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My autistic son hates school. Fortunately for me, he is willing to do what he has to do–to a point.
I have fought with, struggled with, and forced him to do things he doesn’t want to do. I’ve bribed, tried positive reinforcement, begged and pleaded. However, it takes a ridiculous amount of energy to get Nathan to do things he doesn’t want to do–not to mention it is not a great way to promote a positive, loving relationship. As a result, I have been motivated to find creative ways to encourage learning that fits his learning style.
First, a little background…
I have one son, and he is 13 years old, in 8th grade. This is our fifth year homeschooling.
Nathan was in 4th grade when we started homeschooling. The first three years we used online public schooling. This worked out great for the first couple of years. One reason why was because the structure was provided. Also, I had a lot support through his IEP.
I learned a huge amount of stuff during those three years. However, by the time Nathan was ready to go into 7th grade, I was ready to venture out on my own.
A big part of the why was that the public school was not Christian. Thus, I felt like I had to constantly “rewrite” or add to the science and history curriculum. Also, things changed drastically in middle school, and I would have been severely limited in my role as a learning coach.
So in 7th grade I went independent.
Abeka and Apologia were my chosen curriculums. Both of these curriculums are awesome. However, they really are more appropriate for the typical learner, which Nathan is not. For example, I purchased the workbook for science. However, Nathan never wanted to write any words down. All he wanted to do was draw pictures of everything.
In addition, I had to read history, literature, science, and pretty much everything else to him. This is because he wasn’t willingly reading on his own at that point, nor would he have been able to read quickly enough to keep up with the schedule. Also, everything was offline.
The good news is I LEARNED a lot of stuff I didn’t already know.
However, by the second half of the year, I was exhausted. Plus, I was constantly adding this or that, supplementing with this or that because the curriculum just wasn’t a great fit.
As a result of his unwillingness/inability to write things down, or read things in a timely manner, I switched to Monarch. Monarch is an online Christian (not live) curriculum by Alpha Omega Publications.
This program seemed perfect at first, because most of the work was completed online with very little hand writing required. Also, the curriculum has a text-to-speech feature, so he doesn’t need to read it on his own. We are still using Monarch. However, I’m probably not going to continue with Monarch either.
This is because Monarch has a “typical learner” bent as well. As a result, I have been supplementing the curriculum with hands-on projects, unit studies, and more appropriate level reading/writing assignments.
This year I have finally started to “put it all together” on how I can teach my son, meet the requirements, and make it fun and as interesting as possible.
I have not found the perfect homeschool curriculum. However, there are parts of many different curriculums that I love. And I have discovered ways to teach my son in a nontypical way that requires way less fighting, arguing, bribing and so forth.
Along the way, I have discovered various tools that have been immensely helpful. I have also discovered that adapting school to at least sometimes match his preferred topics and interests makes a HUGE difference in his willingness to do an assignment. The following tips and tricks are things I have gathered and used, and am still using today.
- Adobe Creative Suite ($19.95/month for students, compared to $59.95/month) – I don’t think a lot of homeschoolers realize that you can have the ENTIRE creative suite, which includes Acrobat DC, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Ilustrator, and a bunch more for such a good price. I know I didn’t until September of this year. Nathan is getting a serious head start by learning Photoshop. And he really likes it.
- Dragon Speak Naturally – we don’t use this program much anymore. However, it helped us when we first started out on the speech-to-text path. It is available through Amazon, and is under $50. You can download it on multiple devices. It gets to know you, so starts to be more accurate the more you use it.
- Kindle Fire – I mention this one because it’s the only tablet (including iPad) that I have been able to get to read any book we purchase. It is a computer voice, but it’s better than nothing if you have a reluctant reader like I do. This was especially helpful a few years ago when Nathan wouldn’t read anything on his own.
- Audio books – Kind of pricey, but a lot of books are available for free through local libraries.
- Whiteboard – Lap size whiteboards are portable and they make great scratch paper for math problems and for spelling tests. As a teacher, you can use them to help your children keep track of their schedule. I use a lapboard for PE class. That way I don’t have to be there the whole time. The Whiteboard is helping my son to be much more independent.
- Inspiration 9 – This is a visual thinking organizer, and we absolutely love it! It has templates, or you can start from scratch. It converts bubbles to outlines and vice versa. You can create presentations, export to MS Word, and download pictures from the internet. It really helps me and my son organize our thoughts. You can learn a few things just from reading the premade templates.
- Allow your child to sometimes write essays on topics not necessarily the same as in the subject, but still allow child to practice the skills.
How many specific dates, names and events do you remember learning in 6th grade?
My experience is that teaching facts and figures, dates and names just doesn’t stick. What makes learning stick? Meaningful projects that add depth to the persons, places, dates, and events. They are much more effective at painting a picture that stays with you over time–especially if it is a subject you’re child is interested in.
- Subjects on preferred topic – Trains, for example. (my son loves trains)! You can take the subject of trains, and assign a paper about the historical context of trains during the Civil War, for example.
- Online Unit studies – Thematic studies that focus on a certain flavor. For example, TechieHomeschoolMom.com has a Christmas Around the World Unit Study that we have been working through. We are learning about various countries around the world and how they celebrate Christmas. Also, Hide the Chocolate’s Unit Study on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Unit studies are great for breaking up the sameness, or you can build an entire curriculum around them.
- Lots and lots of arts and crafts and hands on activities – I believe that I started losing interest in school in junior high and high school because there were so few hands-on activities. I don’t know where our school system got the idea that older kids don’t need hands-on instruction. But I completely disagree with this idea. I don’t think a kid ever outgrows the ability to enjoy hands-on activities.
- Remember the point of learning is to grasp the subject matter being taught, not just memorizing facts.
- Type of pencil used – It is amazing what a difference changing from the standard #2 pencil to a basic, plastic Bic auto pencil has made in our house (there are also Pentel brand, but Nathan doesn’t like those).
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but standard pencils are kind of “scratchy” when you write with them. Plus they get dull so quickly, you have to re-sharpen them almost constantly. (I can’t stand writing with a dull pencil)!.
The auto pencils are a bit more expensive, but they are SO worth it! Nathan still doesn’t like to write. But he now is more willing than before.
These are just a few of my favorite ideas. More later…