article devoted to his change. The title of the article was, “The Education of Joshua.” I still have that newspaper clipping as a reminder to never put a ceiling on a child’s learning just because of tests.

What will be my response to this mom’s email about her son? I will tell her that the IQ tests are very limited in their ability to test a child’s thinking ability. Much of the time they are really testing a child’s information processing ability. Processing skills (Visual, Auditory, and Visual/Motor processing) can be corrected when the right interventions (neither expensive nor hard) are applied. 

I will tell her to go ahead and do the interventions. My experience is that kids soar in learning ability when we do these kinds of alternative (not curriculum driven) brain exercises, to eliminate the processing problems, and use photographic memory learning strategies. It takes daily work and diligence, but the rewards are great.

Some may say that this is too simplistic a solution or interpretation. I might agree, but I am tainted….I have experienced these changes too many times to believe otherwise. Like the blind man who experienced Jesus’ touch said, “All I know is that I was blind, and now I see.”



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Jan Bedell Ph.D., M ND

God has truly given us an amazing gift that we are just now beginning to fully appreciate and use to help individuals function better. Scientists once thought that the brain was hard-wired and actually stopped developing after the first 18-20 years of life. They thought that connections were put in place between the brain’s cells during early “critical windows” and then were fixed in place as we age. Because of this belief, scientists also thought that if a particular area of the adult brain was damaged, the brain cells could not form new connections or regenerate, and the functions controlled by that area of the brain would be permanently lost.

The Amazing Brain
Neuro Developmentalists have demonstrated for over 60 years, and our recent imaging technology has proven the earlier scientists’ assumption of an unchangeable brain to be false. The brain has the ability to change and grow (neuroplasticity) throughout life. This is especially good news for our children with special or unique educational and functional needs.

We can all understand neuroplasticity in a practical way when we consider the recovery from a stroke. A stroke damages part of the brain and then the function of the individual is diminished. If the stroke victim regains function, this is proof of the life-long gift of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is, by definition, the brain’s ability to continue to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Homeschooling Strategies for the Brain
What does this have to do with homeschool you might ask? It really has everything to do with your job as a homeschooling parent. You are actively using neuroplasticity every day with your children from birth and on through high school. You just may not have known the term for what you are doing before now.

When you stimulate an individual’s brain, you are building brain pathways. If those pathways are reinforced with enough frequency, intensity, and over a long enough period of time (duration), permanent function is achieved. We all want to be strategic with what we do, so let’s look at what actually constitutes effective stimulation.

Random Verses Specific Stimulation
There is a difference between specific and random stimulation. Random stimulation will not produce change quickly or efficiently. It produces change almost by accident. For example, in most kindergarten classrooms you will see a myriad of “random stimulation.” There are community helpers on this wall, number lines on that wall, on still another wall, you might find colors, shapes, and mixed in there somewhere is a calendar full of leaves for each day of the month inscribed with a number. Oh, and don’t forget the alphabet that is displayed with each letter being in the shape of an animal that starts with that sound. It is often hard to pick out the real letter from all the other “stuff” that surrounds it. This is all random information.

If you really want a child to know the letters by name and sound, show one letter on a single card in an easy to read font and tell the child what the letter and sound is. Better yet, teach all the letter names and then come back at a later time and just say the sound when you show the card. This is “specific” stimulation and will yield long-term retention of the information. If you teach these letters and sounds with the frequency, intensity, and duration principles, it will take you less time and will be more effective than asking for information to come out as often as most of us are inclined to do. Think about it, how many of us point to a letter or number and ask a small child to identify it instead of telling the child what it is? Me – guilty!

How to Get Specific in Your Teaching Strategy

Use these same frequency, intensity and duration principles to give input to the brain to teach anything you want a child to learn:

Frequency means having enough opportunity and repetition in order for the stimulation to produce a change in the brain and become learned information. Often we are focused on “testing” without ever properly putting the information in, and yet if I asked you if you test your child every day, you would probably say, “no.” Think of it this way. If you are asking a child to fill in a blank, it is really a “test” of his ability to do that task. When you have done a good job of putting information into the brain, the “test” is easy.

Intensity refers to the strength of the input of the stimulation. Is the stimulation at a level the individual is actively engaged with the information? Or has he/she “tuned out” through lack of intensity? In other words, you can drag an individual through an activity, but without a high level of involvement and interaction, lasting pathways will not be built and changes in the brain or learning will not occur.

Duration has a dual meaning. It refers to the time the stimulation is being given. Usually the shorter the duration the higher the intensity. Five or ten minutes of mathematics will have a far greater impact than coaxing a child through an hour of math that is done on his own. Duration also refers to staying with the stimulation for however long it takes to produce change. This could be days, weeks or months.

Learn more about how this principle of neuroplasticity through stimulating the brain with frequency, intensity, and duration applies to all learning in the podcast: Three Keys to Learning Anything found at this link or on our YouTube Channel – Brain Coach Tips.

Also, make sure to check out all the  SPED Homeschool podcasts.  Each week we interview a new guest on our show, covering a wide array of topics related to special education and homeschooling. 



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By Peggy Ployhar

Because I have lived most of my life in cold northern states, spring’s allure for me is the ability to get outside and enjoy outdoor hobbies I could only dream about until the eventual spring thaw.

So, for this springtime learning activity blog, I wanted to give you some ideas on how to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather coming your way while not sacrificing the incredible learning potential the outdoors can provide your children.

Whether you lean more towards gardening, science, exploring, or art these top free activities I have chosen from the SPED Homeschool Spring Pinterest board will give you LOTS of fun outside learning activities.

An Introduction to Plants for Kids – So many multi-sensory activities, field trip ideas, and video suggestions, you could be studying plants for weeks!

Getting Your Hands Dirty Gardening Unit – This study contains everything from the seeds to literature about gardening, and even delves into learning about the critters that make gardens grow better

Plant Studies
Spring Dandelion Unit  – Use these notebooking, experiments, art projects, and recipes to learn about dandelions

Easy Seed Science Activities – 10 very creative ways to study how seeds grow with hands-on experiment links for each

Insect Studies
Ant Unit Study – Books, videos, art, and projects all centered around ants

Grasshoppers and Cricket Study – Bring literature and science together as you learn about these amazing creatures

Animal Studies
Montessori-Inspired Bird Unit – Hands-on bird themed learning activities for many levels of learners

A Frog Unit Study – Learn about frogs as you teach your children language arts, math, science, and even godly character

Survival Themed Books Unit Studies for Teens and Tweens – Here is a great list of books and accompanying unit studies to inspire your older student to take their learning to the great outdoors.

Nature Walks & Scavenger Hunts  – Over 30 ways you can explore, hike, and hunt in the great outdoors

Nature & the Arts
 Art & Nature Study with Beatrix Potter – Look at nature through the eyes of Beatrix Potter while combining your study with her work

Claude Monet Unit Study – Use this large list of resources to study Claude Monet and how to create art using nature as an influence for impressionism

Check out all the SPED Homeschool Pinterest boards for many more creative and inspiring ways to homeschool your student with special educational needs.




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By Amy Vickrey, MSE

I hear a lot of homeschool parents saying they feel like they are “cheating” when they give their child an answer or help them to find the answer. As a teacher from the public school world, let me tell you that teachers give answers and help students find answers on a daily basis in the classroom! However, teachers have been trained to use different language for this process of “answer giving.”


Helping is Training
In the world of sports, a specific movement has to be repeated at least 300 times perfectly to create the proper muscle memory. If any part is learned incorrectly during this process, it can take 1500 times to re-train those muscles in order to correct the error. In academic learning, and especially for our students who have special needs, the process is similar (the number of repetitions is not as high, although it might feel like it is). 

Errorless Learning/Teaching
For children who take time to learn skills in the first place, or who have a difficult time unlearning things that were learned wrong, there is a method of teaching that helps eliminate the possibility for things to be learned incorrectly. It is called “Errorless Learning/Teaching.”

This method is usually done through a series of prompts, or “hints” that become less as the student becomes more independent at the task. Independence is definitely our goal! If a child struggles, you go back to a higher level of help, then begin to back off again. Here are six ways this type of teaching might look like:

1 – Full Physical Prompt
With a full physical prompt, you would guide the student’s hand, arm, leg, etc to complete the task fully. If the student is writing the letter “C,” you would place your hand over theirs and guide their hand through the process of writing “C.” This is also referred to as “hand over hand.”

2 – Partial Physical Prompt
This would be used to get your student started in the right direction, but the student completes the task on his/her own. If the child is presented with a letter “C” and an “A” and you ask the student to hand you the “C,” you might tap his/her hand in the direction of the “C” but allow the student to pick it up on his/her own.

3 – Modeling
Modeling is done by doing something first and then having the student try. For example, when my son draws a letter “p,” I would first draw the “p”, then have him draw it based on what I drew. Modeling is used a lot in teaching, no matter what the ability level of the student. Basic teaching is a lot of modeling and then having the child try.

4 – Gesture
A gesture could be drawing the letter “p” in the air or indicating a part of the paper or book where the child can look in order to find the answer independently.

5 – Direct Verbal Prompt
If your child was given a two-step direction: “Pick up the paper and throw it in the trash,” a direct verbal prompt would be to then give each step as they are doing it. First, “Pick up the paper,” and after they pick it up say, “throw it in the trash.” As a pre-k teacher, I would give instructions to the whole class such as “put your jackets in your backpacks,” then generally repeat it 20 times to each child individually to ensure they did it, especially at the beginning of the school year.

6 – Indirect Verbal Prompt
Teachers use a lot of indirect verbal prompts in the classroom. This is where questioning comes in, such as asking, “What’s next?” or “What else?” The psychologist Vygotsky is well known in the teaching world for his work on Scaffolding. This is a great tool for teaching any child because it helps them think through the steps. When I am doing math with my son, and he is solving an addition problem, I might ask him, “What’s next?” in the problem he is working on. I will also use indirect verbal prompts to help him stay on task when he is having trouble focusing.

Independence is the Goal
This is our goal in teaching any child. Our aim is for our children to be independent and have complete mastery of the skills we are striving to teach them. Mastery is the point at which they can complete a task completely by themselves, with no questions, no “hints,” and no prompts! When they reach this point, we know they truly understand!

How to Document IEP Goals That Use Prompting
As a special education teacher, when I wrote goals, I always wanted my students to be and feel successful from the beginning so I would write the goal to include prompts. (Download our free IEP template and check out this resource page to learn more about writing your homeschool student’s IEP.)

For example:

“John will write his name, using 0-3 prompts, successfully in 2 out of 3 trials.”

From this goal, I would have John work on writing his name. At first, I would start with hand-over-hand. Next step would be my writing it as a model for John. Next, I might form the letters in the air as he wrote them on paper. Then I might remind him directly of the letters, and then move to asking him, “What’s next?” Finally, with time, he would write his name independently. As we moved through each phase, I would make a notation on the paper each time we wrote his name and what I did to help him be successful. That way, I am able to track the progress he is making and how independently he is writing his name.

As parents, we know that our students receive assistance when they are in the classroom, but it is hard to know how much to give at home. I think at times we hold ourselves to a higher standard because we don’t want to get it “wrong.” Just know that there is no wrong way to do it. The most important thing is to document – write it down – so you know how much progress has been made and how much your child has grown!




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