22 Tips for Decreasing Sensory Overload in Homeschool


I decided to homeschool my kids for MANY reasons, however, one reason stands out among the others. I’ve mentioned before that two of my kids struggle with sensory processing issues. Sensory overload in homeschool is a huge issue in my house. I’m aware that I’m not alone in this little adventure of mine. Though, I think back to when I first started homeschool and wish I knew then what I know now.

There are many who may just be entering into the world of sensory issues (Sensory Processing Disorder) and Homeschool. Perhaps there is a new diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, Auditory Processing Disorder, ADHD or the like. This article is for all you experiencing something on this level! :)

Sensory Overload

A homeschool room or area can make or break the day when sensory issues abound. My first school room was a terrible thing. For my family, getting to where we are now has only happened through a serious of unfortunate events….or life lessons… Being in a better, calmer place for school has taken a lot of work and brainstorming – researching for hours. We’ve also had a lot of help from therapists.

My children’s speech therapist put sensory overload like this…and I’m paraphrasing…

Think of a whiteboard and imagine that as your child’s brain. Kids who have trouble processing their senses have a full white board already just by the normal day to day activities. When something extra pops up in their senses, it overloads the whiteboard almost immediately!

An overloaded white board (brain) equals shutdown kids or mega meltdowns. Our goal as teachers and as parents is to aid our kids in learning how to handle their whiteboards. But, until then we need to help them with daily life by limiting stimulation. With the list below, keep in mind all the senses: Smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. Plus, consider other non seen things like stress of something on their minds, fatigue, diet, comfort level, etc.

1. First things first, provide your children with the opportunity to get a good night’s rest. Give high protein snacks before bed and provide higher than normal protein options throughout the day. Limit processed carbs and sugary things. Many top-notch researchers suggest cutting out many ‘normal’ foods in our culture like crackers, breads, etc. Also provide a covered-lid water bottle throughout the day. If water is an issue, try infusing it with citrus, cucumber, or berries.

2. Develop a simple schedule for the day that your child can decipher easily. Or at least have a somewhat predictable routine.

3.  Provide for your kids a chair which allows their feet to be flat. Also make sure the bend at their hips is at 90 degrees. If your chairs are too tall like mine, an easy fix is to place a step stool under their feet. This allows for better posture.

4. Some professionals suggest having desks away from doors and windows. Although I do agree with the door suggestion, in my experience, having the natural muted light from a window is much better than the artificial light of a light bulb. My sensory problematic children have done much better by the window. I don’t allow for bright sunlight to get in their eyes though.

5. I also use clipboards in my school. Even if my son is at a desk, he almost always uses one. This helps keep the paper in place and for some reason he stays on task better.

6. You can also try to shake things up by providing something special for the seating. Some kids enjoy sitting on an exercise ball that they can gently bounce on during their assignments. There are also things like wedge cushions, discs, etc. Bean bags are also an option but it was counterproductive with my children.

7. Up until recently, I also incorporated a gliding rocking chair in our homeschool routine. It’s in another room now because of a lack of space however it is still a great tool. My 6 year old son would rock in it while we did our phonics work. It seemed to be a very useful tool. I just had to get over the fact that he was rocking a lot!

8. If you are in a room that does not have carpet, consider putting a large rug down. If your kids struggle with the auditory side of things, this is very important. Even the slightest sounds echo in a room that has hard floors. Carpet will make a world of difference.

9. Allow your child to learn in various positions or in different locations if needed – even on the floor, outside, in the car, etc.

10. Allow for a decompression area if over-stimulated. This is doable with those cheap kids popup tents and lots of blankets and other comfy things. Or have them go to their room for quiet time mid way through school…or when needed. If you are unable to get them to their decompression area because of a meltdown, remove yourself from the situation for a while.

11. Many suggest displaying some sort of alphabet and numbers list as a resource for your kids but I’m going to suggest otherwise. In my experience any extra visual distraction is one too many. Put things away until they are needed for a specific subject. Don’t have them posted on the walls or on the desk but instead in a resource binder or folder.

12. Building on number 11, greatly limit your wall clutter. This is very overstimulating for children who struggle with any type of sensory processing issue. Have a defined area for these things that is not in clear view of your children’s learning areas. I put things on the sides of book shelves or on one central bulletin board. I replace things often so it doesn’t get crazy.

13. Make your learning area a relaxing, stress and clutter free oasis. One way to do this is to change the color of your room. My school room is a light sage green. It seems to suit us. My furniture pieces and extras are muted tones of creams and blacks.

14. Limit the amount of books, games, and extras that are visible. I’ve made curtains for all of my book shelves and the learning differences were a huge improvement after doing this. See my school room now. Set a goal to keep it simple.

15. Only have work and books out that are currently being worked on. Have other assignments and books in a separate designated area. No need to make them feel overwhelmed.

16. Have a supply of earphones available to use with learning. Although, be prepared to go through several before your child finds some he or she likes. Ear plugs may also be helpful but my children refused to wear them.

17. When speaking to your child assure they are looking at you or your mouth before speaking. Maybe use a white erase board to write down instructions as well. Have the child repeat back to you what was said. This will prevent frustration from not understanding.

18. Give your kids a heads up of schedule changes or changes in their surroundings before it happens.

19. Allow for breaks. But, a break does not mean 15 minutes in front of the TV. This means some kind of swinging, jumping, heavy lifting, or gross motor play. Many parents with sensory kids have mini trampolines. I haven’t purchased one yet but it’s on my list! Also consider looking into the Learning Breakthrough Program which may help with your child’s over all issues. We will be doing this for our school breaks.

20. I have had some good results with allowing my kids to suck on a sucker or chew gum. Although typically the noise from the mouth seems to send the other one into a tail spin. Fidget toys are another option. ;)

21. We’ve also incorporated classical music to help with independent work.

22. When my kids seem to be getting overwhelmed I will massage their shoulders, or pet their hair. It calms them down and helps them to focus.

There are so many other tips out there. I could truly go on for a while on this. I’ve learned to deal with outbursts but it is still a huge work in process! My kids feed off of each other which adds in an extra little bit of fun. ;)

There are a ton of resources and books available to help you with sensory processing issues and sensory overload while homeschooling. Not everything will fit with your family but some definitely will. One great post I read recently is from myaspergerschild.com which has even more ideas!

Do you have a child who struggles in this area? How do you cope? What things do you find helpful?

Heather F (4 Posts)

Heather is a Christian gal who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she married her high school sweetheart, Levi, 2001. She is newer to homeschool and tries to “keep it simple” while teaching her three “active” children with Classical Conversations. Heather also juggles the responsibilities of being a part-time emergency room RN and police officer’s wife. She has a reputation of creating kitchen disasters, but loves collecting new recipes and learning about natural, holistic living. She is also a wanna-be urban homesteader and has a bunch of chickens, a couple goats, and a rabbit!

A Word From Our Sponsors

Homeschool Products from Nest Learning
***ART PROJECTS curriculum –ages 10+ -fulfills high school fine arts credit 10% off + FREE SHIPPING in U.S. Code: STL Offer expires September 30th http://www.seethelightshine.com***

Homeschooling – More Than Books!

The longer I homeschool the more I realize that homeschooling is not just about the books. It isn’t just about teaching the kids their math facts or logic. It isn’t just about reading all the classics. It isn’t just about learning politics, world history, and even that which is beyond our world. Homeschooling is about something much simpler than all that. Homeschool is about teaching our children how to truly live in this life they’ve all been blessed with. It’s about learning life skills.


Of course homeschool includes all the ‘normal’ schoolwork, but it also includes so. much. more! Having the chance to be with our children during those times when most children are in traditional school gives us homeschooling families an extremely unique opportunity. Our children are blessed with the gift of learning life skills in a much greater quantity which will help them in their own lives as adults. This is especially important for children who have any kind of disability no matter how large or small that disability may be.

Here is an example:

My daughter, who has Asperger’s, has some motor planning problems (among other things) and lacks some common sense. Prior to this last one or two years, she couldn’t tie her shoes, braid, open up a can of food, unscrew certain lids which weren’t difficult, wash her own hair, dress her self correctly, do any amount of kitchen work, acknowledge certain unsafe situations, etc.  Through much diligence from my husband and myself, she has been able to overcome some great obstacles.

Last summer, I decided that if she were to ever mature into adulthood – complete with moving out, having a family, or going to college – she would definitely need to know many other skills that don’t fit into any school transcript or standardized test. I’m talking about cooking, cleaning, laundry, menu planning, budgeting, navigating the town, how to handle emergency situations, time management, etc. Of course, if she were in regular school, she would still get some of this, but not near what she truly needs to be successful in living a successful, independent life.

I have started introducing her to many life skills even though they are very challenging for her. Thankfully, God has blessed me with a stubborn streak, or we never would have gotten over the first obstacle. ;)

Over the last several months we’ve been focusing on cooking.

This serves many purposes. When one learns to cook, they not only benefit themselves, they are also able to bless others. I also believe that it is great therapy for kids who struggle with motor planning problems. There are many times when both hands are needed or one needs to cross the midline to do a cooking task. It requires some physical strength, mental focus, and time management skills as well.

Mastering cooking skills is time-consuming and more times than not, kitchen mishaps are a normal occurrence. When one has a learning disability, acquiring a certain skill isn’t something that comes quickly or easily. It takes a ton of practice, sometimes requiring the person to perform the task hundreds of times before there is any light at the end of the tunnel. Even the simplest of tasks like taking the twisty off the bread bag, opening the spice container or a ziplock bag, opening the milk, or dumping cereal into a bowl can require days and days of practice to figure it out.

On most days, I have my daughter make breakfast. To some this may seem mean, but I see it as a unique learning opportunity that she would never get if she was always having to hastily catch the school bus. It took her a month or two of repeated practice to learn how to crack the eggs without crushing the egg in her hand. It has taken several more months for her to remember things like turning the burner off or limiting the amount of pepper and salt in the meal. Learning how to stir the eggs without sloshing it all out of the pan proved to be yet another challenge.

I’ve had my share of ‘interesting’ egg inventions. But, after a season, she can make scrambled eggs well – most of the time. Toast was a lesson all its own. Buttering bread is not an easy skill for someone with motor planning issues, but after months of practice, she can now do that too.

Another thing that became her responsibility was packing our family lunch on our homeschool co-op day. After an entire year of practice, we can count on having a ‘normal’ lunch which actually tastes good. Recently, she randomly took it upon herself to make the family spaghetti. Even though it tasted terrible the family ate every last noodle. She was so proud of herself. She has since done this meal several times….every time it gets better and better.

I believe insisting that my daughter learn these skills has not only provided her with another tool for adulthood, but also helped her gain some much needed confidence.  I think she is realizing that she can actually take care of herself and even others.

A few of the learning skills on my ‘life skills list’ are things like:

  • Laundry and other chores
  • Meal Planning
  • Taking care of the animals
  • Scheduling
  • Grocery Shopping
  • Budgeting
  • Personal hygiene
  • First aid/CPR
  • Street Smarts training (avoiding being the victim)

There are so many other things that need to be learned. Our next obstacle will be learning how to do the laundry. This one might be more about me not wanting to do it anymore but either way, it is an important step towards adulthood!

If there was one main thing I would make sure is happening, it would be to not do for your children what they can learn to do themselves. Insist they do it. Even if it takes them 5 minutes to do what would take you 10 seconds, keep up that stubborn streak. Don’t give in because it’s easier if you do it. If they struggle, walk them through it patiently. If they have motor problems, help with hand placement and think outside the box to get the skill learned. With diligence, this is going to be a very important part of your homeschool experience!

Again, homeschooling has more to do with life and less to do with books.

What are you doing in your homeschool that has nothing to do with typical school? Please share your experience!

Heather F (4 Posts)

Heather is a Christian gal who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she married her high school sweetheart, Levi, 2001. She is newer to homeschool and tries to “keep it simple” while teaching her three “active” children with Classical Conversations. Heather also juggles the responsibilities of being a part-time emergency room RN and police officer’s wife. She has a reputation of creating kitchen disasters, but loves collecting new recipes and learning about natural, holistic living. She is also a wanna-be urban homesteader and has a bunch of chickens, a couple goats, and a rabbit!

A Word From Our Sponsors

Homeschool Products from Nest Learning
***ART PROJECTS curriculum –ages 10+ -fulfills high school fine arts credit 10% off + FREE SHIPPING in U.S. Code: STL Offer expires September 30th http://www.seethelightshine.com***

What if my kid’s specialist says, “No, Don’t Homeschool!”?!

When our 8-year-old was just a tiny tyke, not even a year old, one of his specialists said homeschooling him would be a mistake.  We were already teaching our oldest (now 14, he was in 2nd grade at the time) at home.

You see, Peter has a very visible, but virtually unheard of, medical condition called Lamellar Ichthyosis.  His skin doesn’t shed in microscopic bits the way yours or mine does, causing him to develop thick, itchy scales on his scalp, his neck, his torso, and other parts of his body.  This leads to physical discomfort and various medical issues, as well as an unusual appearance.

What if my kid's special says, "Don't Homeschool" ?

His dermatologist was worried that if he learned at home, we would overprotect him, keep him away from prying eyes, and stunt his ability to cope with the stares and questions of outsiders.

What if he couldn’t learn how to deal with the world as it is?  What if he didn’t develop coping mechanisms for coping with being teased?  Or not being accepted by his peers?

Indeed.  Better to see yourself through the eyes of outsiders who don’t know you instead of the ones who love you early on, right?

I admit it.  I went into Mama Bear mode.

My oldest son, who has no physical difficulties, felt unaccepted at school and this was a large part of the reason we brought him home.  He woke up every morning crying and begging not to go to school.  The school was not meeting his needs academically and he was being bullied.  Endless teacher conferences, both on the phone and in person, had done nothing to solve the situation.  My being present at the school as a volunteer made no difference.

I did not want my younger son to experience that on a daily basis.   I was not going to send  him into the wilds of the schoolyard in the hope that he would learn to cope.

I disagree with the idea that tearing kids down early on will help them grow to be better adults.

I also admit that my personal experience did have a tremendous impact on my view of the situation.   As an adult who was relentlessly bullied at school, right up until 9th grade, I can say that being bullied doesn’t necessarily make you stronger.

It can leave you broken.

But at the same time, I understood the dermatologist’s point-of-view.  She was not the only expert to offer this advice, and I think it stems from a big misconception about homeschoolers.

The average person doesn’t know what you do all day.

Sketching the pondIt’s true, y’all!  The person on the street who’s never homeschooled, whether they support what you do or think it should be illegal…they don’t get it.  Your Mom doesn’t get it.  If you’re married, your spouse (if he or she is not actively homeschooling) probably doesn’t get it.  Shoot, I didn’t get it until I was doing it.

I’m still getting it.

It is likely that many of them envision your kids sitting in a room at little desks all day with no one but themselves for company and no one but you as an authority.  And I suppose there probably are some homeschools like that.

You and I know that every homeschool is different, though, right?

But the human imagination is limited.  It tends to conjure up derivatives of what it already knows.

You can readily see this when you watch a Sci-Fi flick.  The aliens tend to look like humanoids that have been changed in some way.  Things like flying cars appear for transport, looking remarkably similar to the cars we drive right now.

If you watch an older (say, circa 60s) film, you may see a handheld computer that looks exactly like an iPad—yep, I’m saying that tablets were probably first imagined by movie makers.  Not an original idea at all.

So, when you say you “homeschool,” and what does that conjure up in the minds of those who don’t?

Homeschool kids in a treeThoughts of school, I would imagine.  Maybe a room with desks and 30 minutes of recess.

They may not know that you eat lunch at the park when the weather is fine.  That the kids know all the librarians by name (at 2 or 3 different libraries) and easily ask them for help finding the book they are looking for.

Maybe you spend more of your day out of the house than in?

Maybe the idea of sitting still at a desk all day is as foreign to your kids as bell bottoms?

Maybe people don’t realize that your special kid is learning to cope with stares and difficult questions from strangers, but on his own terms.

It’s easier to learn to swim a bit at a time, rather than to be thrown into water over your head all at once and sink.

My son has grown so much in his social skills and his awareness of self.  There was a time when he didn’t want to be around other people.  Now he plays on the playground, participates in Cub Scouts, goes to club activities at our local homeschool group…all on his own terms.

We haven’t hidden him away from the world.  We’ve challenged him.  We’ve nurtured him.  We’ve accepted him, just as he is.

Is school necessarily bad for kids with special medical needs?

Nope—every situation is unique.  Schools vary so widely from place to place and a child’s specific needs will also vary widely.  In our particular situation, the school options were limited and not ideal for our child’s needs.  The schools were not able to offer him things he needed that we could offer him at home.

I want to reassure parents that if their child’s specialists are recommending school, that advice may be based upon some misconceptions about homeschooling.  You know your child best.  If, after researching the available options, you find that teaching your child at home will best meet his needs—go for it!

You can give him the support he needs without stifling his growth.

May is Ichthyosis Awareness Month!

Peter’s condition is very rare and often misunderstood.  It affects him not only physically, but psychologically due to the way it is perceived by the public.  I invite you to find out more about Peter’s personal journey with Lamellar Ichthysosis here.

Do you homeschool a kid with special medical needs?  Did your child’s specialists support that decision?


Susan Anadale (6 Posts)

Susan is a wife, a mother, a Catholic, a teacher, a writer, a philosopher, a seamstress, a maker of things, an imaginer of worlds...I blog about our lifelong journey through learning at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds (my brain on the web).

A Word From Our Sponsors

Homeschool Products from Nest Learning
***ART PROJECTS curriculum –ages 10+ -fulfills high school fine arts credit 10% off + FREE SHIPPING in U.S. Code: STL Offer expires September 30th http://www.seethelightshine.com***