I remember sitting on the floor looking at all the homeschool supplies for the new year. There were new history books and new phonics readers. My boys were excited about their new handwriting workbooks and I was dreading one subject…math.
You see one of my boys struggles with math. For one year he made great progress and then we hit the Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) wall hard. The next few years were filled with struggles and frustration. At one point I decided to just put math on hold while we worked on building his focus and concentration.
Over the years I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more important to put the books aside so that you can really focus on figuring out how to help your child learn in a way that works best for them.
CHOOSING THE CURRICULUM
We have been through six different curriculums for math over the past five years. I think that we have finally found one that works but it’s been a tough journey. When looking for a curriculum, I had to consider a few things. I bet if you have a child on the spectrum you have a list of things you look for when you are curriculum shopping.
I need something that isn’t very teacher intensive. I strive for my boys to become independent learners as soon as they are able. Something that requires hours of my time and attention isn’t something that will work for my family. The curriculum we are using now my oldest can actually do most of the work on his own and I just check answers and help him out when he gets stuck.
My son does best when there is not a lot of busy work involved in his lessons. He gets very frustrated when he feels like his time is being wasted. I’ve also noticed that he struggles to concentrate when he has to do a lot of problems all at once.
Because I have more than one child, I also look for curriculum that I can use more than once. It is rare that I buy something that won’t work for multiple children.
ADAPTING CURRICULUM TO FIT YOUR CHILD
One thing that has been helpful across the board for my son has been adapting curriculum whenever possible. I have found that almost anything can be tweaked or slightly changed so that it works best for my boys.
I try to get my boys moving during the day as much as possible. A little outside time before we get started is always a plus. Incorporating movement into the lessons is a help as well: tossing a ball as we do spelling words, shooting Nerf guns at the answers to math questions and even just sitting on an exercise ball.
I also require very little writing of my boys. My son has weak fine motor muscles and gets really tired if he has a lot of writing to do. Sometimes I will let him dictate the answers to me and I write them down. He is still doing the work but doesn’t have to stress over the handwriting.
REDEFINING SUCCESS FOR YOUR CHILD
schools have to have a system of organizing students so they have grade levels. It helps them to create a system of moving your children from the start of school until graduation. Even within that system you will find children functioning at, below and above grade level. Homeschooling is no different. My boys are all over the map skill-wise. They are at or above where their peers are for certain subjects and they each have their struggles.
I tried the whole grade level thing for a while and found that it had some really negative consequences for my boys. They would feel less smart than other kids because they struggled with something. No matter how often I explained to them that we all have our strengths and weaknesses nothing helped.
So last year I just decided I wasn’t going to deal with grade levels anymore.
I prefer to focus on forward progress instead of completion of grade levels or perfection. My boys are still expected to work hard and do their best work. But they are allowed to work at their own pace.
With my son’s math struggles, I knew that he would get it eventually and because we homeschool he has been able to work as slowly as he need in math and continue forward in his other subjects. There was no reason for me to hold him back in reading or spelling or history simply because he hadn’t memorized all his math facts yet.
At the end of each quarter and the end of the year I sit down with my boys and look at the progress that they made. When it came to math, instead of focusing on all the things that my son hadn’t mastered yet, I would point to him all the things that he could do now that he couldn’t do at the beginning of the year. I watched this past year as my son dropped the burden he’d been carrying over math.
When I sat down with him to go over the math plans for this year he was excited to get to work. He smiled and said “I’m just going to keep working hard mommy. I’ll get it.” This is what it is all about progress not perfection.
This article was featured in Issue 50 – The Autism Homeschooling Revolution