Making the decision to home school any child is difficult – if not daunting – for any parent, and especially those that have children with special needs, such as Down syndrome.

Do the benefits of educating a child at home outweigh those of an education within the public sector? How can one be sure that homeschooling is appropriate for their child? These questions can only be answered by each individual considering the option. However, once the decision for home schooling has been made, there are several things that should be done that will help your child reach their maximum potential in this educational arena.

First and foremost are the child’s individual needs and their learning process. What spectrum, or how severe, is their learning disability? How are their interaction skills with others? What goals are sought and how do you get there? Because each child is different, an individualized plan is critical.

The Individualized Education Program, also known as the IEP, is required for all children that attend a public school. This assessment is also essential for children being home schooled. The IEP analyzes the child’s specific needs and helps to identify a specific program with goals and effective strategies for learning as well as teaching. The plan allows for flexibility so that the child can learn at their own pace and their success can be measured more effectively.

There are several steps involved for the IEP, as well as measurement and re-evaluations, but this highly effective tool is beneficial for students, parents and caregivers alike. Information on the IEP, the steps involved and what can be expected can be found at the below website (1)

The second strategy for creating a successful and positive home schooling education is the environment in which the child will be learning. Having a separate area in the home is essential to the homeschooled student. This area should be used only during the educational process, and at no other time. This area helps to establish the mindset of learning time, just as being at a school or in the library, helps a child to make the correlation between quiet and reading time versus the cafeteria at lunch. The room should be filled with the required learning tools and materials. Some parents also include items that can be used as rewards once a child has successfully completed a given task, or the learning session. The National Home Education Network (NHEN) has excellent resources, links and information for home schooling along with forums, support and help for those just beginning the process or those that have been homeschooling for years. (2)

Structuring the learning times in homeschooling is also vital, while leaving room for flexibility. Many families home school during specific hours, while others find breaking the education times up allow the children time to absorb what they have learned within a short period, before either reinforcing that same material in a different manner or starting on new goals. Again, this is a matter of personal preference and what works best for your child. Karen, a parent in Ohio, has found that short breaks between learning sessions with her son, Tom, allows much needed mental breaks when the material seems excessively difficult for him, but has found that he has exceeded goals that they never believed he could accomplish in the beginning. Her schedule is flexible, with the attitude, “If he is doing well, and completing tasks, we keep going!”

Finally, homeschooling should be both fun and educational. The limits of teaching and learning are boundless. Children excel in rewarding learning environments and most often exceed goals and expectations when given an exciting and fun curriculum. Nearly everything can be made into a fun learning activity, limited only by our imagination. And, for those who may struggle with that portion of teaching, hitting the local library has excellent sources to help boost that fun and creative side we may have buried.

The decision to home school is both rewarding and challenging, but by assessing your child’s needs and creating a workable program with an IEP, setting up the environment with the tools necessary to get the job done, having a workable schedule and an exciting and rewarding atmosphere for your child to learn, excel and grow in, you will find that both you and your child will flourish beyond expectations. So, get out those bubbles, tickle fingers and silly faces and enjoy the entire process!

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