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Learning at home: Supporting children with Special Education Needs

While the research on supporting the learning of children with SEN primarily focuses on typical classroom environments, there are some practical approaches that can be adapted to suit learning at home. 

Structure and routine 

  • Establish designated workspace for your child to use during learning time.  It is best if this is away from areas where your child might play, eat, or sleep, to help your child focus and to avoid possible distractions. For parents who are also working at home, it may be possible to establish a shared workspace for you and your child to share.  
  • Use a timetable as a way to organise the structure of leaning and to help your child to develop a learning routine. It may be useful to model the day on a typical school day. This could include setting time parameters for the learning day and for each block of learning, covering a variety of curriculum areas throughout the day, and including time for play, meal breaks and fun
Time Activity
9 – 9.30 Movement/Physical Activity
9.30 – 10 Maths
10 – 11 Morning Tea/Play Break
11 – 11.30 Reading
11.30 – 12 Writing
12 – 1 Lunch/Play Break
1.30 – 2 Science/Social Studies
2 – 2.30 Art/Drama/Dance/Music

For children who work best when there is an incentive, offer a preferred learning activity as an incentive to complete a required learning activity. In order for this strategy to be most effective it should be used consistently – you will need to be firm that the required activity is completed before your child moves on to the preferred activity. This strategy can be used throughout the day as shown in the example below.  

Time Activity 
9 – 10 Required learning task  
Preferred learning task 
10 – 11 Morning Tea/Play Break 
11 – 12 Required learning task 
Preferred learning task 
12 – 1 Lunch/Play Break 
1.30 – 2.30 Required learning task 
Preferred learning task 

The incentive strategy can also be used less frequently as a reward at the end of the day for completing multiple learning tasks throughout the day. 

General wellbeing 

  • Where possible, try to facilitate peer interaction. Learning at home can be fairly isolated. Peer interaction is one way to mimic the social elements of a typical school environment. This could include video calling family members of a similar age during break or play times, or buddying up with another child to complete a learning task together via video calling. 
  • It is important to include regular breaks. Some children may be able to work for long periods of time, while others may need shorter learning tasks followed by a break. These breaks could include a walk or bike ride around the block, or general time and space for your child to do something that makes them feel relaxed.   
  • Try to have fun. Learning at home should not feel like a chore for you or your child. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun throughout the day. Bake, play or start a fun project with your child. You know your child’s needs best and you have the freedom to organise a learning routine that includes a balance of work and fun for you and your child.  

Julie Skelling

Julie is a special education teacher currently completing a PhD at the University of Auckland. She is exploring ideas about inclusion and inclusive pedagogies from special school perspectives. Julie specialises in working with students with autism spectrum disorder and wants to help make research in this area more accessible to a greater number of teachers.

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