New Strategies in Special Education as Kids Learn From Home

special needs education activities

Schools across the country are trying to adjust to the sudden closures caused by the coronavirus. While all teachers are dealing with the new norm, special education teachers are having extraordinary difficulties adapting to home-based instruction that is tailored to each student’s individual needs.

“Special education” refers to a group of people with different learning needs. Margaret Shafer is a third-grade teacher from Morton, Illinois.

Special education teachers now have to create individual plans for each student following their IEPs. This is not possible online. Teachers say that it is difficult to determine if students can receive the same learning and services they are used to in school. This includes things like behavioral therapy and gross motor remediation.

Special education teachers and general educators have both questioned the ability of parents and caregivers to assist students with special needs. Students with special needs often require specialized coaching and instruction such as cues and sensory activities to keep them on track. Beth McGreevy Dworak, a Facebook friend, stated that her students are nonverbal and require one-on-one instruction with multiple prompts and redirection. Many students have attention and behavioral deficits, and they are not able to complete most tasks on their own.

Teachers in our audience say that many students with special needs can thrive within the school structure. They are concerned that students could be adversely affected by the disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

Although the shift is sudden and disturbing, special education teachers already have ideas for how to make the most of it.


Special education teachers recommend that special education educators work with students and their families to establish a learning environment and goals before they begin to list daily tasks and activities.

How is it at home? Teachers can get a feel for each student’s home set up by calling their families as early as possible. Teachers may ask questions such as: Will the parents be at home during the day? They can also ask questions like Will parents be home all day? Is the internet available? What electronic devices are available for students? What space is available in the house for sensory or gross motor activities? Teachers can then create individualized plans according to available resources.

“The teacher’s work changes from a direct learning model into a coaching model: the teacher now supports families through the process of understanding school expectations, goals, and objectives,” stated Patti Sullivan Kowalski, a senior director for student supports and special education in Meriden.

Recalibrate goals and objectives: After understanding the circumstances of each student, Kathryn Fishman Weaver, director, academic affairs and engagement at Mizzou Academy suggests that teachers assess which IEP goals can be achieved in the new environment and then work with families and students to make learning targets manageable.

Schools have more flexibility to meet IEP objectives during pandemics, according to federal regulations. Schools should strive to offer the best services possible, even if these are digital. Students may not receive the same services in schools.

Be proactive but flexible: Parents will likely need constant guidance. Teachers recommend that parents check-in with their families regularly via email, phone, or video conference to ensure they feel supported. To ensure adequate communication, educators recommend that caregivers and parents who speak a different language than English use translation services such as a three-way interpreter. Meriden’s school district has created a Google Classroom group for parents of special-needs children so that they can share ideas and connect.

Kathryn Nieves Licwinko is a Sparta teacher of special education in New Jersey. She says teachers should be flexible with their work hours and available through different communication channels to adapt to changing family circumstances.

She said that many students still have parents who work and are not at home, making it more difficult to complete assignments. “I have students who have not been in touch with me in a week because they are unable to access their devices and their parents aren’t home to help.


Our audience stated that students with special needs can find it difficult to suspend a routine. Teachers and families should collaborate to create learning activities at home that are similar to school.

Focus on structure: “Most students thrive in a structure-based routine. Eric Fieldman, a high-school special education teacher from Collingswood in New Jersey, said that students benefit from having teachers available for continuous instruction, clarification, and focus. “Being at home can cause inconsistency and lack of focus, even for the same academic level.

Fieldman and other teachers suggest creating a daily activity list. Break it down into smaller chunks with lots of breaks. They should if possible follow the same order as the school schedule. Teachers said that special needs students respond well to visual cues and that a schedule board with tactile or digital images of activities can help them to plan their day. Fieldman recommends that students use a kitchen timer to remind them of their school bell schedule.

Dan Vollrath is a Flemington high school teacher who teaches special education. He says that parents might want learning activities to take place in different rooms or spaces in their homes. Students are used to moving around at school depending on the content they’re studying.

Communicate clearly with parents and caregivers: While teachers may create instructional videos or written directions for students, special education educators recommend creating them for parents so they can teach their children how to set up various activities and how to support them. Many video services provide translations for parents who do not speak English. Teachers may also suggest ways that parents can use common objects at home to teach skills such as Cheerios, toothpicks, or pennies. These can then be used as math manipulatives.

Parents and teachers should not feel that everything in school can be or should be duplicated. Sarah Kesty, a special education teacher at Chula Vista middle school, said that there is no perfect parent who can create a complete school experience’ due to time and resources limitations. It’s okay not to replace school and it’s OK to not plan every activity down to the last detail.

Students with special needs might need sensory modifications or supports. This is a list of students’ IEPs. If students need to get energy, teachers suggested that parents could use simple objects such as bubble wrap and colored play-dough. To provide security and comfort, rice and beans can be placed in pockets. Writing and drawing in a shaving cream can help reduce tension and improve language development. It can be as simple as allowing your child to play outside, deep breathing, and hugging.

Our audience of teachers recommends that they keep their heads up and do the best they can in difficult situations.

Shafer stated, “I believe that special education students can do a lot of amazing learning at home.” “But special education is complex and involves many strategies and activities that are dependent on student needs. At home, students will not be able to receive the academic learning that they would in the classroom. We have no other choice than to try.