Special Needs Learning and COVID-19 School Closures

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Here are ways to incorporate learning activities into everyday life among COVID-19 school closures for special needs families.

A child coloring as a learning activity
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Coronavirus, or COVID-19 has changed the way we live, closing our schools and businesses across the US. With that, I’ve seen many articles that talk about how our children with special needs have been forgotten and left behind.

Parents are feeling the Crunch

I haven’t written much over the last month. My day job is in the healthcare industry, specifically serving seniors, something I’ve done for the last 30 years. All that said, my label is ‘essential’ as is my husband who works in the shipping industry. We see an increase in our volume of work 10-fold from what we are used to.

My kids are home, and the state where we live is nearly shut down. I, like many of you reading, are now balancing homeschooling with working grueling hours. Oh, and not just homeschooling, but putting on new hats: special education teacher, speech therapist, reading specialist, PT, and OT all rolled into one.

I don’t disagree that schools were not thinking specifically about special education students when closing the doors. I know for my school district, specifically, there was no warning before the 5-week closure (which now, will likely continue through year’s end). Online learning is a great option for kids who can do that independently, but again, not for my kiddo.


I am at the head of the line when it comes to advocating for my child. This is one case where I don’t believe she was intentionally left behind. There is no question that parents are asked to do more than ever, and this situation isn’t ideal for anyone, we are operating in crisis mode. It has been difficult and scary to lose supportive IEP services. I worry about regression.

I am here to tell you that whatever you’re able to provide – it’s enough. Just do the best you can. In my household, my husband and I work opposite shifts, so our homeschooling does the same: he provides instruction in the afternoons, and I provide it in the evenings. We do some kind of learning activity on the weekends too, whenever we have time. Many schools have leveraged online resources, including the use of Zoom, in order to see teachers and classmates.

This is far from ideal for anyone – and especially our kids because so many thrive on daily routine. But, this is one time where I am not beating the drum or pointing a finger but instead, trying to show grace to our educators who are trying to do their best in a situation with no precedent. (Admittedly, some days are easier than others)

We are all in this together, so I’m sharing how we are incorporating learning into everyday life, and making it happen despite our own crazy work schedules.

Teach social distancing and good cough/cold ETIQUETTE

This means using a picture card and practicing for 5 minutes each day – coughing into elbows and good hand washing technique – and why we give fist bumps instead of hugs these days. (My daughter is a hugger!)

Reach out to the special education teacher, speech, PT, OT

In our district they have provided (either by email or packets in the mail) exercises to do so that my kiddo doesn’t regress. They have been available to answer questions.

Short on Time? Combine efforts!

Don’t have time to do reading, science AND speech therapy? Work with your child to read a science book, stopping to practice articulation and decoding where they struggle with words. Help them summarize all or part of the book to practice writing (even if you need to write it, and have them copy it, depending on skill levels). Ask them draw or paint a related picture. We were able to stretch nearly a week’s worth of activities out of one book. I was able to go to Five Below before they closed in my state to purchase some science readers at a grade level my kiddo will understand.

Need Resources?

There are lots of free reading resources online, including through Scholastic. The nice part about Scholastic is that you can choose material by grade level, so even if your child is older, you can choose the reading level that is appropriate.

Leverage Technology

My kids are better at technology use than I am! They love to watch videos — so choose a couple that are educational. Also, we have a chrome cast, so something like a Scholastic article – we can cast it onto the TV, read it together and discuss.

Or, go technology-free and try baking!

You don’t need a computer to learn. Baking, for example, can be beneficial in a number of ways! Baking gives your child opportunity to use their hands in a coordinated way. Tasks like rolling balls of dough or using a rolling pin are great ways to let kids practice bilateral coordination skills. Pouring ingredients or batter into bowls or pans allow kids to practice their eye-hand coordination. Skills like measuring, reading and following directions are all part of baking. Decorate cookies with icing to practice eye-hand coordination! Click here for a gluten and dairy free cut out cookie recipe!

Play a game

A game like Candy Land teaches skills like taking turns and identifying colors. Farkle is one of my daughter’s favorite games, and it’s great practice for adding by fifty and hundreds. Osmo, which is an interactive learning toy for the iPad, has both early literacy and number games – as well as the pizza game which helps with fractions and money. Monopoly and Monopoly Jr. help with money skills. Take a look at the games you’ve got, and think about what skills it’s helping with.

Activities of Daily Living

With no rush to get to the bus in the morning, there’s plenty of time for my daughter to practice getting herself dressed. One major hurdle we’ve overcome is her ability to wash her own hair. Is it perfect? Nope. But just the fact that she feels less anxious without a schedule dictating our every move seems to make her more open to trying is a win! Think about practicing with buttons, zippers, or shoelaces.

take a walk

So long as you’re distancing yourselves from others, experts agree that it’s OK to take a walk to get some exercise and fresh air. Just steer clear of anyplace you need to put your hands (i.e., playgrounds!). Last week we walked to the local Dairy Queen, where there was no line, and the associates working there are behind glass. We washed our hands as soon as we got home and enjoyed some ice cream.

You don’t need to be perfect

Those who are reading this are not likely to be special educators. They are likely to be moms and dads who are doing their best. It’s important to know that learning — especially for our kids– isn’t a perfect science, and it doesn’t only happen between 9 am and 3 pm. It’s as individual as they are. Think about skills you have taught them at home already — their whole lives — you KNOW what it takes to reach your kids. Just do the best you can, know that learning comes in many forms, and most important – YOU are enough.


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