4 Ways I Customize Homeschool Curriculum for My Special Needs Child

a mom sits behind a small child, writing for her

One of my favorite reasons for homeschooling is the ability to flex and change to meet the needs of my kids. By doing so, I can give them a truly customized education that scaffolds their weaknesses and sharpens their strengths.

But the pressure of meeting academic standards is not easily escaped, even in homeschooling. Sometimes, that pressure to perform comes from within when we place a burden on ourselves to prove that homeschooling works. So when a curriculum tells us to cover certain topics, read certain pages, and accomplish certain projects in a particular day, it’s easy to feel like we are failing when those boxes don’t get checked.

Don't fall into that trap! Particularly as we homeschool children with special needs and learning challenges, we have to view our curriculum differently. We have to see it as a tool and not a master.

Education is about moving our child forward at whatever pace is appropriate for that child. It involves adapting our curriculum to meet our child’s specific needs.

In a public school, a special needs child has accommodations based on an IEP (Individualized Education Program). At home, you don't need formal paperwork or even an official diagnosis. You can apply these four principles to any homeschool curriculum on the fly to customize it for your children based on what you perceive your child needs. 

1. Moving at My Child's Pace

I look to a pre-planned schedule more as an order of study than a strict day-by-day schedule. I ignore the daily assignments and move at my child's pace, just doing the next thing each day.

  • Sometimes we take 2-3 weeks to cover the material scheduled for a particular week.
  • Sometimes we spend more than a year to cover a year’s worth of curriculum.
  • Sometimes we don't finish everything.

In each case, it’s been okay. We’ve still learned a lot, and my kids have made progress. It’s not a steady climb. There are plateaus and valleys as well as Mt. Everest moments in our learning journey, and it’s beautiful!  

2. Treating Assignments as Options

4 Ways I Customize Homeschool Curriculum for My Special Needs ChildI like to look at my lesson plan as a unit study, considering the assignments as options from which to build the plan that fits our learning goals and my child’s interests.

  • We don’t do everything suggested.
  • We don’t read every book.
  • We don’t have every discussion.

If I know a child needs to work on a particular skill and we are going to have to adjust our pace, then I look ahead in the curriculum a bit and decide which book we need to skip to allow more time for the one we need to cover. If I know a particular learning struggle is going to be provoked, I pick the book or topic that will hold the most interest for my child as we address that struggle.

Life is full of good things, and most of life is choosing a few options among those good things because we simply can’t do it all. Those boxes on my lesson plan are options, and I check the options I’ve chosen to use with no guilt or regret about the boxes left unchecked.

3. Teaching My Child, Not the Curriculum

My curriculum is a tool, not a master. It’s a plan, not a contract. And our homeschool is a journey, not a race.

That means when I plan our day, our week, or our year, I start with my child first. I look at the skills my child needs to work on, the goals (both character and academic) we want to work toward, and the interests my child currently has. Then, I turn to my curriculum and choose from the curriculum plan what will help me meet these specific goals. 

4. Aiming for Progress Not Perfection

In our eight years of homeschooling, I can’t remember a single year that went perfectly, yet each year we’ve seen progress. That progress, however, has taken many different forms. Some years progress was learning to do hard things, or finding solutions for ADHD and mental health struggles. Other years, progress was finally learning carrying and borrowing or writing a whole paragraph.

We’ve learned to look for progress in more than just the standardized test at the end of the year or completing an entire workbook. 

One year early on, when my daughter with dyslexia was discouraged by her struggle with reading, I sketched a stick-figure picture of her on a bicycle riding up a steep hill. I told her, “This is you right now, and it’s hard. But eventually you will make it to the top of that hill. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. And after you make it to the top of a big hill, the ride down is much easier. One day, reading won’t be quite the struggle it is today.”

By the end of that school year, she was still struggling. For a couple more years we worked hard on that struggle, and eventually reading has become easier for her. Today, when she faces hard things, she reminds me about that picture of the bicycle going up a hill. Sometimes, just learning to do hard things is, in itself, progress.

The perfect curriculum is not necessarily the curriculum you don’t have to change. The perfect curriculum is the one that provides you with plenty of wonderful options to choose from—the one that allows you to create and customize to match your child’s specific needs. The beauty of homeschooling is that you don't have an official special needs diagnosis to flex your curriculum. Any parent can apply these four easy principles to make learning less arduous and far more effective for any child.

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Tracy GlockleAbout the Author

Tracy Glockle lives with her husband in Oregon where she homeschools their crew of three kids with ADHD/dyslexia. She’s constantly making adjustments for her out-of-the-box learners, finding creative ways to use their strengths to teach their weaknesses. As the frontal lobe for her family of ADHDers, Tracy loves planners and systems and organization. But housecleaning—that’s something else entirely. She enjoys black coffee, superhero action films, and reading the end of a story first. Tracy writes about homeschooling ADHD and dyslexia for several blogs including her own at Growing In Grace.