"Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life."

CMason Special Needs


Charlotte Mason is a philosophy that includes many areas. It is expressed in the atmosphere of our homes, in the discipline or training of our children, and in the way we choose to live our lives. All of these are (relatively) easier when things are going well. However, Life is not like that. Things rarely go well in all areas at once. While we cannot address all possible areas in one study, let us attempt one. It is time to take up the question of the child who is not normal, the child with problems - learning disabilities, handicaps.

In August of 98 I was able to attend a home education conference where the Andreolas were featured speakers. I attended three sessions with them as well as having time to examine their materials and talk with them. The last session was a Question and Answer session, and I had a question. "What about children who are not normal?". The phrasing is taken from the fact that both Andreolas spent the sessions I was in talking about how wonderful CM is for normal children. I asked the question because I thought it is important. I have met many people homeschooling children with problems. I used to think that homeschoolers have about as many problems as public school families - I have changed my mind. I believe we have more, many more, because people are not willing to allow children to fail. Thus, children in difficulty in the public schools come home to school. I was primarily thinking of ADHD and dyslexia and similar problems, but I have met people homeschooling Downs and other serious disabilities. We need to address the question of adapting materials to suit special needs. CM stressed suitability of the materials and approach for each child. Most children will do well enough with ordinary materials, but a child with special needs requires careful tailoring of all areas of their life for optimal results.

The first area is in the atmosphere of the home. More than most children, a child with special needs will require a low-stress environment. This may mean restricting outside activiites, or even the number of visitors. Some children are sensitive to the types of lights in the home, or to the flickering of a television or computer screen. Children with severe allergies will need special attention paid to the types of pets, carpeting, and curtains. ADHD children will require an area with few distractions for their schooling - not for them the bright posters of a classroom!

The second area is in the education, the discipline. This is the area most people think of first. It is also the area which must be most carefully designed for each child's individual needs. Most children with special needs will require a greater share of individual attention and one-on-one tutoring. Of course, exactly what is needed will vary according to the individual need. A child with medical problems will need to have their program fitted around their medical care and adjusted for their strength. Charlotte Mason's emphasis on short lessons and individualized programs is exactly the way to encourage these.

And third is the rest of their life. All children properly taught will find their education will enrich the rest of their life. A child needs not be a genious to appreciate lovely surroundings. A rocket scientist can enjoy playing the cello. A blind child can enjoy taste and touch and scent. I have read of a blind adult, expert in seashells- hand him one, and he can identify it perfectly.

Tell us some ways you have adapted your atmosphere, discipline, and life to the needs of your special child.

Lynn H

Each of the sections below is from a post on our list, appearing here with the permission of the author. There is a short section of useful links at the bottom of the page.


"We talk alot about the technicalities of CM's philosophy--rightly so, that's what the list is for. Miss Mason's goal, however, was not 'properly educated students'. Throughout her Home Education series she stressed the reason behind her educational method. She hoped that we would all be fit for service. Whatever our Sovereign has planned for us, we may prepare by training ourselves in habits of self-discipline in body, mind and emotions, and securing every ability that a generous education provides."

our utmost for His highest- cathy in pa


"our 31/2 yr old has cp, is very delayed in speech and lang. I am finding she does not like to sit and listen to me read. It breaks my heart, as I love reading to my little ones. Many times I will begin, and she will try to grab the book and go away with it, or just get up and walk away. I do continue reading, and I know that she hears, even though she may not be sitting right in front of me. I do not follow her around reading, I stay put, hoping she will one day stay put also. There are a few books she enjoys. One is *Play with Me* by Marie Hall Ets. She is now trying to say some of with me as I read. I count this as narration. LOL!! I am using *Before Five in a Row* with her now and then, and loving it. We don't do *school*, just alot of fun stuff for now, but I would like advice on how and what to begin. She knows her alphabet very well, but can't hold a conversation. She can identify any letter I show her, but can't say her name. Sometimes it's very difficult to know where I should start, and what I should be doing. I think I am going to work on some concepts that she doesn't seem to understand, like little and big, ect... " Debbie


As I have mentioned, our ds has cerebral palsy (brain injury caused at birth). We had long since decided that home-centered learning was the only way to go for our family. However, this is a special needs situation that will require a lot of strength and guidance. You see, although our ds is at an appropriate age level in his mental development, he does have some severely limiting physical handicaps. How does a child who cannot speak, narrate? How does a child who cannot write, do composition? How does a child who has no control over his hands, point or write or do craft? How does a child who cannot sit or crawl, do physical activities or go on nature walks or simply play?

I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but I am convinced that the CM style of education offers our ds the very best chance possible. I would like you to meet him for yourselves, but as that is not possible, let me share with you how we are building CM methods into our busy days. (We also have a beautiful 4 month old daughter to add to the fun and games!).

C. is only 2 1/2, but he is one of the hardest working kids I know. He also combines this determination with the sweetest nature you could wish for. Everyone who works with him (he has 25 volunteers who help us with his therapy) is captivated by his smile and obvious intelligence. I cannot imagine anything more rewarding than being his mother.

Our days begin with several hours of "program activities" (we do a therapy program that was designed especially for him). Here is where I can see Miss Mason's ideas come into play... our activities are short, intense, and alternate mental work with physical. We do most of our program in the mornings. Part of the program involves listening to classical music and reading storybooks together. These two activities are very important. The group who designed the program are very much in favour of home schooling, believing that parents are by far the best qualified to teach their children. Does all of this sound familiar?

I have been delighted to see this program pay off. Imagine if you would how much it means to hear your 2yo say his very first word at last, and for that word to be "book" (although it's pronounced the german way, "buch")! C.'s very favourite bedtime activity... reading A.A. Milne's poetry! We recite certain poems as we do program activities, we fill the house with beautiful music, we sit and read living books together - and all this is *therapy*!

In the afternoons, we grab a blanket and sit outside for ages. I have learned to be more observant and to narrate to C. myself. I know that he is taking in so much, although he may not be able to reproduce it for me (yet). The beauty of this is that he can learn in his own way, at his own speed, without any pressure for him to produce tangible results in written or spoken form. I am learning to trust him to learn, even though he cannot narrate things back to me. That has been such a liberating realization for me.

I know that he is young yet :), but I feel confident that he will be able to benefit from Miss Mason's ideas throughout his life. After all, he has ears to listen to us read, to immerse himself in good music, and to enjoy the sounds of birds in the garden. He has eyes to learn to read himself, to admire a beautiful painting, to observe God's creation in all its splendour. And he has a gentle spirit which is open to learn about God's great love for him - no matter what. What more could anyone ask for?

There you have my hotch-potch of feelings about special needs and CM! The term "special needs" usually indicates that someone has more problems than usual - but to me it has come to mean more joy, a richer view of life, a deeper dependence on God, and the rewards of seeing our children delight in learning and loving." Tamara


"Although I was not introduced to the methods of Charlotte Mason until after we began kindergarten with my son, his short attention span necessitated the incorporation of short lessons and wonderful books which I have since come to associate with the CM philosophy. Now nine years old, my son still has a good deal of difficulty with attention. In addition, he developed epilepsy this past year, and seizures and related symptoms have provided a number of interferences in our regular school days. We are still seeking the best medication for this, so I am often uncertain as to whether seizure activity is affecting his concentration on learning. Flexibility is a necessity at this point.

In spite of some bouts of insecurity on my part, I do believe that the CM method will be most helpful as the method for my son's learning. Most facets of the approach allow and encourage individualizing education to best suit the student. Narration will help my son expect to attend to what he is hearing and will encourage him to convey his understanding and thoughts in words, even though this does not come naturally to him. Shorter lessons are still a great benefit, and I have seen him progress in his attitude toward his regular lessons, probably because he has come to realize that they don't last very long! And, the other week, some of the most beautiful words I've heard proceeded from his mouth: "Mama, read more!" (Who was this child, and what had he done with my son who previously always complained if I tried to pursue more than one chapter of a read-aloud?!) I believe he is finally beginning to appreciate words read aloud to him, even without pictures, because he is beginning to form his own mental pictures to the stories he hears.

Perhaps most important, however, is that this gentle CM method encourages me to view my children as whole persons to truly listen to, rather than "students" to continually thrust information at." Cheryl


>>What about languages for the special children we are discussing in another thread? A child who cannot handle English - who is learning disabled, or seriously handicapped? I suggest trying Sign Language! I have heard good reports from families with dyslexia, adhd, and even serious problems. I know one family whose child will never speak (a rare genetic condition) -but he has learned names and some basic needs in Sign. Try it!<<

"Thanks, Lynn,
I've been signing so long, I tend to forget that Sign is a language all its own. I took sign in college because I thought I would major in Deaf Education. Instead I got married, had children, homeschooled... We have an 11 y.o.d. who does not speak, and probably never will. We have used sign with her since her adoption six years ago, and the other children have just picked it up. They aren't fluent, because the child who needs it cannot communicate in sentences, signing only one word at a time, but they are comfortable with it. It's amazing to me how quickly the little ones pick it up. Our toddler was signing before she was one! I think we can easily add to what we're doing in sign, and benefit our handicapped child as well."

"Let me explain a little further. She is 11 y.o., cannot speak, cannot color beyond scribbling, has a sign vocabulary of between fifty and eighty words, has trouble recognizing pictures, cannot run, walks with a rolling sailor gait, can unbuckle but not buckle her seatbelt, can't wash her own face or brush her hair, still puts her clothes on backwards (although she does this so consistantly that I begin to suspect she likes them that way).

She was recently tested by our local school district. The tester says our child does not have the ability to recognize object permanance, that she functions at about a one year level and is profoundly mentally retarded. This means it is impossible for Angel to put dishes, toys, or clothes away or to get specific items out (she wouldn't know where they go or where they are once put away). But she does these things.

A. can't count at all, and the test revealed that she did not have the basic ability to demonstrate one to one correspondence. This means it is impossible for her to set the table with one plate at each place, one fork at each plate, but she does that.

There are many more things that A. should not be able to do that she does do. There is a reason for that, but allow me to share a little more, first.

A. is also the most stubborn, pigheaded, single minded, determined, persistant, bull headed, stone walling little person that has ever walked the face of the earth, with only one exception that I am aware of. This stubborness is intensified by her retardation. Our toddler, like many toddlers, thinks it's funny to grab somebody's chair as soon as that somebody gets up. It's cute for a while, and about the time we all tire of this trick, she will be tired of it, too, and do something else. A. has been thinking this the funniest thing in the world for six years. When the toddler is in a bad mood, she'll play a hundred different tricks to get her own way. A. will simply stand like a log, looking as though she has never understood a word of English in her life, refusing to move or respond to what I say until I get up to discipline her. She doesn't try a hundred different tricks, she does the same one, over and over, and over again, a thousand times in one day, without variation, without exception, and the experience would drive most mortals to mindnumbing, head banging, futility. She *never* tires of resistance. It is all the same to her to apply her will to resisting me the thousandth time as the first.

Charlotte Mason says in volume six that we can divide people between "those who are wilful and those who are governed by will;[this next line is important, please note it] *and this line by no means separates between the bad and the good.* It does divide, however, between the impulsive, self-pleasing, self-seeking, and the persons who have an aim beyond and outside of themselves, even though it be an aim appalling as that of Milton's Satan....children should know that while the turbulent person is not ruled by will at all but by impulse, the movement of his passions or desires, *yet it is possible to have a constant will with unworthy or evil ends...* (page 132)

A. has that "constant will," and the end her will has in view is that she will never, ever try, let alone learn anything new.

Fortunately for A., 25 years before she was born, God, in His infinite wisdom, placed on earth that one other person I mentioned who is more pig headed, bullheaded, resolute, stubborn, single minded, determined, persistant than A. on the earth, and when A. was five, he put those two people together. That's when I became her mother.

We've all heard the physics equation about what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistable force. Well, A. *was* the immovable object, and I'm her irresistable force =) She moves =)

Growing up I always had to do things the hard way. In the book of Acts, God asks Saul (in the KJV), "Saul, Saul, why kickest thou against the goads?" My own parents asked that of me many, many times. I wore them out with my stubborn streak. Streak is the wrong word, since it best describes my whole personality, not a mere streak of it. They didn't handle it properly, and neither did I, which caused us all a lot of grief, but now... I've grown and matured, learned to direct my will in more appropriate paths. As the original poster, whom I quoted above said, this stubborn determination can be a great distructiveness when used improperly- as I used it when younger (and sometimes still do, old habits die hard=(), and as A. uses it now to avoid learning or growing, or it can be used for great good when used to serve the Lord, which I think is what happens when A. refuses for the thousand and second time to fold a washcloth, and for the thousand and second time, rather than doing the easiest and quickest thing and folding it myself, I exert my own will to make her do it.

There is no way my parents could have looked ahead and forseen what great need I would have for my own bull-headed, rather die than not get my own way, no matter how trivial the issue, attitude (and the even greater need that A., unknown to them until six years ago, would have for somebody like me in her life). But we do look for 'negative' traits like this in our own children and try to see possible ways they might be used for good. We try to point out examples of people who used similar traits for good and for evil (A comparison and contrast of Churchill and Hitler is fascinating- these two men had much in common, including weaknesses and strengths, hobbies, personalities, but look at the difference!) " Wendi


"My son is severe ADHD and has high functioning Autisim (Aspergers Syndrome)

I do not want to excuse bad behavior....

When a child becomes "silly" it can be their way of coping with over stimulation. If you "chase" him around the room you are causing more stim, setting up bad habits. He is also very young. Our children who have this are very immature. What other 6 yr. old boys can do he may not be able to, some day soon yes, but not right now.

With my son I know his signs of over stim. (even if it it a task they like). I stop what we are doing and take him by the hand to: get a drink of water or pet the kitten, go sharpen a pencil, take outside a bag of garbage ect. I must go with him or I will have a very hard time ever getting him back to the table. Again, I don't want to set up a bad habit. Once he goes for a drink of water and then toddles off to play, he will think that is the thing to do.

We go right back to what we are doing. I kept his lesson on any one topic under 20 min. We never need more than 2 of these breaks per subject.

He is now 8 1/2. He habits are still under construction : } but the work has paid off. It is very time consuming on my part of course, but its just the way things must be done.

Remember that part of these children problem is they lack the internal filter to ignore and filter out what is happening around them. They take every sight and sound in, things we are able to tune out, until its almost painful for them, then they know that they will get in trouble if they don't pay attention, get out of the seat, talk ect. but they have to have a distraction of some sort to stop it, even for a moment all that noise and sensation that keeps coming and coming. Dawna : }"


Writing an IEP

I am not an expert in special education. I have no college degree in any field. I am a housewife and a mother. But I have written IEPs for one of my children who has multiple special needs. A number of professionals have seen my most 'official' looking effort, and even the most hostile have been impressed. One speech therapist paid me the rather dubious compliment of lifting part of my IEP verbatim and placing it in her own report as her own words. Several others paid me the even more dubious compliment of asking me repeatedly who helped me write it, unable to believe that a mere housewife wrote what they say is the best IEP they've ever read. I am not an expert in special education. But I am an expert on my daughter. You are an expert on your child. Remember that, and do not be intimidated by the task.

What format you want for your IEP will depend on who your audience is. Is this a tool for your eyes only, merely an organizational guide, a lesson plan for you to use with your special needs child? Is it intended to go in your child's permanent record, perhaps to be seen by possibly hostile officials? Is this for a local educator, one who is friendly? I will be sharing from our most formal IEP, the one designed with one particularly hostile individual with whom we had to deal with in mind. Please adjust your own accordingly.

An IEP is an Individual Educational Plan. It is a roadmap, so to speak, of how to get your child from the place he is now to the place he needs to go. It consists primarily of a list of goals you have for your child and objectives for those goals. You are writing down what it is you want your child to learn (a learning objective), and what steps you and your child need to take in order to master that "learning objective." So the first step is to determine what it is that your child needs to learn. You can do this by having him assessed, by testing him yourself, through personal observation (simply watching, studying, and thinking about your child), through talking with others about your child, and with prayer. Once you have your list, you have the raw material for an IEP.

To turn that raw material into a formal IEP, it helps to look at other IEPs. Notice their format, the language used, the general feel, the writing style, the vocabulary. Look at an IEP as a writing assignment. You are to write a document not in the style of Dickens or Lucado, but in the style of special educators. Your library may have some books available on writing lesson plans and IEPs. There may be information available on the internet. Ask your friends who have special children in the public schools if you could see their child's IEP, or part of it, explaining why. Make friends with special educators and ask if there are any materials, forms, or old IEPs (with personal information blocked out) that you could use. Pick their brains. Take copious notes.

The first thing listed on most IEPs is the testing mechanism. How do you know your child needs special assistance to learn what you want him to learn? What books, tests, and other materials did you use to assess his needs and to develop your educational plan? Mine looks like this:

98 IHEP FOR Child's name

Testing mechanism: UPAS UNIFORM Performance Assessment System. [I purchased this from Hewitt in Washougal, Washington. Public school teachers have used it.]
Personal observation of mother and primary teacher [that's me!]


After School Communication' Activity Book (based on EASIC Evaluating Acquired Skills in Communication)
Active Learning for Threes
Basic Sign Language for Children
Pre-Sign Language Motor Skills
Communication Skills in Children with Down's Syndrome by Libby Kumin
When Slow is Fast Enough by Jane Goodman
Steps to Independence by Bruce L. Baker and Alan J. Brightman

Some of these are books I found at my library, some I purchased, and most I borrowed from the excellent lending library free to members of NATHAN. I think you should list anything you have read about your particular child's needs here, the more well-read you are, the more impressed a professional will be, and the better equipped you will be to work with your child and the experts.

Next, you want to sort your goals by skill. The typical IEP includes communication (both receptive, or what he can understand, and expressive, or what he can communicate, language skills), small and gross motor skills, cognitive or academic skills, social skills, and self help skills. Ours includes a separate section under communication for sign language skills. Our child cannot speak, but she also has some physical and mental problems that prevent her from signing as many signs as we would like. We found an excellent book,
Pre-Sign Language Motor Skills
, which explains which are the easiest signs to perform physically. We bought it through a Speech and Language Pathology book club.

You will list all the speech therapy skills under expressive language and all the listening/understanding skills under receptive language, with both under the heading 'communication.' In a typical IEP, you first describe where the child currently stands with this skill, then explain where you would like her to be, and in a broad fashion how you could accomplish this, and then begin listing objectives in more detail. Ours looks like this:


Pre-Language Skills:
A. is nearly totally nonverbal, and her sign language skills are limited to one sign at a time. Her receptive language skills, while higher than expressive, are limited in scope as well. [I have briefly summarized A.'s current communication level. This is an older IEP. I think it would also be a good idea to summarize her strengths in this area, as Charlotte Mason would have us test to see what our children do know, not just what they do not know.]
A. needs to increase interaction with her environment in order to develop her language skills, learn more about the world around her, and give her more experiences to talk about.[Basically, the more experiences A. has, the more things she'll have to talk about.]

EASIC Pre-Language skill 26:
[ All the IEPs I saw have numbers next to the objectives. This really doesn't seem necessary to me for a home schooling IEP, but I wanted to look as 'official' as possible. The book I used for this section of the IEP listed numbers, I simply used theirs. In other parts of the IEP I made up my own acronym and numbering system- I think it was something like " MCO GM skill 1," which stood for Mother Chosen Objective Gross Motor Skill 1. Nobody ever questioned what this meant.

A. will engage in appropriate symbolic play [this is one of those 'increased interaction with her environment skills mentioned above. All it means is that A. will play pretend more often]

Parents and sisters will engage in pretend/dramatic play with A.at least three times each week, including frequent description of pretend activities. Whenever practical A.will be asked to name or request objects and actions [I like xtra details as to how I want to accomplish the goal, it helps me keep things in order, it helps other family members know exactly how they can help, and it shows that I have really thought about what we're doing for A.].

questions through signs, gestures or vocalizations. A. will be encouraged to take the initiative in directing play. Play will include time with the dollhouses, dressing up and caring for baby doll, play with toy cars, etc.

Receptive Language:
A.'s receptive language skills are below age level. [I summarized the problem]. She missed 13 out of 28 objectives in this portion of the UPAS. [I give a specific, measurable, evaluation- professionals love this]. A. needs to increase her receptive language vocabulary and her ability to distinguish sounds and symbols. [I give a broad description of what needs to be done]

UPAS C-11:
A. will learn to discriminate three non-speech sounds: a bell, paper being crumpled, keys jingling.

Objects will be screened from A. view while tester rings bell. A. will be asked to make same sound when screen is removed. Repeat for other objects. [Actually, this won't do much to increase A.'s ability. It's a way to test her. A better method, and a more CM one, would simply be to expose her to lots of non speech sounds naturally, and comment on them from time to time, helping her to develop the habit of paying attention.]

A.'s problem is not an inability to distinguish nonverbal sounds- she recognizes the sound of her father's car arriving home, the refrigerator door being opened, the telephone, etc. She does have difficulty understanding what is required of her in this activity. Family members will remark on and identify other non-speech sounds throughout day: airplanes, birds, trucks going by, sirens. A. will play Listening Lotto twice a month.

The 'observation' section above is not strictly necessary for a good IEP, but it is helpful in making an IEP that actually has some function to serve other than impressing a hostile expert.

The Charlotte Mason Method is easily adapted to an IEP. So much of what Charlotte suggested translates easily and well into an IEP, with just a little thought. Our child is nonverbal and we want to increase that. How did CM advocate teaching a new language? Through total immersion, lots of listening, first, then children's stories and songs. This is good for nonverbal children in any language.

CM advocated that children should feel at home in their environments, they should be able to run and row, climb and dance. These are gross motor skills as well as sensory. Some children are tactile defensive, they don't like strange and unfamiliar physical environments. Sandboxes, wading pools, trees, are disturbing to them. Introduce them in small doses, rather than the beach or a sandbox, give them a small dishpan of sand to run their hands through. Rather than an entire yard of grass, place the child on a blanket with one blade of grass, gradually familiarizing them with this new experience and increasing the scope as the child shows comfort.

The CM Method includes art appreciation. Our child will probably need to do lots of communicating with pictures. We can use children's art books to teach her picture recognition, A Child's First Book of Art, by Dorling Kindersley, is a good resource for this.

Writing an IEP takes time, but it doesn't take a college degree. Observe your child, do a lot of thinking about what he can do as well as what he can't, and how Charlotte Mason's observations and suggestions on education can be translated into something that benefits your child. And, use a good thesaurus and spell checker!



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