In 2017, as first-time parents, we became licensed to foster. We went through hours of trauma-informed training, connected with other foster families, and kept a copy of Karyn Purvis’ The Connected Child on our nightstand. We were ready…or so we thought.
Our very first emergency placement (a two-year-old boy, who we would eventually adopt two years later) arrived in the wee hours of one morning that fall. As is often the case with emergency placements, details around his special needs and significant developmental delays were unknown at the time. Fast forward three years, and we can say with confidence that our foster care journey and our journey as special needs parents have been the most challenging and rewarding experience of our lives.
Our son’s biggest barrier is language. There were many setbacks during his early life that contributed to his expressive and receptive delays. Over the past three years, his receptive language skills have blossomed while his verbal skills are still mostly nonexistent. Sign language and an AAC app on his iPad have proved to be incredibly empowering expressive communication outlets.
As any parent of a child with trauma or special needs will understand, progress is not always linear and the work is never over. So when the reality set in that COVID-19 would likely prevent our son from going back to his special needs preschool, speech, occupational, or physical therapy, I quickly realized a proactive approach at home was our only option! I knew that our quarantine would call for structure and lesson planning to ensure we were closing gaps and thriving during this indefinite amount of time.
Here I’ve compiled a few tips for trauma-informed homeschooling and telehealth therapy based on my experience throughout the Coronavirus quarantine.
Have a routine and lesson plan
Our son thrives with visually structured schedules so I created a simple one with clip art and printed it for him to reference each day. Pro tip: let them put a sticker beside each task as they move through their day.
In terms of our homeschooling routine, every child is different so I’d encourage you to identify the optimal length of time for your child to sit and focus. Maybe it’s 15 minutes, maybe it’s an hour. We like to start with circle time and a song that closely mirrors his classroom activities. Then we shift to more focused work. I keep a checklist for myself on the subjects, skills, and types of activities I want to accomplish each week so I can diversify our activities. Another big homeschool hack is keeping all our supplies in a large plastic bin so it can be easily stashed away at the end of each day.
Have productive busy work for them to do while you’re preparing and cleaning up
Our little guy does best when engaged and stimulated but after 5 weeks of quarantine having tons of creative activities in your back pocket is easier said than done. One of my big quarantine wins has been the sensory boxes of rainbow rice and sand, rocks, and construction equipment. I pull these out while I’m cleaning up breakfast and before we dive into the day. I’ve also discovered some amazing preschool apps that I feel comfortable setting up for him while I need to prepare our lessons for the day (or take a few moments to myself!) Here are some of my favorites for alphabet, numbers, colors, and critical thinking.
Open communication with teachers
We’ve been lucky to have incredible educators supporting us from afar during this time. Our son is in a special needs preschool class through the public school system and his teachers facilitate zoom classes every morning. His verbal speech delays pose big obstacles in the virtual classroom so it has been important for me to advocate for him and connect with his teachers offline. I’d recommend sending frequent updates to teachers with photos and videos so they can offer feedback and additional ideas.
Divide and conquer where you can.
My husband and I both work from home. During Coronavirus we’ve been splitting our days the best we can. I tackle homeschool in the morning and my husband attends hours of virtual therapy sessions with our son in the afternoon. Being able to divide and conquer in this way has been a life saver. If you aren’t able to split the workload with a partner, grant yourself grace and know your limits. I am confident I could not be both an effective teacher and therapist during this quarantine so sometimes it’s more important to ruthlessly prioritize rather than trying to squeeze it all in.
Be okay with not following the plan
Some days are better than others. Celebrate the productive days and be okay with pivoting when you or your little one are having an “off” day. Go for a drive, play in the backyard, or just snuggle. It’s okay not to be uber-productive every single day of this pandemic.
On some level, I believe I’ll look back on this time of closeness and isolation and remember it as a time when we grew together as a family and became better equipped to nurture the development of our son.