Help kids with learning challenges succeed at homeschool writing

by | Jan 11, 2010 | Reluctant or Struggling Writers, Special Needs

Problem: Learning challenges create obstacles to successful homeschool writing.

Solution: Short writing projects, frequent practice, and bite-size assignments are some of the ways to make the writing process manageable for kids and teens with special needs.


Does Your Child Learn with Difficulty?

Have any of your children been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia? Are they on the spectrum? Do they struggle with an auditory or visual processing disorder?

Many such children live in a world littered with stumbling blocks that make learning a struggle. Depending on the severity, it’s likely their symptoms interfere with schooling to some degree.

While these can include physical limitations like arm and shoulder tension or vision problems, learning challenges will ultimately result in difficulty performing mental tasks in your homeschool—including writing.

Conceptual or Expressive Writing Issues

  • Difficulty planning the story or report
  • Either having nothing to say or obsessing over details
  • Disorganized writing
  • Careless mistakes

Physical Handwriting Issues

  • Aversion to writing by hand
  • Awkward or tight pencil grip
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Poor word and line spacing

Ways to Help a Child with Learning Challenges Succeed at Homeschool Writing

“Do what you can, when you can and do not beat yourself up for what you cannot.” —Carol Alexander, homeschool mom

I’m sure you’ve dealt with your fair share of meltdowns and outbursts when it’s time to write. How do you come up with a plan to help your kids feel more successful?

Recognize that you are your kids’ first and best teacher. You know them better than anyone, and you care more deeply about their needs. Many others have walked this road before you—and along the way, they’ve learned there’s a lot a homeschool parent can do to help a child succeed at writing.

While I’m certainly not an expert in this area, I can offer some tried-and-true suggestions. For starters:

  • Establish a distraction-free work space where children can do schoolwork. As much as possible, make it quiet, well lit, and uncluttered.
  • Set a regular time to study with your child, and work closely together.
  • Help your student organize study materials before beginning.
6 ways to help a child with learning challenges succeed at homeschool writing

As for actual writing, there are many ways to help a child whose learning challenges interfere with or disrupt the writing process.

1. Give Your Kids Brainstorming Tools

Students do better when they can use graphic organizers such as mind-maps (clustering), charts, lists, or diagrams to help them outline and plan their work.

RELATED >> 4 Ways to Brainstorm with Reluctant Writers

2. Teach Them to Use Self-Editing Checklists

Beginning in 3rd or 4th grade, provide a writing checklist for every assignment to walk them through self-editing step by step. A checklist reminds children of things that needs attention in their papers. As they compare the rough draft to the checklist, they can make corrections and improvements.

A visually overwhelmed student can use a plain sheet of paper to track each line of the checklist.

Provide colored pencils so the kids can circle or underline potential corrections. Each color can be used for a different strategy: capitalization, spelling, punctuation, repeated words, dull or vague words, etc. The colors provide them with a focus for editing and revising as they revisit their work for each task on the checklist.

3. Include Frequent Repetition and Practice

Make sure writing lessons build on previously learned skills. Through repetition, students practice and rehearse various skills so that, over time, these skills becomes easier and more natural. Good checklists help your child apply these skills regularly by keeping them in the forefront.

4. Give Short, Specific Assignments

Writing projects that are short, contained, and relevant are more effective than open-ended, “write-whatever-you-want” assignments. Single-paragraph compositions are excellent for students who have trouble staying on task. Whether they’re overwhelmed by longer assignments, or they ramble and lose their focus, short assignments are a key to success.

And just as important, make sure your writing program includes topic ideas and clear directions. Give specific requirements for each lesson, from brainstorming to writing, so your kids always know what they need to do.

5. Break Large Tasks into Smaller Pieces

A child doesn’t have to learn with difficulty to benefit from working on a writing project in small increments. When you divide the writing process into manageable steps, you help all your kids, including those who are disorganized, lazy, easily overwhelmed, or prone to procrastination.

💡 TAKEAWAY: Spreading assignments over time lets paragraphs rest between drafts, which can ease anxiety and stress.

RELATED >> Help Your Struggling Teen Embrace the Writing Process

6. Appeal to Different Learning Styles

A multisensory approach to writing  helps many students who learn with difficulty.

  • Visual: Use graphic organizers and checklists, a calendar or schedule, and written instructions.
  • Auditory: Play word games, give verbal instructions, and ask questions to prompt writing.
  • Kinesthetic: Describe textured objects the child can pick up and touch. The same goes for foods, because touching and tasting the real thing makes it easier to describe. When writing about a place, take a notebook and pen and visit the place, if possible, so your child can describe it firsthand.

7. Offer Options for Kids Who Hate Handwriting

Because children with learning challenges often struggle with writing by hand, it’s important to offer options. These can include:

If you homeschool a child with learning challenges, you know firsthand how painful writing time can be—for both of you. But now that you have some strategies and tools, I’m confident you’ll soon see a light at the end of the tunnel.

WriteShop Primary, WriteShop Junior, and WriteShop I and II make excellent choices for the homeschooling parent with a learning-challenged child. Parents love using WriteShop because of step-by-step instructions, helpful schedules and lesson plans, and their appeal to different learning styles.

5 Comments

  1. Isabelle aka Canadianladybug

    My son Alexandre, age 8 1/2, goes too fast sometimes and then he misses a letter. Then he tries to include it by squeezing it in between the two letters where it should go. I am trying to tell him to take the time to erase the word and redo it. It’s better than having a word not written properly or clear enough to read. Repetition is paying off. He is slowing down on his writing. *grin*

    OH and the idea of using multiple colors is so neat. He thought of that one himself one day… using a different color for each word when he is doing something special. Cute!

    Reply
    • Kim

      Sounds like you’re doing a great job with Alexandre!

      Reply
  2. Kim

    Carol: Your advice is excellent, and something I did fail to mention. My learning-challenged son required much, if not most, of my time until he was about 13 or 14, but the girls were older and already working quite independently, so my time with him didn’t affect their schooling at all. However, if I’d had younger children, I would have had to make adjustments in our schedules in order to give Ben all he needed while devoting time to the littles as well. Your words are wise: “Do what you can, when you can and do not beat yourself up for what you cannot.” Thanks for sharing!

    Sarah: You’re always so sweet! I appreciate you!

    Reply
  3. Sarah Allen

    Thanks for this! All of your advice has been incredibly thoughtful and helpful. I feel greatly benefited by it. Thanks!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

    Reply
  4. Carol J. Alexander

    Thanks for the tips. I’d like to add that a lot of parents cannot work too closely with an older child that may need them to because they also have younger children that need their attention as well. My advice, do what you can, when you can and do not beat yourself up for what you cannot.

    Reply

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