I want to reminisce a little bit about the pandemic year. That was my last year teaching special education and I taught virtually. I started my year teaching 16 students, most with autism, on various ends of the spectrum. I had a lot of what I like to call beginning learners. These kiddos are learning how to navigate through life at school, how to perform academic tasks, build focus, attention, and communication. I had a few who were budding learners, they know they are at school to learn, and they probably have trouble focusing and sitting still. Finally, I had a couple of kiddos who were pros. There was one question every one of those 16 parents asked me and that was, “How are we going to get them to sit down and do this?”
Here are my 5 tips on building compliance while homeschooling.
When your student sits down for their academic time, be ready. Have all the materials you are going to need at your fingertips. I love my scrapbooking carts from Michaels. They are labeled and I can pull out whatever I need for that lesson because it is all in that bin. Do not make the child wait. They will become frustrated, you will become frustrated, and you are not off to a good start. Another great idea is to lesson plan. First, write down Speech, OT, PT, music therapy, or doctor appointments for the week, then fill in what subjects of the Leveled Daily Curriculum you want to teach each day. Add in some supplemental materials and now you are prepared.
Motivate and Reinforce
You know your learner best which is why they have the best teacher they could have. Do they love to work for dance breaks? Let them work for that. Are they having trouble just sitting still? My younger two did. I started giving them a fruit snack or pretzel after every problem and quickly faded it until they only got fruit snacks after they completed the task. In my experience when you use a reinforcer for compliance, you should plan to fade it out. Ben also needs a comfort toy at the table near him. I do not take away comfort items unless they stop work or are distracting. I give the monkey his own chair so he knows where it is. George needs a sensory basket because he can get overstimulated. Now we rarely need the basket, but if we do, there are things in there that help calm him and we get back to work without leaving the table.
Give the Learner Choices
I like to offer my boys choices. I will sit down with Davyd and ask him what he would like to work on first. I show Ben and George pictures and ask them to choose what task we should do. Whatever we do first, we do the other task next. This gives your learner a sense of control and reduces anxiety. This also encourages your learner to make choices for themselves, promoting independence and self-advocacy. See, we threw in some valuable life skills there too!
Everywhere we go there are visuals. Visuals create understanding. For your learner, it helps provide structure and routine. Create a visual schedule so your learner knows what is next. I have one for each boy that shows which person they are working with. Once they are comfortable, we will use a more complex visual schedule. Visuals are also used for communication. Make a break card and teach them how to use it. When you see your learner is visibly frustrated, prompt them to use a break card or ask for a break. Even though Davyd is very verbal we keep a break card on the table to remind him that it is an option if he needs it. This is a way that visuals can reduce frustration and anxiety.
Chores are essential life skills. If your learner is working on sorting and matching, have them sort the silverware and match socks. My oldest, who hates to get his hands dirty, loves to take out the garbage because it helps me. If your kiddo makes a mess, let them be the one to clean it up. The more things you give them to do, the more success you will see.
Remember those 16 students I told you about? That number slowly dwindled quarter by quarter. Many school professionals said virtual learning would not work with my beginning learners, but we proved them wrong. In the end, most of my class were beginning learners and many of those parents went on to homeschool because they said I taught them how to do this. It will get harder before it gets easy, but I promise it will be worth it. Also, remember, learning can be fun! So throw in some special activities or art projects into your week. Good luck, grown-ups! I am here if you need me.