5 Guidelines to Homeschool Children with Specific Learning Differences

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Homeschool Children with Specific Learning Differences

Homeschooling and Montessori go together like peanut butter and jelly. The focus on a personalised approach to learning, which is holistic and child-led, thrives in the one-on-one direct instruction that is a feature of any homeschool environment.

The Montessori Method refers to a method of education, which was developed by Dr Maria Montessori over a hundred years ago. It is an approach to learning, which combines observation, reflection, and a structured orderly environment that promotes freedom of movement and child participation.  Parents are seen as facilitators of education, connecting materials and resources that encourage learners to explore and discover. As a result, more and more parents are adopting Montessori principles to learning at home, with a wealth of evidence supporting the use of such methods when teaching children with SpLD (Specific Learning Differences).

If you are considering adopting a Montessori approach to homeschooling your child with SpLD, read on for our top tips for ensuring a rich learning environment that will ensure that your child has ‘the chance to fulfil his potential possibilities’. 

To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself--that is the first duty of the educator.”
― Maria Montessori

What are Specific Learning Differences (SpLD)?

SpLD is an acronym for Specific Learning Differences, sometimes referred to as Specific Learning Disabilities. This is an umbrella term which is used to refer to a variety of different disorders. The most common of which include dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, mild-to-moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD/ ADHD).

Each of the SpLD ultimately refers to a complex set of issues that can present itself in a multitude of different ways and an individual may have one disorder or any number of them could coexist together to shape their individual learner profile. Common characteristics of SpLD include difficulties with short term memory, reading and writing, information processing, time management and organisation amongst others. Some children may experience sensory overload or they may have additional speech, language and communications needs (SLCN).

Whilst having SpLD can have a lasting impact on the development of academic skills, a diagnosis does not in any way indicate potential or ability.  Children with SpLD can be highly creative, can easily master abstract concepts and often go on to succeed, particularly in the business world. Leonardo Da Vinci, Picasso and Einstein all had dyslexia, Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carroll are thought to have been on the Autistic spectrum and Richard Branson, Cara Delavigne, and Daniel Radcliffe have all been diagnosed with dyspraxia. SpLD are not weaknesses, they can be an entirely different way of processing information, resulting in just as many strengths and heightened abilities as challenges and potential barriers.

Homeschooling and Specific Learning Differences: Identify and Assess

In the school environment, teachers can often have up to 30 students with individual learner profiles, a situation which can result in less time being devoted to the individual needs of students. However, the individualised nature of both homeschooling and Montessori ensures that you are able to react and respond throughout the education process.

Homeschool Children with Specific Learning Differences - Environment

Great Montessori activity and wooden material for children with attention deficit disorders 

Often, as homeschoolers, we have our children's best interests at heart but we are not always qualified in educational assessment, and you may wish to get an official diagnosis. As the main educator, it is your responsibility to be aware of the indicators of SpLD and the most appropriate way of meeting your child’s educational needs. Early intervention is essential for managing SpLD long-term, and it is our responsibility to adapt teaching methods to fit the child. If the learner is having trouble processing information due to the way that it is been delivered, this could result in frustration and potentially disengagement. 

Homeschooling and Specific Learning Differences: Research

Education is ultimately about discovery and it is your role as the educator to discover as well! Although individualisation is one of the core principles of the Montessori Method, promoting evidence-based practice is also a key component to success.

If you are thinking about adopting a Montessori approach to your home school set- up, there are so many valuable resources online; with an extensive range of informative articles, support groups, books and so much more. The internet has made it possible to communicate with like-minded individuals from all over the world and it has become significantly easier to find someone who is on the same path as you.

Homeschooling and Specific Learning Differences: Teaching Planning

Part of the core principles of a Montessori Method of teaching is an understanding that all children are fundamentally individuals with different needs and abilities in the classroom. Recognising the individual nature of learning, homeschooling also allows for the implementation of a truly inclusive curriculum that has been designed with your child at the centre. Due to the way in which this style of teaching gives children the freedom to move, the Montessori Method ultimately encourages children to build confidence and learn at their own pace.

However, planning is still required in order to ensure effective and engaging tuition, and there is quite often a crossover between subject areas.  A Montessori homeschool environment should be stable and predictable, based on the sensitive periods that have been already set out and matching appropriate lessons and materials to the windows of opportunity in a child’s development.  It is premised upon a 3-year continuum, with children moving through the materials at their own pace to encouraging active learning and understanding.

Homeschooling and Specific Learning Differences: The Independent Learner

The famous Italian educator Maria Montessori wrote about liberty of thinking, a phrase which ultimately refers to the exchange of ideas.  Self- directed learning is considered to provide a strong foundation in life, empowering learners to make decisions pertaining to their own lives. Respect for a child’s voice is also one of their basic human rights, and the idea that children can choose how they learn is one of the mains reasons why parents choose both Montessori and homeschooling!   Encourage your child or children to particulate in shaping the curriculum, and to share their thoughts and opinions regarding the best way for them to learn. Although there may be challenges in absorbing and processing information for children with SpLD, being enabled to make decisions from a young age can have a hugely positive effect on their ability to make the big decisions in later life.

For example, one of the best things about both the homeschool environment and the Montessori Method has to be the manner in which children can learn about what they love. Find out their favourite hobbies or topics, and encourage them to read around the subject and to produce work based on their passions. Children must be encouraged to develop their own concentration and focus, and the reward lies within the successful completion of the project. However, it remains that it is the facilitator’s job to find the key that will unlock learning and engage the learner.

Montessori and Specific Learning Differences: A Whole Child Approach

Homeschool Children with Specific Learning Differences - Practical Life Tips Montessori aims to inspire everyone to learn, implementing an active learning approach that recognises the needs of the whole child. It also focuses on concepts such as peace, value, respect and inclusion, and. It teaches our children to be better citizens and to embrace culture and difference. Plus, it also encourages organisation and the development of time management skills, which is particularly effective for children with executive functioning deficits.

One of the areas in a Montessori classroom is the practical life activities, which is used to refer to activities that can help to promote independence, improve hand to eye coordination and develop both gross and fine motor skills. These tend to be within four different areas, including Caring for the Self, Caring for the Environment, Grace and Courtesy and Movement of Object. Toys included in this section could include a hammer set, scissors, child-sized cleaning utensils, sewing and threading kits and so much more.

Specific Learning Differences: The Learning Environment & Montessori Material

The idea of the absorbent mind portrays children to be active learners that have a reciprocal relationship with the environment around them; enabling children to independently engage with the world of knowledge around them. As a result, the environment makes up a key component of the Learning Triangle, alongside the teacher and child, and an orderly, engaging space is essential for the method’s success.  Think tidy home, tidy mind, and embrace a simple, minimalistic workspace, with materials set out in a neat and attractive manner.

Materials should be organised by activities, with sections inclusions Practical Life, Sensorial, maths and language and cultural activities.  Specific materials are used, and they are often hands-on and teach only one skill at a time. They encourage children to engage in them, and are often enticing and made from natural sustainable materials.  Due to the manner in which Montessori materials engage the senses, they are well suited to children with some SpLD.

However, you may wish to make some amendments to meet your child’s educational needs. For example, there is evidence to suggest that information printed in black and white can be harder to retain for some learners, as a result, teachers may print on coloured paper. Coloured overlays are also effective, particularly if you are reading from books, and these are much better for the environment in the long run. It should also be noted that learners who experience sensory overload can struggle to maintain concentration and you may wish to create an area for students to concentrate when they want to; ideally away from external distractions.

Homeschool Children with Specific Learning Differences - Montessori Material

Classic Montessori coloured item to learn Math and numbers easily

Setting up a Montessori space at home can be a challenge for those who are new to the system but you do not need to do it all at once. You will require one low shelving unit that children can access themselves and a child-sized table and chair.  However, ultimately the environment should be organic, ever-changing as learners develop through the stages.

Observation and Review

One of the phrases frequently used whilst teaching in the UK is plan-assess- do- review, and this works well with the idea that the delivery of education should be unique to the child and shaped through a process of observation and evaluation. Scientific observation is a key concept as part of the Montessori methodology and it will allow you, as the educator, to provide intensive support and keep an up to date summary of each learner’s individual profile. 

Two stars and a wish is a great way to engage children in reflective learning from an early age (Primary onwards). The two stars represent two things that they felt they have excelled in during the day, and a wish is something that they feel could be improved. Whether it is an internal self-reflection or self-construction, a direction regarding the curriculum or+ just something they thought could have been better, this process teaches learners to be retrospective about their educational journey.

Potential Challenges

One of the biggest issues in any homeschool has to be differentiating between the role of the teacher and as the parent. Dr Maria Montessori recommends adopting the behaviour that we would like our pupils to imitate and, many parents have suggested that adopting such methods has actually impacted on their parenting style as well. Montessori said that ‘needless help is an actual hindrance to the development of natural forces’; promoting the idea that children should be independent can have a significantly positive impact throughout their adult life.

The lack of socialisation is also considered one of the biggest disadvantages of homeschool education, particularly when it is such a central component of the Montessori Method.  As the facilitator, you should provide opportunities to socialise and encourage siblings of different ages to work together, as well as promoting positive relationships with family members of all ages. However, there have been some suggestions that a Montessori approach is not always effective for kids with AD(H)D. as they may require some redirection, which is contradictory to the freedom of movement approach. As a result, some Montessori schools, may not accept children with this and is felt that this is in direct contradiction to the idea of the individual learner.

Similarly to the Montessori methodology, the majority of us choose homeschooling because it allows for a personalised approach that will enable children to reach their full potential and flourish. As educators, it is important for us to try and understand the learning challenges that a child with SpLD is likely to face, and to be aware of the strategies that other learners with similar differences have found to be effective. We are responsible for ensuring that our teaching methods encompass and celebrate neurodiversity and the different ways that our brains process information.

Being diagnosed with SpLD does not in any way predict academic success r potential. Although students may be faced with extra challenges and you may need to adapt the material to suit their needs, a Montessori approach to homeschooling allows for an increased focus on their strengths as well as assisting them in developing any areas of concern.


by Sarah W., English teacher in a Montessori school


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