Using Your Child’s Special Interests To Facilitate Learning

Your child’s special interests are key

For years now, our home has been overrun with fish tanks, reptiles and computers.

My oldest son has been fascinated with fish and aquariums since he was three years old. When he was 12, this fascination expanded to include building computers (because building a computer is a lot like building an aquarium filtration system, but without the stinky water).

My youngest has loved animals of all kinds since before he could walk and has been memorizing every reptile detail and factoid possible since he began to talk.

There’s no escaping it – my children need these interests. It’s part of how they interact with others and often, how they cope with overwhelm. It’s enjoyable for them.

As much as I would prefer a lizard-free, tidy, no aquarium in sight home, I have decided that the best approach is to find ways to support their interests, and sometimes, even use them to my advantage.

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Why Use Routines for Special Needs Homeschoolers? …and More

Flourishing with routines

I have always believed that homeschooling was the absolute best choice for my boys due to their need for structure and routines. I’ve learned that they absolutely thrive under having a routine that changes very, very rarely. Any changes in their normal scheduling sometimes creates chaos and causes them to regress. Regression means returning to a state or condition that you were previously in.

For my boys that can mean going back to not remembering how to academically or mentally return to a previous state that they were in emotionally as well. For example, if one of my sons has mastered verbs and something in his homeschooling schedule changes on a Tuesday, then by Thursday, he has forgotten what a verb is and how to recognize one. So we try not to change anything up if possible. Sometimes life happens and doing things differently is completely unavoidable.

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What Happens to Our Special Needs Kids After High School?

What’s going to happen after high school is over?

You and your student have made it to high school and are nearing the end. “What happens after high school?” is looming over your thoughts. You’ve spent the last three to four years preparing your special needs student for the “real world” with life skills and vocational education, but how do you launch them into adulthood?

Legal Guardianship or Independent

Obviously this depends largely on your child’s particular challenges, and you will have to adjust to his/her needs, but I will help point you towards resources and ideas to encourage you on this new journey. For most of us, we will be managing some aspect of our child’s life as long as we can. So part of this adult plan will be deciding on our child’s capabilities and if legal guardianship is necessary. Discuss this with your child, your child’s doctor and your family. Have realistic expectations going into this new season.


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How to Strengthen Your Child’s Listening Skills

Listening skills are step one

Yesterday, I talked in our last post, 5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Follow Directions, about how to modify the environment and your wording of directions to help your child be more successful in following directions. However, it is also a good idea to strengthen the underlying listening skills so you don’t have to modify directions so much.

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Seeking Professional Help for Listening Skills

Now there can be various reasons that children have trouble following directions. You may want to seek professional help in figuring out why your child may be struggling. If following directions is the main concern you have about your child, a speech-language pathologist is a good place to start. To find a speech-language pathologist in your area, check out this searchable database from the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association.

Improving Listening Skills in the Home

If you want to strengthen your child’s listening ability on your own, here are four areas you can focus on and some exercises to get you started. Keep the following in mind:

1) Set aside 15 minutes, three days a week to work on these exercises.

2) Try to always work where your child has about an 80% success rate. As he improves at an activity and is achieving 90-100% success, then make the activity slightly harder. If his success rate is less than 80%, the activity is too difficult and your child will likely get frustrated with it.

A FREE printable is included below to get you started. Suggestions for working some of these exercises into your academic work are also given.

Build Vocabulary

If your child does not understand the meaning of the words used in a direction, then obviously she will have trouble following the direction! So make sure you are using words your child understands and are teaching her new words throughout each day.

There are several words that are used frequently in directions, such as on, off, first, second, third, before, and after. Spending some time focusing on one or two of these words at a time will help your child learn to follow directions that contain these words. The FREE printable below includes a list of common direction words listed in the order most children develop them. Start at the top and check off the words your child appears to understand. Then spend some time practicing directions with the words that give him difficulty.

Chart showing common vocabulary used in directions, ages the words are acquired and columns for checking off mastery and making notes.

Identify Key Words

I talked in 5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Follow Directions, about how some children don’t know which words in a sentence are the important words. So if you tell them, “get a swim towel and put it in your backpack”, they give the words “and” and “in” just as much importance as “swim towel” and “backpack”. Then they may become overwhelmed with the amount of words they need to remember and process.

If this sounds like your child, spend some time writing down common directions and circling the words that are the keywords. In the sentence above, I would circle “swim towel”, “in” and “backpack”. After you have modeled this a few times, write down some new directions and have your child practice circling the keywords. (Using colored pens or pencils can make this activity fun!) Sometimes, just building awareness of keywords in your child will make it easier for her to start to follow directions.

Direction "Get your math book out of and open to Lesson 56" with the key words 'math book' and 'Lesson 56' circled.

Auditory Memory Practice

Sometimes, children have difficulty remembering the words that have been said. The memory exercises in the FREE printable have your child repeat strings of numbers, groups of related and unrelated words and sentences that you say to your children.

Again, you would want to start at a level where your child is 80% successful. If your child is having difficulty, giving them a visual cue that he can “attach” each word to can be helpful. For example, if you are working on repeating four words, draw four Xs on a piece of paper and have your child touch each one as he hears the word and then as he repeats it back to you.

four Xs with a finger pointing to the third one

One way we work auditory memory practice into our school work is with dictation using our spelling words. All About Spelling has this built into their curriculum. In the younger years, you dictate words, phrases, and short sentences. In the older years, you dictate the words each week and then sentences of increasing length. This naturally builds your child’s auditory memory. You can work dictation time into a variety of subjects in your homeschool.

Practice Following Directions

Simply practicing directions in a structured setting can build your child’s listening skills. It may fit into your child’s academic work. For example, we have been using  The Story Of The World for history and for each chapter they have map work that includes following a few directions. This is perfect for my guys!

If you want to spend some dedicated time on following directions, check out Mystery Words: A Simple, But Powerful Following Direction Exercise. You can also find many dedicated following direction activities and workbooks on Teachers Pays Teachers and Amazon. There is a sample following direction activity in the download below to get you started and to give you ideas of how you can adapt a following direction activity to your child’s level. Again, you want to be working at a level where your child experiences 80% success.

Whiteboard with blanks and some letters filled in for the word 'pumpkin'.

During any following direction activity, you can help your child improve their skills by teaching them the following strategies:


Rehearsal simply means repeating what someone has said to you. This could be out loud, under one’s breath or in one’s head. So you can have your child repeat what you said before taking action. Or repeat the keywords of what you said if you are working on keywords. The goal is for your child to start to do this independently and in her head.


Chunking means chunking or grouping pieces of information together. Phone numbers are naturally set up in chunks so that they are easier to remember. The first three digits are chunked together and then you may remember the last four altogether or you may break them up into two chunks of two. You can teach your child to do this with other pieces of information you may give them.

Download the Listening Skills Packet

I hope these exercises give you quick ways to get started helping your child build their listening skills. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

More about Randi

When she started homeschooling four years ago, Randi had been working as a speech-language therapist for 18 years.  Her oldest is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and her youngest has struggled with a visual processing disorder since birth.  Working together, they’ve have learned so much about how to support their individual learning needs.

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5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Follow Directions

Does your child struggle to follow directions?

Now, I don’t mean the strong-willed child who understands what you said, but wants to exert his or her own independence rather than follow directions. But, the child who is fairly compliant, but just seems to not understand what you say or starts to follow a direction and then gets lost in the middle of it. I personally have one of each!

There are two ways to help this second child who really would like to follow the directions most of the time, but is struggling. One is to modify the environment and the directions given and two is to strengthen the skills involved in following directions. Today we are going to talk about modifications.

I use affiliate links to cover the associated costs of providing this website. I receive a commission at no additional cost to you, and this post may contain affiliate links. Thank you for your support of AHM and my family, it means the world to me!

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