How to Teach Science to a Special Needs Child at Home

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Raising a special needs child brings its own unique set of challenges, and teaching them at home can seem daunting. However, science doesn’t have to be one of them. With a little creativity, patience, and a few helpful tips, you can successfully make science learning an enjoyable and rewarding experience for both you and your child. In this article, you will learn about the tips and ideas for teaching science to a special needs child at home, including how to make the subject accessible and engaging, how to tailor activities to your child’s specific needs, and how to make the learning fun. With these simple strategies, you can help foster a lifelong love of science in your special needs child.

How to Teach Science to a Special Needs Child at Home

Science and Special Needs Children

By Felice Gerwitz

Are you interested in action, adventure, mystery, intrigue, and discovery? Well, science contains all these elements and many more! I can just see you shaking your head in denial. Yes, I am using those adjectives in the same breath as science… and adding the word “Special Needs” to the mix. Very few people know my oldest child had some serious learning difficulties, and no matter what I used, he didn’t seem to grasp the concepts.

 A Diagnosis of Special Needs

I had never planned to homeschool my child. I was an educator who had taken a break, or so I thought, to raise my children until they entered school. Well, all of that changed when I began to notice that my precious baby was delayed in so many of the normal milestones. I didn’t receive a diagnosis until he was four years old, and when I did, it hit me with a ton of bricks. My child had a form of Downs Syndrome, Trisomy 21. This abnormality was little know in the day, and what I do know now is that he is very high functioning with an IQ at the norm.

 Still, the books for our first year of homeschooling did not measure up. My child was having difficulty with some of the books. He just wasn’t showing the same enthusiasm he did when we went to the library and checked out non-fiction books. I also noticed strange things, such as the fact that he couldn’t wait until a rainstorm ended.

 You see, we live in Florida in an area once known as the Cypress Slough. [Translation for those of you not from this area it floods during the summer rainy season!] Both of my two older children loved to wear big rubber boots and carry their treasures in a red wagon, which they towed along. They asked so many questions, such as, “Mom, what do frogs eat?” Or “Mom, how can you identify a poisonous snake is it red on black or black on red?” Yikes! It’s time to get out the books.

 If they found new pets, they spent more time researching and categorizing, and learning than I could ever get them to do with my hand-picked curriculum. 

Seeking the Lord for Direction in Our Homeschool

As I began to pray, the Lord opened my eyes to see that, gosh, they really like science, and they are doing all this learning on their own with a little encouragement. I could really teach them so much. As an aside here, by planning your curriculum ask the Lord to help you. It is amazing how he will! So, slowly my curriculum began to look a bit different, incorporating many hands-on activities.

Science in Our (Special Needs Sensitive) Homeschool

I believe science is the study of the wonderful world God has given us. You can learn so much with so little. You don’t need expensive lab equipment, to begin with, or even at all. Teaching Science is important for many reasons. It utilizes all of the senses; it encompasses reading, comprehension, writing, spelling, mathematics, history, and critical thinking. Science is not cut and dry. It requires research and hands-on activities.

 There is a natural overlapping of subjects if you are doing hands-on science, especially in the younger grades. I found I was covering most of what was “required” for the year just by enjoying Nature Studies. In fact, we covered two years of science in one without realizing how many concepts were included.

Best of all, with science, there is a discovery process that takes place. The child must seek and look for the answers. Special needs children, especially those that enjoy being outdoors, really gravitate to this type of focus.

Science Tip: Enjoy the Outdoors with Your Children

A friend of mine owns an equestrian center, and often horses are used with special needs children with great success. Look for those little thoughts of gems in your area and find a place that encourages special needs kids, to attend. 

My children both had fun with horses at a young age. Their mother, however (me), is deathly afraid of horses. I did ride a horse once on a nature trail. And I think my children enjoyed the outing more because they could see me on a horse!

Enjoy the outdoors with your family. If you live in the city, there are parks you can frequent, small potted plants you can grow easily with very little space, and learn all about the wonders of science from a child’s perspective.

Speaking of Unit Studies

This tends to happen, especially if you are doing unit studies. You usually tend to delve into a topic in detail much further than you would in a textbook.

 If you have considered unit studies yet are concerned about missing something academically for the year, you may want to invest in a scope and sequence, which gives information about what a child should be covering in each grade level. (My book contains a science scope and sequence.)

Learn to Love Science

No matter what your approach to teaching science is, I feel most children will love science if given half a chance. I believe half of the battle in homeschooling is attitude. If you love it, they’ll love it if you don’t, well, they won’t either. 

Remember that even if you don’t love science, it is a required subject. They have to learn it sometime. I would hate to think that many children would be introduced to it at the high school level without enjoying all the exploration, experimentation, and fascination that can come when they are younger.

 Make a promise to teach science this year on a regular basis. I know it’s easier said than done. If needed, make a sign and hang it up, reminding yourself that you made a promise to teach science. Many public school systems are using science and technology schools to lure students into less desirable neighborhoods.

Yet, most public schools spend less than 1 hour per week on science in K-3 and around 3 hours per week in grades 4-6. In surveying a group of my personal friends, I found that most left science out of their elementary curriculum and were more interested in learning the 3-Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic). Many left science for the end if they had extra time. Translated? This means they are not teaching science at all. Who, as a homeschooler, has an abundance of time?

Parents Are Equipped to Teach Science, Especially to Their Special Needs Child at Home

 Did you know that the number one reason parents put their child back into high school (after playing sports) is that they don’t want to teach or don’t feel qualified to teach high school science? Well, how many parents are qualified to teach reading, spelling, or any of the 3-R’s? Many have said they learned along with their children. Why should teaching science be any different?

 I never took High School chemistry or physics in school didn’t learn how to teach it as an educator, yet I was able to teach these topics to my children. Arrange labs with a brave group of her friends! 

I have found the resources to help us; that is how it should be for you too. One of the best tools you can give your child is the ability to research questions they have. A high school teacher with the answers isn’t going to follow your child around for life and answer their most pressing questions. And yes, my child has been accepted to a university for further study after high school.

Learn to Schedule and Become Organized

This is not a talk on organization, but I have learned that with organization, you will lower the frustration of every member of your family! How do you get organized? It has literally taken me 12 years of homeschooling to learn how to schedule my homeschool/ business/ household chores/, and my husband’s business, and I‘m not done yet! Organizing under construction… Life has gone on much smoother with planning.

Plan on Scheduling Science In

 How do you schedule science? a. Once a week? b. Every day c. Every other day. The choice is yours…d.

Never is not an option.

One of the simplest ways to schedule is to take several calendars and look at them. I use two together, first a yearly calendar, as I begin by mapping out the approximate no. On days I plan to do formal school, I use a monthly calendar with holidays and other scheduled events as far in advance as possible. I then coordinate the two, blocking out no school days.

 Look at the number of days you plan to school. Look at the curriculum you are planning to use if your book has lessons. You may do one a day, so that’s easy to plan. If your curriculum has chapters try to approximate how long it will take you to complete. One week or two? If you are doing a unit study, the rule of thumb is 6-8 weeks.

 Another important part of any schedule is to have a formal daily plan. You do many of the same things daily without thinking about it… yet formalizing it in writing may show you areas with wasted blocks of time.

 For example, I found I was doing laundry every day. With five children, that may seem normal, but if we all pitch in and work hard, we can narrow it down to once a week. This leaves free time for other things. If you learn to schedule the entire day (ahead of time), your weeks, months, and years will go so much better. It is amazing how much you will get done, and with that comes a sense of accomplishment and that “YES!” This is the way it should be.

 Setting Goals and Establishing Follow Through

Why don’t we set goals and follow through? Because it takes work and time we don’t have, it seems insurmountable on the surface. I believe that some people are naturally organized. The Lord has blessed me with many things but skipped the organizational gene. I had to learn the hard way: Or the way many of you have learned. First, I read some books to glean some information: translated (with children), which means a book that should take several days to read and take weeks. Then, you put the book aside, procrastinate for a few months, and when things come to a boiling point you decide to do something about it.

 Here are some goals I have made in my science program through the years.

 

  1. Exploring and Discovering: (I tend to say this is for younger children, but if you have never done “science” before, you can start this at any age.) Give them opportunities I gave my 3-year-old bubbles when he took a bath. He soon learned that bubbles only form when he blew gently, then he learned bubbles could be blown again without dipping the wand into the jar by catching another bubble and gently blowing. He learned that bubbles stuck to some surfaces and popped when they encountered another he may not understand the physics of a bubble, but this is the beginning of learning. Slowly you can add some structure as they begin to explore and discover. The key here is to expose them to many opportunities.
  2. Learning Concepts: Beginning with the Scientific Method, which is: observation, collecting and classifying, prediction and finding answers, proving a conclusion, evaluating and interpreting findings, and discussing results.
  3. Applying Knowledge: The goal is to be able to apply what they have learned in new situations. This can be as simple as using the principles of heat to boil water or as complicated as using the study of carbon dioxide production in yeast to make bread.

 Science is Important, Especially for Your Special Needs Child

 I pray that I’ve convinced you that science is important, and with scheduling, you can find time to include it in your curriculum. Now, how will you keep a record of all the exciting things you will do? You may consider having your children make a record of what they observe or discover.

So, whether you are using a textbook, unit studies, or winging it, there are some ways to make your year really fun and learn in the progress Don’t limit yourself to these ideas.  I hope this will spur you on to think of many more ideas!


About Felice Gerwitz

Author and speaker, Felice Gerwitz, is an outside-of-the-box thinker. Her books reflect a love of learning and education with an eye toward retention.

She is a graduate of Florida Southern College and a former teacher with a degree in Elementary Education, Learning Disabilities, and Early Childhood Education. She began Media Angels Publishing in 1994.

Eight of Felice’s titles have been selected by noted book reviewer Cathy Duffy in both her 100-Top and 101-Top Homeschool Curriculum Picks. Her science fair book was selected as book of the month by God’s World Publishing.

There are no coincidences in life, so Felice believes it is by Divine Intervention that she publishes curriculum with a Biblical Creation focus and many other educational products.

Felice owns and podcasts at the Ultimate Christian Podcast Network and the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network. Her podcast topics include homeschooling, parenting, spiritual life, and a podcast for aspiring authors and podcasters.

She is an Author-Consultant and sought-after conference speaker. In her spare time, you can find Felice whipping up a batch of cookies, spending time with family and friends, or jetting off to exotic baseball and softball fields to watch her college kids play!

One More Child (Book & Podcast)

One More Child EBook

One More Child follows the author’s struggles following the couple’s decision to have a vasectomy after their first child was diagnosed with Mosaicism, a rare genetic disorder. This decision was not made lightly, but twelve years later, they opted to have a reversal. During the ensuing years, questions poured in from well-meaning friends, especially after three more children were added to their family–such as“How old are you?” and “Why is there such a gap between your children?” Through their example, however, other couples began to rethink their own decisions, and some opted for reversals as well. The author hopes that One More Child will encourage families to consider that “happily ever after” can happen in real life—even with surprising twists and turns. The author hopes that One More Child will encourage families to consider that “happily ever after” can happen in real life—even with surprising twists and turns.

Order the E-Book from Media Angels. 

Order the Physical Copy from Amazon.com

Listen to the Podcast on the Ultimate Christian Podcast Network.

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