I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately about how homeschooling my child with apraxia went now that we are officially out of preschool age. There are so many things I wish I would have found earlier or did differently. Homeschooling my preschooler with apraxia was tough. You can see why we ended up homeschooling preschool in the “our story” section on my homepage if you are curious, but for now I just want to write what worked for us and what really didn’t.
The biggest thing was letting go of what I thought homeschooling preschool would be like. My son does not learn like most other children. He is an extremely visual learner. He learns best from watching videos over and over. He has fine motor, auditory processing, sensory processing, and speech and language impairments not to mention debilitating fatigue and illnesses at times from his medical complications. I had to get very creative to find ways to motivate him to do things that were hard for him in order to get him to progress. If you want to know what worked for us to get him to simply TRY difficult tasks, I list them here.
Where I Went Wrong in the Beginning:
We started with a Singapore Math workbook and Handwriting Without Tears “My First School Book”. Let me first just say that WOW Handwriting Without Tears caused so many tears! Singapore math involved a lot of cutting and gluing. Two things he couldn’t do at all. Everyday was a battle and I just kept thinking “I need to reach him another way”. So, I bought a hanging wall calendar, the Word Time set from Handwriting Without Tears and I backed off on workbooks. A lot. I didn’t even try to get him to cut and glue yet because it just wasn’t a priority. He really had the cards stacked so high against him that I had go WAY back to the basics. I looked at the workbooks to give me the lesson for that day (so they weren’t a total waste), but then I adapted the lesson to meet his learning style, which is very visual. Plus, I needed to figure out how to make fine motor not so difficult. His Occupational Therapist helped us a lot with this, but you can see how we ended up finally making that break-through here.
I really thought too “well we will just do a lot of crafts”. WRONG. Oh, I was so so wrong about this. I would have LOVED him to do crafts and art projects. Basically hits every single area if you plan it right, but when you have a child who essentially cannot do any fine motor tasks, this is like torture. For all of us. Don’t try to push things your child can’t do. You need to bring the activity down to their level. Simplify it any way you can. Get over the fact that your child probably won’t make any nice little crafts that they do in preschool. You do your own thing. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. This was a HUGE lesson I learned. To let go of expectations and meet him where he is.
What I wish I would have introduced earlier:
CURSIVE!! Seriously, why didn’t anyone tell me this before? You have a child with fine motor difficulties who is struggling to write why not introduce cursive? So much less motor planning involved! You don’t have to pick up your pencil as much. You know when to make a space for a new word. It is so much easier. We are starting with Logic of English now at 6 for cursive and language arts (love their foundations program, but I also love the Rhythm of Handwriting Cursive program). I wish I would have found this earlier for him though.
Education.com My kids love their games and I love their resources. I was hesitant on buying a membership, but it has been so worth it. I should have introduced this much sooner. So many amazing things on this website and my kids have learned so much. We ended up starting this when he was 5 and it was totally worth the money, although they also have many free resources as well. I even include one at the end of this post.
Math Lessons for a Living Education This has been a god-send. It is a multi-sensory math curriculum, but not too much writing and little life stories mixed in. Whenever he starts to get overwhelmed by writing numbers (after writing maybe 3 haha), BAM, they throw in an engaging story and incorporate some drawing or simple pattern making. This program is so easy to modify. To me, it has the best combined qualities of Math-U-See and Life of Fred. It is colorful and the lessons are short which keep my son coming back for more everyday. It is not too overwhelming for him at all.
What I Changed Between 4 and 5:
Our typical day When he was 4 years old, after I decided to ditch the workbooks I switched to using the puppet from the Word Time Set (Handwriting Without Tears) and 3 times a week we would sing songs and get moving, then take 2 words out of Word Time Set and do a lesson revolving around those two words. If the words were “house” and “building” we would talk about the difference, how many letters were in each word, phonemic awareness exercises, syllables, rhyming, etc. We would make houses and buildings. We would type the words into his talker (aka communication device on his iPad) and would make sentences using them on his talker. This really worked for us. We finally started falling in love with homeschooling and it worked for us. It takes time, but once you find that one thing that makes them tick it is so worth it. We took a lot of field trips that year too. Lots of time at museums and science centers just exploring and playing. Finding his interests and working lessons in as they popped up in real life. Lots of games that incorporated fine motor, speech, counting, and phonemic awareness.
I know many people say that preschool should just be playing (and I totally agree), but when you have a child who has to have extensive therapy to learn EVERYTHING in life, it is a whole different ballgame. In my opinion, if you don’t work on actual PRE-school concepts during those early years (if your child has special needs), you risk setting them up for later learning difficulties. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast. You can’t just let this one go and hope they catch up. You can absolutely still play and work on these concepts, but for some of our kids, play is even hard, you have to make priorities. It took my son months of therapy every single day to do things that my neurotypical son learned years earlier in 1 day. I’m just saying…this is a different animal and for us it was important to monitor everything. Be vigilant, you are the best tool they have to succeed.
Handwriting At 5 years old and after we finally made that fine motor break-through we tried the Handwriting Without Tears workbooks again. Still, more tears! I didn’t get it. His fine motor was improved. I knew it was still tough, but I also knew he physically could do it at this point. While I still had him do one page a day, 3 times a week, we really just tried to do more letter and word building in everyday life still. I bought blank notecards and blank notebooks and he really took off. He would copy words like Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday while making cards for people. He would draw shapes and objects he saw on nature hikes. I would encourage him to write at least the letter that the object started with. It all helped him build confidence and eventually set him up to want to do more copy work in his workbooks to create a more repetitive daily practice that he really needed.
He still doesn’t like doing copy work, but he understands the importance because he wants to continue to get better at handwriting. Getting him to practice cursive is much easier though. He still just doesn’t like to do things that are hard for him and it comes out as him being defiant. I know the truth though. He doesn’t like admitting things are hard for him. I’m the same way.
Math I looked out for free printable math activities and signed up for education.com to help with math and reading. He loved the games on there and he really started to grow after starting it. It was fun and motivating. A lot of work with Legos also helped with math skills. My kids really liked doing math with my husband because he gave them candy. Really during this time I just used a lot more informal measures for math. I used programs like Math U See and Star Wars Math to see what he should be learning at that age and ran with it. Base 10 blocks and unified cubes were very important as well as a lot of hands-on math games. There is a book called “Outdoor Math” that has a great presentation of games to help learn math in every season outside. There are so many creative things you can do with math in everyday situations.
Reading and Language Arts I should note why I haven’t really mentioned reading as much. My son is hyperlexic and has been reading at a second grade level since 3 (even when he was nonverbal). I really haven’t had to teach him much except we did do a lot of phonemic awareness exercises just to be sure he really had a good foundation. We also watched preschool prep DVDs including Meet the Phoncs: Letter Sounds and Sight words. That was basically all we did/do for reading and it worked amazing for us. We do have Explode the Code workbooks (which he hates and I love) and we tried All About Reading (which I loved, but he was too advanced for). Now at 6 years old, we try to focus a lot on reading comprehension at home while he is reading. I watch him carefully while he reads and evaluate what I see is difficult for him in order to base lessons at home around it. This is an areas I’m still trying to figure out. It is uncharted territory because of his unique learning style.
What I did Right: Preschool Materials that Worked for Us (in no particular order):
Handwriting Without Tears Products I know I know…I just spent all this time complaining about Handwriting Without Tears Workbooks, but they really do have a phenomenal way of teaching handwriting and it did work for him. This paired with the Letter School App on our iPad helped get him started writing letters the correct way. His struggles with fine motor don’t diminish this program’s worth. Word Time set, Mat Man Set, and workbooks like “My First School Book” were totally worth it. I think it is important for him to keep practicing and HWOT has the best handwriting philosophy in my opinion. Little pencils, flip crayons and chalk pieces are our favorites as well as the little sponges for wet-dry-try practice. If I had to prioritize what to get I would say the Mat Man set (or at least the wood letter pieces-they are a must), the workbook, and the little pencils or flip crayons. Those crayons are magical by the way.
Preschool Prep Products This was a game changer for us. I go a little deeper into detail how we used Preschool Prep during the nonverbal years here, but I really think this is one of the single best things would could have invested in for our son with apraxia. Our favorite DVDs that worked the best for us were the phonics set and the sight words set. However, if you are just starting with basic preschool concepts it is probably cheaper and more beneficial to find and buy the entire dvd collection. They have them at most libraries as well. We also used the easy reader books (especially the phonics letter sounds box because we use those for speech practice as well) and the placemats for additional activities to go with the DVDS.
I’m so so glad we started this at 3 with him. Children with apraxia are at risk for reading difficulties. This is one thing I’m very proud we worked on very early on. It could be that he is hyperlexic, but it could be because of these DVDs. I’ll never know, but it is the one area in school that he DOESN’T struggle in right now. Now at 6 years old, we are using their Meet the Math Facts DVDs and Flash Cards and it is working awesome because he is so familiar with the system.
Education.com We started this at 5. I cannot say enough good things about this program. I’m even including a free printable in this post from education.com. You will not be disappointed with them. I can generate my own worksheets, use and create lesson plans, track my kid’s progress with concepts by having them play phenomenal games. I mean really this gift keeps on giving. I bought a lifetime membership when it was on sale and I am so glad I did. We couldn’t homeschool without it.
Star Wars Workbooks-Good gravy my son would do just about anything to work in a Star Wars Workbook. You can find them at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and a lot of other toy or book stores. They are super colorful and motivating for him.
Finding the right writing utensil really helped as well. For my son those utensils were the little pencils and flip crayons from Handwriting Without Tears, and Pipsqueak skinnies markers that I found on Amazon.
Circle Time Songs I found some great preschool circle time songs on Amazon Prime and also I loved Handwriting Without Tears Get Set for School Sing Along CD and Signing Time CD’s. Anything that used big motions and catchy tunes to get us ready for the day and break up lessons. There are a lot of songs that we love on Youtube that also teach certain concepts like days of the week or continents. Especially songs from Rachel and the Treeschoolers (signing time) or Scratch Garden and Story Bots.
Unifix Cubes A homeschool must for preschool in my opinion. Our favorite activity is adding or subtracting colors to make city skylines with unifix cubes. There are just way too many possibilities to name, which is always my favorite kind of material.
So, I think the most important thing I learned is to keep trying new things. If he was upset and didn’t want to try something it usually meant it was too difficult for him and I needed to go back to the drawing board. I needed to listen even when he didn’t have the words to tell me what he needed, and in one way or another he was always trying to tell me what he needed. He has a gift of doing that. What are some things that are working in your preschool homeschool? Did you face the same challenges I did? I would love to hear from you.