by Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., Simply Classical Curriculum, Myself & Others Curriculum, and Cheryl Swope Consulting


“My child doesn’t have special needs. They just have anxiety, depression, and OCD.” I often hear such statements. Parents sometimes wonder why a child struggles with learning when they don’t have “special needs,” as if only Down syndrome or severe autism impacts learning! 


As many of us can attest, any mental turmoil can dramatically affect a child’s ability to concentrate, perform consistently, and feel accomplished academically. Rather than ignore these issues, we would do well to take note. Mental health concerns appear to be on the rise for children. In a recent study of 8,000 teens in the United States in 2021, 44% say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness of hopelessness,” which is up from 26% in 2009. Even 29%, more than 1 in 4, seems high. The 2021 percentage – 44% – is the highest level of teenage depression ever recorded. 


One widespread cause seems clear. According to a Cambridge study of 84,000 individuals, social media use was strongly associated with worsening mental health. A particularly vulnerable group appears to be girls ages 11-13. Instagram’s own internal research noted that one-third of all teenage girls said “Instagram made them feel worse,” even though these girls “feel unable to stop themselves” from logging on. (Read more in The Atlantic April 13, 2022 article, “Why American Teens Are So Sad.”) 


What can we do? One straightforward antidote is simply going “cold turkey,” as we would with any addiction or compulsion, and substituting something much healthier and more satisfying. Church attendance, heart-to-heart conversations, good books, art classes, team sports, individual exercise like swimming or running, volunteering, or outings with friends will almost certainly, if only gradually, improve a child’s well-being. (Pair this with professional medical or integrative treatment as needed.)


Another culprit according to the writer of the article referenced above, is modern parenting. By extension, this may include modern homeschooling. Rather than teach our child to enjoy the uniquely gratifying pen-to-paper expression of writing by hand, we scribe all of their work for them. Rather than expose our dog-averse child to the neighbor’s easygoing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, we shield them from all dogs. Rather than teach our resistant child to enjoy gratifying pen-to-paper written expression, we scribe all of their work for them. Rather than teach the child to set the table, make their bed, or empty the dishwasher, we do all of these things for them. Rather than introduce the vegetables, fats, and proteins they needs for optimal brain health, we allow the sugary snacks or textures they prefer. Rather than invite an agreeable child to play, we avoid playdates altogether. We give the child the impression that we do not think they can handle much at all. 


Persistent rescuing emboldens anxiety and may worsen other conditions. We convey our anxiety about their anxiety and only compound the problem. When a child is depressed and wants to be alone, we can honor their request at times, but we also need to plan enjoyable outings, active sports, or nature walks. We can also make a point of visiting others who need cheering. For the obsessive child, such social distractions often help. For example, when a child compulsively checks something a certain number of times, to “prevent” doom from befalling a family member,  we can work with a therapist to include exposure techniques that embolden the child to see the fallacy of their previous thinking. When they learn that all will be well even when they do not check, they can better enjoy the freedom to allow themselves not to engage in such checking and spend their time in pursuits that truly do help others. 


Consider these resources to help with the above:


Accommodations have become an understandable norm of good parenting, but we need to be careful. The desired result of parenting is not the absence of all uncomfortable feelings, but rather the resilience to carry on in spite of them. Let’s return to what we know: Children need good playmates, even if they cannot yet manage to establish true “friends.” Children need to build competence academically, even if this requires step-by-step instruction. Children need to learn that they can happily and freely live outside of the little screen on any device to see the real world around them. They can be brave, capable, and thoughtful toward others, as this may be the best and surest way to overcome sadness and hopelessness. As we help our children see their purpose, we can reintroduce our children to the importance of becoming strong, resilient people in their families, churches, and neighborhoods who love, care for, and appreciate those around them with greater confidence, compassion, and cheer.

Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., is the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Memoria Press, 2nd edition, 2019) and the Simply Classical Curriculum (Memoria Press) for children with mental, physical, and emotional special needs. She and her husband live in a quiet lake community in Missouri with their adult twins who have autism and schizophrenia and who serve others in numerous ways.





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by Cheryl Swope, Simply Classical Curriculum and Cheryl Swope Consulting


David was small in stature. He had only five small stones. By any standard of measure, David stood no chance against Goliath; but the LORD was with David.


This is what I wish I would have understood when my twins were young. As an adoptive mother, I fretted. My son’s legs were twisted and his muscle tone floppy. He spoke with sounds that were difficult to understand. He seemed perplexed by reasonable rules. Unusually passive, he was willing to let his twin sister attempt to button his clothing, do his simple chores, and speak for him in public. She, by contrast, was eager to help, but lacked the skills to do so. With odd language and fine-motor skills so weak they fell into the 2nd%ile. Even at age four, her drawing and coloring appeared at a toddler age. What was I to do?


My mind vacillated by its own weakness. On hearty days, I vowed to “catch them up” with heroic amounts of attention, therapies, and hard work. Much of the time, this mindset served my children well. We truly worked hard. The therapeutic work structured our days, nurtured our bonds, and resulted in measurable, albeit small, gains. On weaker days, I despaired of ever being able to catch them up to their peers. Just when I thought we had made great strides, a same-age child would come over to play. I marveled at the organized mind of the child as she planned her play, folded a swim towel, or spoke with coherence. I felt myself tumbling into the chasm of difference between my children and the capable neighbor child.


Where was my mistake? I believe now that my mistake, on both the hearty days and the weaker days, was thinking that my role was to “catch up” my children, as if the differences were merely quantitative and resolvable. My little David–my twins Michael and Michelle–would never be the size of Goliath, the physically and mentally able “giants” among other children we knew. They would not run and play freely like the others, navigate friendships or draw and color like the others, speak or plan or achieve like the others. But the LORD was with them. 


I began to understand that the enemy was not the other children. They were not “Goliath;” rather my giant was the temptation to hold up other children as the measuring stick for my own. I had nothing in my satchel to slay this temptation. But the LORD was with me. I want to share this excerpt from I Samuel 17:


Then he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine….

Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts…. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you.’


Slaying the temptation was my first, small step of progress, and one that would need to be taken. One of my children’s occupational therapists told me that the top factor for a child’s success was his sense of love, acceptance, and closeness from his mother. As if scales fell from my eyes, I compared less and, instead, saw my children as the unique, fully human, endearing children that they are. Scrapbooking helped. I jotted down the delightful things they said, the small steps of progress they made, and the ways in which they evidenced growth beyond what is measurable: thoughtfulness, gentleness, kindness, helpfulness, self-control. 


Our children are created imago Dei, in the image of God, redeemed by Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Him, my twins have an unmatched advocate, defender, and sustainer. With this comfort I am free to continue therapies, press on with academics, and teach the many things they need to know. We can work on exercises, speech articulation, social understanding, and manners. If we move forward in spelling, math, writing, and reading, we rejoice. Today as we watch other families make progress step by step through our Simply Classical Spelling: Step-by-Step Words and  Simply Classical Writing: Step-by-Step Sentences, we rejoice greatly. But most importantly, we have learned the hard way that even if we make no progress despite great effort or, due to degenerative conditions, experience regress, the LORD is still with us.


We can remember that young David who once carried only five small stones later prayed words we can say together with our children in great confidence: I will fear no evil, for You are with me. We can trust in His faithfulness toward us no matter where our children fall today on percentile rank, stanine, and other manmade measures. The LORD provides us with comfort and understanding as we love our children on hearty days and weaker days.


Resting in Him, we can rejoice in our children’s small steps. We can rejoice most of all in sharing the truth that closes David’s beloved psalm for ourselves and for our children: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Let us guard this comfort closely and teach this, above all else, to our children day by day.






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 by Cheryl Swope , M.Ed., SPED Homeschool Curriculum and Consulting Partner


April is Autism Awareness Month and we here at SPED Homeschool understand how autism can affect learning and the education process. SPED Homeschool Founder and CEO, Peggy Ployhar, started their family’s homeschooling journey after their son’s autism diagnosis 19 years ago. It is our hope that our resources will empower your homeschool and your student will reach his/her full potential.


We homeschooled twins on the autism spectrum from their infancy through high school graduation. Along the way, we learned to create a daily schedule, even for weekends and summers. Our friends’ children did not need this, but our children with autism did. They appreciated the predictability and security of a gentle routine. Even today, our family finds it helpful to include all of these:


Refreshing Outdoor Time

Our children may struggle with anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, or rigidity of thought, so we need to teach them to relax. As homeschoolers, we carefully schedule schoolwork, chores, and therapies, but we may forget to schedule time in nature! Consider set times each day to refresh your child. It will be good for you too! Some of our favorite ways to refresh:

  • Walk outside
  • Play at a park during non-peak hours
  • Swim
  • Sit on the back porch swing to watch the birds and squirrels
  • Pull weeds, dig in the dirt, sweep the driveway or sidewalk, carry logs to or from the woodpile, pick up sticks in the yard, visit neighbors


Conversation and Engagement

When my daughter’s speech therapist observed that my daughter was on the autism spectrum, the therapist cautioned against long periods of isolated play. She told me to engage her.

  • Have conversations. Play simple games. Read books together. Have her “point to the butterfly” or “point to the red balloon.” 
  • Now age 26, my daughter’s most requested engaging “game” is one we created while waiting for things. “Which is your favorite piece of artwork in this restaurant?” “Which wall color is your favorite in this waiting room?” While in traffic, “Which vehicle is your favorite of those we can see?” We take turns. Not only does this improve theory of mind and awareness of surroundings, but it seems immediately to reduce anxiousness while waiting.
  • Her twin brother prefers active, higher-level strategy games. His current favorite is Ticket to Ride, which he and I play almost nightly. (With maps, trains, and problem-solving, it is little wonder this game is a clear winner for my son on the autism spectrum!)



We want to instill a love of quiet in wholesome ways for the mind. Start with 10 or 15 minutes. Increase to 20 or 30. Each rotated container might hold items gathered by the child’s ability:

  • Storybooks – board books for younger children to handle, children with a tendency to drool, or children who do not yet handle paper pages well; picture books for more able students.
  • Sturdy art supplies – wax crayons, colored pencils, large stencils, drawing paper.
  • Puzzles – large, wooden puzzles if needed or more intricate puzzles as the child is able.
  • Relaxing music – with a mat or plush throw blanket.
  • Field guides – for older students, select a topic outside their typical selections.
  • Simple kits – models or crafts, sewing/lacing cards, paint sets 
  • Headphones – stories, poetry, or more advanced options for more capable students. 



A willing sibling or adaptable playmate can offer companionship for your child. Myself & Others can assist with coaching beforehand. Consider a dog, cat, or fish for additional companionship. If a pet would be too much, consider growing something in a garden or container, such as pansies, zinnias, or little cherry tomatoes your child can help tend. Encouraging your child to nurture someone (or something) helps her avoid focusing too much on herself. Fostering companionship with tenderness can be deeply gratifying.


Spontaneous Fun Sprinkled into the Day

While we prevent difficulties by adhering to a routine, we must also prevent rigidity or an over-reliance on schedules by looking for moments to interject playful delight. Snuggle lightly (or deeply, depending on the preference). Grab a quick blast of fresh air by going to get the mail together. Play pretend with favorite toys. Let her ride her trike before dinner, pick wildflowers, or set the table with a favorite tablecloth. Such things can improve spontaneity while lifting everyone’s moods.


Refresh Yourself

Most importantly, refresh yourself. Your peace will be shared by your child.

  • Enjoy the gift of any few quiet moments you can find at church, in the Word, and in prayer. 
  • Avoid rehearsing the past, listening to disturbing news, or ruminating over troubles in front of your child. Talk instead to your spouse, your mom, or a good friend.
  • Drop fearful or fretful language as children mirror our anxieties. Begin speaking intentionally with greater trust and hope.
  • Let your children know that they are in good hands. Be confident that you can create a comforting, secure routine for them. 
  • When you fail, pick yourself up and make necessary tweaks. Your resilience models confidence that the Lord always provides. And He does. 


Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10, my daughter’s confirmation verse






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Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., SPED Homeschool Partner

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. – Goethe

Whether new to homeschooling, homeschooling for decades, or somewhere in between, we all have one thing in common: None of us wants our child’s education to feel 100% remedial. This is not to say that we neglect the basics. We devote ourselves to shoring up our children’s reading, spelling, writing, and arithmetic through steady teaching. Yet we must keep ourselves from focusing so intently on a child’s weaknesses that we cannot give him an education commensurate with his humanity.

With this in mind, we consider seven ways to elevate the education of a child with special needs:


1. Music

Research abounds with evidence of music education’s ability to improve working memory, auditory processing, phonological awareness, and reading. More than this, music provides a solace from struggle. “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words,” writes Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables. This free  playlist allows you to play pieces each week for familiarity, dancing, twirling, or close listening together for an entire year. Discuss the instruments you hear, the mood or tempo, the rhythm, and the “sense” or feeling of the music. If possible, teach your child an instrument or teach your child to sing. At even the most basic levels of mastery, this will be a gift for a lifetime.


2. Art

Children with sight and any ability may gaze on magnificent works of art. For children who are non-verbal or minimally verbal, no verbal response is required to learn about and gaze upon great works of art! Place his favorite art posters over his bed or on the walls of his room. Help him make crafts  if he is young or create art  if he is more advanced. In our home when teaching drawing, we regularly set a timer for a “no-talking time” or played classical music. This gave us a much-needed silence for contemplation. We started with only 5-10 minutes at a time.


3. Read-Alouds

Story time forges bonds and allows the child with special needs to live beyond his circumstances. Read-alouds can give us shared experiences, shared references for family life or inside family jokes, and an immediate way to enhance imagination. Consider not only fiction but also non-fiction  read-alouds to improve receptive and expressive language, enlarge the child’s fund of knowledge and gradually extend his attention span.


4. Nature

At a very young age, my daughter propelled herself through her days with the reckless fervor of hyperactivity, but I noticed that nature slowed her down. Whether mesmerized by a luna moth or captivated by a caterpillar, she paused. We began a nature journal  into which I scribed observations until she could write on her own. Informed nature walks and nature picture books suffice for younger children, but more advanced children may study  mammals or birds to improve awareness of the world in which they live.


5. Poetry

Poetry elevates language beyond casual everyday speech. Even the simplest lessons in children’s poetry support rhyming, phonological awareness, and learning to read. The timeless Robert Louis Stevenson collection of A Child’s Garden of Verses can be paired with acoustic music, such as in A Child’s Garden of Song , to aid “learning by heart” during playtime, in the car, or in the evenings. Older students appreciate more advanced poetry, such as poems told in Heroes, Horses, and Harvest Moons, to stretch the imagination and perhaps prompt their own poetry writing!


6. Aesop

Taught for millennia, Aesop’s fables may benefit children with autism and other challenges affecting social awareness through classic moral lessons in honesty, integrity, and avoiding deception. Something mysteriously interesting happens when animals convey these lessons to us.  Aesop’s Fables with CD allow listening over and over, as the message may not be ingrained upon a first hearing, and an Aesop copybook can allow time for personal reflection and application to daily life.


7. Christian Studies

To truly elevate our children beyond the mundane, we must give them truth that sets us free. Teaching the Christian faith impacts both this life and the life to come. If older children with special needs fall prey to discouragement or self-pity, we can elevate their thoughts through  thankfulness journals and meditation on Holy Scripture. How can we be sad when we ponder the LORD’s reminder, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)



In our home my now-adult daughter plays through her memorized piano repertoire several times a week with a delightfully simple mix of Hickory Dickory Dock, Pop! Goes the Weasel, and a modified yet lovely Minuet. The music, played in the same order every time, seems to cheer, calm, and uplift her. Her twin brother’s piano music changes each time, as his own complex piano compositions ease his mind in different ways. Both children read books at the lunch table. Both take long walks. Both enjoy helping other people, whether the person asks for help or not! As I practice playing for upcoming Sunday mornings, they join me in singing hymns. Not only does this elevate their days; this elevates mine.

Both twins are on the autism spectrum with learning disabilities and mental illness. Neither child has the capacity to master more than introductory levels of piano, mathematics, or science, yet looking back, both express gratitude for all of the elevating elements of their education. Let us strive to see our children agree with Tolstoy: Rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor – such is my idea of happiness.


Bio —

Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., is the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child and creator of the Simply Classical Curriculum from Memoria Press. Cheryl and her husband adopted boy-girl twins with special needs over twenty years ago and homeschooled them through high school graduation. The family now lives together in a wooded lake community in Missouri.






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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

Teach Us to Pray
Good parents teach many good things every day: Share toys, tie your shoes, eat good food, and speak kindly. Good parents help children learn to read, write, and master arithmetic. Good parents teach children to love what is true, good, and beautiful. Yet we, too, must be taught. If we forget this humbling truth we may become discouraged, overwhelmed, or resentful, even as we plow ahead. We rightly look for help in every need, learning to pray and not to faint.


Christ Jesus our great high priest and our only fully atoning sacrificial lamb has won for us full access to the Father. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)



At Home in Prayer
The other night my son, a young adult with mental illness and autism, asked how I was feeling. I had been resting with a sore throat and cough. I appreciated his thoughtfulness in asking.


Then from his 6’2″ frame, I heard these quiet words, “I have been praying for you every night.” My throat tightened with gratitude. I swallowed hard and looked into his face. “Thank you, Michael.”


He had been worried about me. I knew this. Michael had offered to wear a mask on his work van to avoid bringing home new germs, as I am susceptible to viruses and infections. I never told him to pray. I never asked him to pray. He knew, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, where help could be found.


I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)


This was my grandmother’s favorite passage. She taught my mother to pray. My mother taught me to pray. So too my father’s father prayed. In time of need, as with I am worried or ill, I know that even today my father at age 84 will pray for me. My father taught me to pray. We teach our children to pray.


Prayer is a welcome gift for all Christians in time of need and at all times. We are encouraged to pray “in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:18), “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)


Have you ever noticed that the older prayer books acknowledge the depth of trials of mankind in this life? When we are looking for just the right words for our own prayers or for prayers to share with others, we can turn to such collections for such topics as these:
– prayer when a child is born with a disability
– prayer when a child is stillborn
– prayer when a newborn dies before being baptized
– prayer for wayward children
– prayer for the blessing of children in a marriage
– prayer when the hour of birth draws near
– thanksgiving for a successful birth
– prayer when a woman has an unfaithful husband
– prayer when one spouse has abandoned the other
– prayer of a juror who is to decide a criminal case
– prayer of a soldier for his family at home



Through Christ Alone
How, then, shall we pray? We pray through Jesus Christ, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)


If we do not know how to pray, we can take comfort. This, too, has been anticipated: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)*


Lest we focus back with discouragement on ourselves in our prayers, as we are so quick to do, let us remember the one to whom we pray, the one who prays for us. In Jesus Christ, we have One who “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)



For Us He Prayed
The Lord Jesus Christ prayed through temptation, trial, and the ultimate efficacious agony on our behalf. If we can think of nothing more to pray with our children, we can pray with thanksgiving for this. In so doing, we teach ourselves and our children to pray.


O Love, How Deep

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)

For us His daily works He wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
͑Still seeking not Himself but us.

For us He rose from death again;
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.


“…love what is true, good, and beautiful.” – Cheryl Swope


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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.

In some circles the word “curriculum” is anathema. It is far better, this thinking asserts, to take a relaxed approach to education, to teach a la carte, or to let the child decide what and when to study. We must not be “dogmatic.”


Different children must study different things—or so we begin to believe. We should not determine what is good for them to read or even to know.


It runs like this: all men are different; therefore, all men require a different education; therefore, anybody who suggests that their education should be in any respect the same has ignored the fact that all men are different; therefore, nobody should suggest that everybody should read some of the same books; some people should read some books, some should read others.


This dogma has gained such a hold on the minds of American educators that you will now often hear a college president boast that his college has no curriculum. Each student has a course of study framed, or ‘tailored’ is the usual word, to meet his own individual needs and interests.


We should not linger long in discussing the question of whether a student at the age of eighteen [or six or eleven] should be permitted to determine the actual content of his education for himself …. Educators ought to know better than their pupils what an education is.¹


Nourishing Children
Some of us remember our mothers or grandmothers who prepared, like clockwork, well-rounded meals with good sources of proteins, vegetables, and bone-building foods on our plates. We did not always like our food, but we ate. No debating, begging, or whining. No placing individual meal orders. We dined with both portions and nutrients predetermined, and we were nourished. Not only were we nourished by the food, but also by the conversations that accompanied the food.


Postmodern-parenting experts advise, by contrast, that if a child does not like the nutritious food he has been given, he should not be compelled to eat it. Let him choose. He knows best. How well is this working?


Many of us see young parents chasing their children around the house with “hidden” nutrients in squeezable green cartoon-character packets. Children and their parents seem exhausted and frustrated. Young children often eat large amounts of sugar, fast food, and empty calories, while learning little more than that they can control their parents at least three times daily.


Often it is the same with our school days, even among homeschooling families: Children are not compelled to complete their studies if they do not like them. Like full plates of uneaten food in the trash, stacks of uncompleted homeschool resources fill the homes of homeschoolers. Sometimes these were purchased by the same parents who once said, “I cannot afford a full curriculum.”


Perhaps rather than cost, the real driving force behind curriculum decisions is this: As parents, we don’t truly believe we should impose extrinsic standards. We scorn a prepared curriculum, even if it is one brimming with purposeful enculturation, the highest quality teaching resources, and classic literature. We trade this for largely hands-on projects, splashy entertainment, or following the child’s lead. When we do this, what is being lost is our communal, cultural birthright—the accumulated wealth of knowledge, beauty, and reason that a curriculum is intended to pass down to a student.


Different, Yet the Same
Learning differences of mind and body may necessitate more intentional teaching strategies, or a different pacing, but we can modify without compromising content. We need not let the child’s differences diminish the richness of his studies. We can reaffirm our devotion to an education founded upon our common humanity.


All men are different; but they are also the same. If any common program is impossible, if there is no such thing as an education that everybody ought to have, then we must admit that any community is impossible ….²


Let every child hear Charlotte’s Web to learn the beautiful art of self-sacrifice. Let him “live inside” the Little House books to understand duty to family, hard work, and appreciation for simple joys. Let him grow into greater works that will fill his days and his mind.


More than this, let him hear and learn Holy Scripture, for “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14, KJV)


A Curriculum for Community
A shared curriculum creates community. Community among those with special needs is not only possible; it is essential. Everything starts with the understanding that all children are similar. Hyper-individualization based on perceived differences or immature preferences will serve no one well, least of all the child himself. Let us read the same books, sing the same songs, and hear the same stories to the greatest extent possible.


In view of the urgent need for unity and community, it does not seem an exaggeration to say that the present crisis calls first of all for an education that shall emphasize those respects in which men are the same, rather than those in which they are different. [We need] an education that draws out our common humanity rather than our individuality. Individual differences can be taken into account in the methods that are employed.³


With a return to the intent of education, the Simply Classical Curriculum seeks to bring educational nourishment to children who may need modifications, yet whose humanity begs for the common truth, goodness, and beauty needed by all.



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1 Hutchins, Robert M. with Adler, Mortimer. The Great Conversation, Britannica Great Books (University of Chicago, 1952), 49.
2 Ibid, 50.
3 Ibid, 50-51.

This article first appeared in the free publication, Simply Classical Journal. Reprinted with author’s permission.

Looking a Curriculum Rich in stories, multi-sensory strategies, and gentle pacing? See the new Simply Classical Special-Needs Curriculum, twice voted #1 for Special Learners (OldSchoolhouse Magazine).

By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.

This morning my son and I discussed literature. Specifically, we noted a good author’s ability to challenge and strengthen the mind and character of the reader in ways mere escapist entertainment never can.


Steadfast Goals

Michael wants to protect his mind, because he fears the long-term prognosis of some of his conditions. He does not want to lose the ability to think or to read, as sometimes happens with degenerative disabilities. I promised him he will be well served to continue reading good books. Reading good literature will help protect his mind.


I pray for stronger minds for both of my children. As parents of special-needs children understand too well, my children’s prognosis is on my mind too. This helps keep me steadfast in teaching them, caring for them, and loving them.


Maintaining Perspectives

I recently spent several days in the Memoria Press office working on the new special-needs curriculum packages. My children were back home in Missouri. I thought of them often; however, I did not want to call so soon and make them miss me. Even as young adults, my children’s special needs often leave them feeling vulnerable.


So I had some quiet time on my hands in the evenings. Unaccustomed to quiet time in the evenings, suddenly I needed a book to read. (I learned that when you find yourself in Kentucky with no book to read, Martin Cothran will reach into the trunk of his car and give you a book or two by Kentucky’s own novelist and essayist Wendell Berry.)


Continued Blessings
That first evening back in my suite, instead of calling home, I entered Wendell Berry’s stories. The forced slowing of thought, where reading yields to contemplation, led me to welcome those hours. The characters spoke with such a casual wisdom, they reminded me of gentle insights my 100-year-old grandma shared with me without ever intending to be wise.


In Pray Without Ceasing,” a conversation unfolds in a farm kitchen. The grandmother describes a horrible day long ago, when she had learned of a tragedy. “Oh,” she said, “I felt it go all over me, before I knew it in my mind. I just wanted to crawl away. But I had your mother to think about. You always have somebody to think about, and it’s a blessing.”


As long as our children live, especially our children with special needs, we’ll always have somebody to think about. And it’s a blessing.

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This article first appeared in The Classical Teacher, Memoria Press.

Reprinted with author’s permission.


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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

“Ever since the dawn of time, man has needed to work.” Thus began my eleven-year-old son’s thinking paper. The topic: why he should have been cleaning out the garage. We long ago forgot the details of that day, but we never forgot the opening line of that paper!

How did my son learn to write? How does anyone learn to write? Some children, it seems, learn to write as easily as they learn to read, as if without instruction. Others would rather do anything to avoid placing words onto paper. Most fall somewhere in between.

Dysgraphia, this decade’s ubiquitous cousin to dyslexia, offers insights into the writing process for any student. When a child faces neurocognitive impediments to writing, we are all forced to look more closely. What comprises effective writing instruction for any student?

Attend to Readiness
Good writing instruction begins long before we ask a child to hold a pencil. Whether for the beginner or for an older child’s remediation, we must evaluate, teach, and retrace steps in writing readiness to assist skilled writing. We focus on pincer grasp, finger dexterity, and hand strength through clay or playdough, coloring, and scissors exercises, as in SC Level B and Scissors books.

When this readiness is achieved, we work on simple pencil grip, posture, and proper letter formation. We practice so this becomes automatic over time. Working memory has limits for any child, but especially for the child with challenged cognitive function. If we can automate fundamental processes, writing can flow more creatively. “Basic processes need to be made unconscious and automatic as early as possible in order to free the mind.” Hirsch Jr., E.D’s excerpt from The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them. 

Teach the Essentials
Simply providing our students with language models, good literature, and “literary experiences” is not sufficient; we must strengthen their skills for this task. During the primary years, we teach correct spelling, punctuation, penmanship, and sentence composition. We practice, practice, practice these skills to mastery. Generations ago, this was obvious. Today we must remind ourselves.

The good news is this: Thoughtful writing benefits even more than a student’s compositions. The act of writing produces neurocognitive benefits.

See results of the following research contained in these writings:

We must engage our children in the act of writing, beginning with the basics, as soon as we strengthen their fine-motor skills to readiness.

Remember the Humanities
We can teach writing skills explicitly, even as we introduce literature, art, and music for the mind, character, and soul. All comes together to improve the child’s intelligence, moral development, and understanding, and this improves his writing. “Reading makes a full man,” said Francis Bacon, “conversation a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

In classical education, we combine writing with literature and the humanities. We bolster this with the mental disciplines of arithmetic and mathematics. We lead our children to the natural, moral, and theological sciences to give them a lifelong, invaluable gift of true education.

With special teaching strategies and extra practice, we can give this gift to many of our children who face challenges. These challenges include English as a second language, asynchronous development, medical conditions, learning disabilities, sensory impairments, speech and language difficulties, intellectual disability, and autism. Some children will need significant accommodations, but we need not place accommodations above education. Occupational or cognitive therapies should never supplant faithful instruction.
Enjoy the Impact

Teaching writing can bring great joy because words can bring great joy. Words can offer wisdom, comfort, and grace, whether through the well-crafted thinking paper, a poem written in sympathy, or a simple thank-you note. We remember this when our students learn from Simply Classical Writing: Step-by-Step Sentences Book One and Book Two, Bible editions.

The written word connects us as human beings. Even more importantly, God revealed Himself to us through the Word. My children and I were reminded of this as we recently read: “Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” His Word brings light and life, hope and comfort, joy and gladness to all mankind. And this has been most certainly true, ever since the dawn of time.

This article first appeared in The Classical Teacher , winter 2017 edition. Reprinted with author’s permission.




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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.

April is World Autism Awareness Month. One might wonder if anyone remains unaware of autism, yet the impact of autism is subtle, multi-faceted, and lifelong. In this article we take time to explore the facets of a condition impacting up to 1 in 68 children in the United States alone.


We begin with my own daughter:

Michelle wriggled and squirmed. She craved deep contact but could not sit still long enough to enjoy being held. Her sensory system seemed to malfunction. She leaned into our big dogs, especially her favorite black lab mix who leaned even harder back into her, slurping her face, giving her the constant sensory input she seemed to crave. Seemingly impervious to pain, Michelle combat-crawled into furniture and walls, banging into them as if on purpose. Nothing most toddlers would deem painful seemed to bother her, but then when we tried to remove a shirt over her head, she cried as if in agony. Only once in those early weeks, after she had developed a high fever, did she truly ‘snuggle in’ as a contented baby would. Language, too, appeared to be an early area of difficulty….” from Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child, Cheryl Swope, M.Ed. (Memoria Press).

With a master’s degree in special education, lifetime K-12 teaching certificate in both learning disabilities and behavior disorders, and as a mom with twins on the autism spectrum, homeschooled from infancy through high school graduation, I am a strong advocate for early intervention!

If you suspect autism symptoms in any child, take these 5 steps:


1 – Know the Signs
Begin with knowing the characteristics of autism. As you read each of the lists linked here, make a bullet-point list of any symptoms YOU see in the child. Know the early Warning Signs of Autism in Toddlers. Learn the signs in older individuals. Find out how to distinguish between the symptoms of ADHD and autism. Ready for more in-depth study? Learn more about the newer, related diagnosis of Social Communication Disorder.


2 – Know the Impact
Autism impacts the child’s immediate family, extended family, and community. Understand the many aspects of autism. Know the safety risks for a child with autism, especially wandering, and obtain a medical identification bracelet such like this immediately.


3 – Know the Hope!
Discouraged? Fearful? Dismayed? Watch this encouraging video: The Joy of Knowing. Equip yourself to advocate for the child long-term. Pour yourself a cup of tea and read this free article, The Path Less Traveled, for greater hope. Know that you can accomplish more than many “experts” will ever tell you! Read and reread these two articles, and you will gain an understanding of all that can be accomplished through an effective education focused on mastery, skills, and knowledge while embracing the child’s delight, humanity, and joy.

4 – Know How to Teach 
I have done this part for you! Simply begin with Level A of the Simply Classical Curriculum for Special Needs from Memoria Press with any young child or beginning student on the autism spectrum. This program uniquely encourages oral language through predictable repetition, provides a framework for habits of learning, and is “open-and-go,” which makes it easy to teach in 30-minute sessions. 

Not sure where to begin? We offer free online readiness assessments for all Simply Classical programs: Readiness, Primary, and Grammar levels. All are fully customizable by subject for “asynchronous” learners who need subjects taught at varying levels; however, many students with autism succeed well when the program is taught exactly as written. More levels are coming in 2018.


5 – Know Where to Diagnose
You can obtain a formal evaluation from a pediatric autism specialist at a university, diagnostic clinic, or children’s hospital, or seek a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. If evaluators rule out anything of concern, this will be a relief. However, if they identify a real need, early intervention will be critical.

Take the above five steps, and you may well impact the child’s life in dramatic, measurable, and even inspiring ways. Let me know if I can help in any way. Email, or join our free support forum for Simply Classical families who are homeschooling special needs and struggling learner students.

This article first appeared on and is shared with permission

For more autism homeschooling resources make sure to check out SPED Homeschool’s Autism Pinterest board and all the autism realted articles on our site.



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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

When many of our friends are becoming somewhat reluctant “empty-nesters,” my husband and I realize that we need to continue homeschooling our children even beyond their graduation. At 19, neither of our special-needs twins can attend college, yet both want to continue learning. Over time, their difficulties have not lessened but increased. We have learned to relax our expectations, but not the quality of our courses or methods.

Cultivating Beyond Conditions
My son has embarked on Introduction to Logic, Introduction to Music Theory, Introduction to Composition, and other classes at home. He learns slowly, but with Socratic questioning and purpose. As his medical conditions progress, he hopes his continued education will strengthen his otherwise weakening mind.

We required years to master Latina Christiana I, but Michael told me, “Latin is so meticulous and systematic, I think it takes my boggled mind and sorts it out.” He added, “I want to study Latin forever.” His twin sister Michelle chimed in, “Me too.” Most of my daughter’s academic abilities never progressed to the level of her brother’s, but she enjoyed beginning elements of each area in the liberal arts, all bathed in truths from theology, the queen of the liberal sciences.

Cultivating Between the Lines
As classical teachers, we want to help our children love truth, goodness, and beauty. We encourage this through the liberal arts, sciences, and the great literature of Western civilization. Each of our children have been able to grasp unique aspects of this.

One day we read  The Merchant of Venice together. My concrete-thinking son understood very little, but Michelle loved Portia’s famous speech on mercy. She played Portia in each scene. When Bassanio (reluctantly played by Michael) noted that outward appearance does not always show inward beauty, Michael paused at the wisdom of this insight. In the play, Bassanio references Troy and Hercules, so we recalled our beginning classical studies.

Cultivating From the Heavens

Hours later the same day, my husband located some star guides and gathered the children. Equipped with binoculars, we all settled in on a big blanket for an early autumn evening of stargazing. On such occasions, we see how all learning comes together in gratifying ways. Lying still in an open field near the woods that night, we marveled at the many clusters of stars in our country sky. My daughter recalled Abraham and the promise about his descendants. My husband identified the constellation, Aquila. Michelle said she knew from Latin it would be an eagle. We smiled to ourselves. My husband pointed out various constellations and the planet Mars. The names of constellations prompted stories from Greek and Roman mythology, and our children know these far better than we do.

Cultivating Shared Experiences
As a family that evening, we all relaxed together, captivated by one of those rare moments that instantly beautify family life. When the darkness deepened in the sky, we spotted the Big Dipper low on the horizon. My husband noted the trapezoid shape of its ladle, and my children agreed. They knew the shape from former geometry studies. He pointed to another constellation, “forty-five degrees from the bright star overhead.” As the children followed his finger, I remembered all the protractors from our many years of basic geometry lessons together. We searched the rugged craters of the moon through our binoculars. My son surprised me by noting the half moon’s appearance as “a perfect semi-circle, with the diameter bisecting the whole.” Then, for a moment, we fell silent.

Cultivating Unceasing Joy
A fall chill descended under those stars. Snuggling our fragile daughter to keep her warm, I appreciated the richness a classical education offers even to children such as ours. If their abilities continue to fade with the progression of their illnesses, we can still enjoy the opportunity to homeschool our children into their adult years. “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all.” (Psalm 104:24)

Copied, with author’s permission from Memoria Press



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