This post contains affiliate links. When you’re a parent of special needs children, you know that they thrive on a routine even more than other kids. Add in school cancellations, and the situation can become challenging. If you’re faced with a few unanticipated weeks off school thanks to Coronavirus (COVID-19), you may wonder what to do with your special needs kids when school is canceled. Keeping them active, learning, and relaxed is likely your main priority.
I’m a mom of three special needs kids–one with autism and anxiety, one with autism and dyslexia, and another with dyslexia. Our youngest two homeschool, but our oldest goes to school. His school hasn’t closed yet, but I’m anticipating schools in our area will close before spring break ends.
What to Do with Your Special Needs Kids When School Is Cancelled
Create a Schedule
The first thing I would suggest is to create a family schedule. Before you create this schedule, make sure to get your kids’ input. What would they like to do while they’re home? When you create your schedule, I suggest putting non-preferred activities before preferred activities. For instance, if you want your kids to keep up with math, perhaps have math first on the schedule and then a preferred activity such as playing with Legos.
Address Their Anxiety
Many special needs kids can be more anxious than other kids. In this time of uncertainty with Coronavirus (COVID-19), when we’re all feeling a bit anxious, they may be feeling it even more so. Take the time to talk with your kids about their concerns. For my child with anxiety, I find talking about worst case scenarios helps. If the child is worried about getting Coronavirus, what is the chance? If the child does get the virus, what does that look like in children? Going through these worst case scenarios generally helps to calm my child, especially when our discussion is rooted in facts.
Include Read Alouds
At some point in the daily schedule, I’d recommend including reading aloud to your kids. If you do this already, your kids are likely used to it. If you don’t, still read aloud, but know that you’ll need to do some gentle training of your children.
For instance, one of my children used to interrupt me constantly when I read aloud. Over a few months, I taught this child to raise her hand when she had a question of a comment, which makes for a much smoother read aloud time.
Keep Their Hands Busy
Also, when you’re reading aloud, let your kids do other activities. My kids listen better when their hands are busy. For instance, my girls like to play with Legos, do their dolls’ hair, and draw and paint when I read aloud.
Suggested Read Alouds
If you’re looking for great read alouds for kids, we’ve been tracking and reviewing all of our read alouds for 18+ months here. You can find my book reviews here. To get you started, here are some of our favorite books we’ve read recently:
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Don’t forget to give yourself some time to read, if you enjoy it. I like to read when my kids are watching a show or in the evening after they go to bed. Need book suggestions? Check out my 30 historical books I want to read in 2020.
Find Some Fun Academic Activities
When it comes to academics, I wouldn’t recommend recreating school at home. That’s too difficult. Instead, find some fun learning activities for your kids.
I’m a huge fan of Schoolhouse Teachers because you can find so many resources for the whole family. You can find videos for younger kids and fun programs like Drive Thru History and ArtAchieve for older kids. Right now, Schoolhouse Teachers is offering 50% off a quarterly subscription with the code FINISHWELL. You’ll pay $24.97 for three months, which is an excellent price not only for the two programs I mentioned, but also for the reading lists, foreign language instruction, and other courses Schoolhouse Teachers offers.
Burn Off Energy
All kids need to burn off energy, but for special needs kids, being active can be self-regulating. Give the kids time to go outside and play in the yard or take a hike in a secluded area. My girls have an exercise ball that they love to bounce and roll on. A mini-trampoline is also a good option.
I would not recommend going to kids’ activity centers as that defeats the point of closing schools to prevent the spread of the virus.
Include Them When Cooking
You could include them in your regular cooking (most younger kids love to cook with a parent!). Or, another fun idea is to get a subscription box like eat2explore.
As I mentioned, we’re studying world geography, so we decided to buy a few eat2explore boxes. We bought the United Kingdom and Mexico box (Mexico has a gluten free option if that’s a concern for you). Included are details about the country, three different recipe sheets, and special items you need for the recipes like herbs and sauces. We’re making our first meal from the U.K. box this week!
Keep the News and Coronavirus Talk to a Minimum
As much as possible, shield your younger kids from the coronavirus news and talk. Listening to the news too much can make us adults anxious. It’s even worse for a special needs child prone to anxiety. Save the serious adult talk for the evenings when the kids are in bed; your children will be more content and less anxious if you do.
Include Play Time
Make sure to include play time in your schedule. Give your kids time to relax and unwind. Let them watch a show on Netflix or create Lego structures, or read a book. Have family movie time.
Having said that, however, I wouldn’t recommend giving your special needs child unlimited access to electronics. For our children, at least, doing so seems to ramp up behavior problems. We try to limit electronics time to about an hour a day, usually a half an hour at lunch time while I prepare lunch and a half an hour in the evening, after they have completed all of their work and chores.
If you’re wondering what to do with your special needs kids when school is canceled, I hope that I’ve given you some ideas. Remember that this time will require patience and love. We’re all anxious about the coronavirus, but as parents, our job is to help our special needs kiddos through this time with as little anxiety as possible.
I’m joining in the Timberdoodle Blog Hop–Tips for Temporary Homeschooling.