5 Reasons Nature Must Be a Part of Special Needs Homeschooling


Homeschooling can be challenging, but special needs homeschooling adds a whole new level of possible complications. There’s more to consider than just the curriculum.

5 Reasons Nature Must Be a Part of Special Needs Homeschooling

Having raised four special needs kids myself, I have had to factor in sensory issues, regulation and transition issues, meltdowns, and more. When you homeschool an entire family, it’s easy to burn out trying to meet the needs of all your children, not just the special needs homeschooling.

So, I found that nature offers tremendous opportunities for satisfying all the various physical, cognitive, and social/emotional needs of special needs children and indeed, all children. Let’s check it out.

Five Reasons to Integrate Nature

Gentle, Calming Sensory Experience

Sometimes, the boisterous, cluttered environment of home can overstimulate a sensitive child. It’s difficult to manage their needs among the needs of other children. That’s where nature-based learning shines. Getting your special needs student outdoors—even if only to read their assigned books—can help them calm down and focus.

After all, most sleep-inducing recordings include nature sounds like waterfalls and running streams, chirping birds or hooting owls, crickets, and others. These sounds and the soft, gentle caress of the wind provide just the right amount of sensory input that allows a special needs child to feel safe and stimulated without being overwhelmed.

Positive Health Benefits of Nature

Some of the benefits of outdoor play include improved health. Many children with special needs have health issues as well, such as eczema, digestive issues, or asthma. But, while some environments may trigger allergies–especially tree pollen, mold, ragweed, or grass—visiting the desert, woods, wetlands, or prairie can minimize reactions. After all, those wild places have fewer triggers than manicured places because they have more female plants to take up the problematic pollen.

Being outdoors helps these children to improve their health as they get more sun, more exercise, better sleep regulation (especially for those with ADHD), and more. I found that time outdoors made my children more robust and it can help your children in the same way.

Hands-on, Immersive Learning for Special Needs Homeschooling

One of the best things about being in nature is that learning outside inspires new interests through its immersive experience. Our time outdoors included fishing, orienteering, camping, canoeing, and so many other things I can’t even list them all. And trying these things helped inspire them to try other outdoor activities.

We created beautiful family memories as we learned more about the fish we tried to catch and why you use certain bait for one type of fish and not another. When we tried orienteering, we learned a little bit about how people used to find their way around. The age-old question of how you find your way out of a cornfield came up! We also talked about how people navigated ships. These are just a couple of examples of how this type of immersive learning experience can open doors to new connections and interests.

Encourages Imagination and Critical Thinking

Michigan State University says that “Open-ended play materials allow children to make choices, express their creativity, and support their independence.”  Unfortunately, special needs children, particularly autistic children, often struggle with original, imaginative play. They often want to know what the right way is to play with a toy. But, an open-ended toy doesn’t have a predetermined use.

It is only by learning how to play with such toys that they stretch their cognition. So, what better way to encourage imagination and critical thinking skills than the most open-ended and complex environment of all—the outdoors.

Develops Coordination and Movement

And finally, many special needs children struggle with coordination and movement. They often have challenges with sequencing and hand-eye coordination which make sports particularly difficult to play. But, they still need exercise.

In addition, ADHD children need a playground in which to burn off energy and get their minds focused. Nature offers the ultimate in playground equipment, especially if you can get them to the woods. There are all sorts of obstacles to avoid, trees to climb, rocks to jump from, and in endless arrangements. So, how could any kid get bored?

Get your special needs student outdoors for improved learning and behavior this year and see them thrive!

Julie Polanco

About the author

Julie is an author, speaker, podcaster, blogger, and a 20-year veteran homeschooling mom of four--2 boys and 2 girls. When she's not doing any of those things, you might find her skimming her fingers over the surface of Lake Michigan as she glides along in her kayak, singing at the top of her lungs.

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