When You Don’t Have a Product to Show for Your Child’s Progress

When You Don’t Have a Product to Show for Your Child’s ProgressWelcome to Day 20 of the 31 Days of Random Reflections on Raising and Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs. You can find the main page for this series here.

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We can hardly escape the images of arts and crafts and projects completed by children in our social media newsfeeds. For the parent homeschooling a child with special needs, the projects are equal parts inspiring and disheartening. We want to try them but we know our child isn’t quite there yet. Sometimes, we brave our doubts and attempt them anyway, only to be disappointed and frustrated with the outcome.

What if I tell you that you don’t need to have a product to show for your child’s learning?

What if I say that your child does not need to produce great works of art in order to learn?

What if homeschooling projects don’t require paper and pencils and scissors at all?

I often hear from parents who are concerned about their child’s lack of interest in certain subjects or activities. We might plan a really amazing lesson the night before and find that it completely flops within seconds of presenting it to our child. Our ego is crushed.

What is my child trying to tell me?

Rather than being troubled by this stumbling block, we need to learn from it.

Ask yourself:

  • Is my child developmentally ready for this task?
  • Is this project too difficult?
  • Are there textures, sounds, scents, or sights that are upsetting him?
  • Is this his first exposure to this medium/ task/ environment/ etc.?
  • Am I modeling this task/ skill/ project enough?

Chances are if your child is not showing interest in the subject or activity, you are not addressing the issues in the questions above.

Let the questions guide how you approach the lessons and also how you select the activities.

An example from our life

In the last year, homeschooling looks a lot like sitting on a couch with a tablet. From the outside looking in, it might appear that we are wasting a lot of time fooling around online. But, if you lean in closer, you’ll see how captivated my son is by apps that help him build fine motor skills, work on visual tracking, introduce letters and numbers, and reinforce thematic concepts learned when away from the iPad.

Even a piece of technology has a learning curve – both for me and for my son. Each minute we spend on it is deliberate. He has never been more focused on learning than in the last several months. The tablet and apps capture his attention because they’re interactive and immediately gratifying.

There are things he can do on a tablet that he cannot do with typical materials and I would never have known it had we not tried another medium. Technology removes barriers for him that other materials only stack on.

In other words, in this moment in time, technology is meeting my son where he’s at, and compensating in places he is not.

It’s certain that you won’t find works of art in our home these days. There is very little to “show” for all of the learning that is truly going on with my son. Yet, there has never been more progress made than in the last year.

Why it’s important to acknowledge learning done away from typical projects

My son is 8 years old and is only just beginning to chew food. Until fairly recently, for physiological reasons, he was only eating pureed meals.

You can bet that our mealtimes are the heaviest periods of learning in our schedule. I didn’t plan it that way. I just noticed that meals were taking longer and longer. At first, I was frustrated and wanting to rush breakfast so that we could get to “school” work. When I took a step back, I remembered, This is school for him right now.

When a child who develops typically learns to chew for the first time, he averages around the age of one – still very much a baby, on the cusp of becoming a toddler. Almost immediately following this milestone (or around the same time), a toddler speaks his first word.

Can you imagine what‘s happening with my son right now?

Even though he is 8 years old, he is achieving milestones of a toddler.  Why, then, would I expect him to be reading, writing, or crafting?

These milestones tell me where my son is developmentally, and I need to respect this stage.

Your child might be farther along than my son, but ask yourself:

  • Where is my child really at?
  • In what stage of development is he?
  • What milestones is he reaching?
  • Are these milestones typical of his age, or younger? Older?
  • What skills do I need to keep guiding him to develop? (they do not need to be academic skills!)
  • How can I plan activities around his developmental level?

Asking a toddler to read and write is [almost] unheard of because we know this child needs to build skills like walking, talking, following directions, imitating simple actions, etc. before introducing a pencil.

When we sit at the breakfast table working on self-feeding, accepting a fork in the mouth, chewing food with the teeth rather than the palate, my son is getting the best learning of the day.

The chewing is also bringing more awareness of his mouth as it’s stimulated in different ways, so he is also babbling and trying to imitate sounds. He’s signing new signs. He’s intently observing and absorbing everything he sees and hears these days. How can I ever put this kind of learning on the wall?

Ways your child is showing progress that may not be on paper

Your child can show progress in a number of ways. Here are some things to look for:

  • What does my child do when we sing songs or read books together?
  • What does learning look like on technology/ AAC devices?
  • What kinds of things can my child do through play?
  • What is my child observing and absorbing throughout the day?

Providing evidence of learning

Despite the fact that there aren’t any products to display, you will want to keep track of what your child is doing and what progress you observe.

Here are a two great ways to do that:

  • Keep an observation notebook. Document the things your child does, but don’t judge the outcome. Simply write what you notice. It doesn’t need to be paragraphs. Quick notes are just perfect.
  • Build a portfolio. Portfolios can be in the form of binders, file folders, or notebooks. But, they can also be digital with images or videos taken of you working with your child. Save them on a memory card or USB stick, or upload them to a Dropbox folder (my referral link) or in Google Photos to keep them in the cloud.

We live in a culture that suggests if we don’t have proof that it happened (e.g.: a photo, a product, or something tangible to photograph and place on social media), then, it’s meaningless.

Authentic learning doesn’t hang on a wall. When your child learns to dress himself, you celebrate it. When he learns to make the sound of the letter ‘B’, you honor it. When he learns to call your name, you jump up and down with joy.

Learning happens all day every day in your home. Feel at peace with the knowledge that not all learning is meant to be on display and keep trekking on.

Related article:


  • Homeschool Portfolio Printable Pack by Not Consumed – includes all you need to get started with portfolios: editable fields, weekly checklists, progress reports yearly homeschool calendar, educational snapshot, and more (with free upgrades for life!)


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