Navigating homeschooling with a sensitive child


Written by Kara Anderson.

I am so awkward with labels.

When people ask me to describe our homeschooling style, I stumble though a soliloquy of words that probably sound half made-up.

So when I say that I am homeschooling a “sensitive child,” please know that isn’t my attempt at labeling anything officially. It’s more something we’ve noticed, and lived with and worked with for years now.

And it’s something that makes me so grateful for homeschooling, and this opportunity to give my children an individualized experience.

I wanted to share a little bit about what homeschooling my sensitive kiddo looks like for us. If you too have a sensitive child who you are teaching, I hope sharing some of our experience will maybe help.


So what do you mean, sensitive?

In our home, sensitivity can mean a number of things – smells can be distracting, noises upsetting.

From an emotional standpoint, too much handwriting practice can lead to a meltdown, and not getting a math concept immediately can be a catastrophe.

Things that seem like they shouldn’t really be THAT BIG of deal … are sometimes.

But more than anything else, having a sensitive child means always keeping in mind that it’s really hard to learn together when stress is in the way.

Finding simplicity

So thank goodness for “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne.

I first heard Payne speak at a conference years ago, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough. When I discovered his book, I read it nodding all the way through.

Although not specifically a homeschooling book, it has become an invaluable guide in our home.

Payne preaches the kind of simplicity that naturally brings calm. We’ve applied so many of his ideas to our homeschool, and they have worked wonderfully for us!


A quiet space

We began with our environment, which I had originally filled with workbooks and flashcards, shelves of books and educational toys.

We got rid of most of it. We packed it in labeled bins, and I chose just a few things that I knew were favorites to keep out. (The rest we rotated.)

I will say it felt a little counterintuitive, but within days I knew we were on to something when I heard:

“Mom! Thanks for making our house so calm inside.”

Prioritizing rhythm

After reading Simplicity Parenting, I decided to make having a strong rhythm a top priority for us. I could tell we needed it desperately – my sensitive child hated surprises and needed to know what was next.

We have pretty set daily and weekly rhythms now and spend a few minutes over breakfast every day talking about what’s to come.

Careful transitions

Transitions are always tricky for my sensitive one, and so I give plenty of warning, and I don’t expect a sudden about-face.

We shift gears slowly around here.

That means that some days, I will let my kids stick with a subject or project instead of changing to something else just because I had a “plan.” I love that homeschooling allows us that freedom.


Getting choosy

My sensitive child is also a social one (I know!) — who loves time with close friends and most activities. But I have found that we need to be choosy about how we spend our time.

Even now, we plan for recovery days following lots of busyness.

Homeschooling gives us wonderful flexibility there. If we have a hectic or stressful Tuesday, we might declare Wednesday a pajama day.

We can always catch up on science during the weekend, right?


Selective media

Many years ago we were driving when I heard my 3-year-old ask from the backseat, “Mama, where’s Fallujah?”

I had no idea that my child was listening along to NPR or paying so much attention to our adult conversations.

Whenever I pick up Simplicity Parenting for a refresher, it reminds me that our sensitive child is like a little sponge, soaking up everything we put out.

That can be wonderful, actually, as long as we are “putting out” the right things such as great audiobooks, stories, songs and read-alouds!

Coping skills

We can’t change that the world is a loud, busy place. But we can teach our sensitive child coping skills that make it a little easier to navigate.

That’s become a part of our family curriculum – learning relaxation techniques and how to listen to what our bodies and minds are saying.

We also try to be flexible with our kids. If a class or event is overwhelming, we may leave. No expectations and no hard feelings. Because we’re all learning what works for us.


Honoring who we are

Sometimes, I know it seems a little weird to people that we try to make sure our home is filled with calming scents, and that we decline invitations to things “kids like.”

I’m going to let you in on a secret, though: my kids are being raised by a sensitive parent.

Unfortunately, it took me years to figure out that some of my quirks are a lot more easily managed if I just see them for what they are – sensitivity – and honor myself enough to not just try to go with (force) the flow all the time.

I don’t know if my child will be sensitive for life, but I suspect so.

And so, what a wonderful opportunity I’ve been given to teach my young one that it’s OK to be sensitive and especially that it’s OK to take care of yourself and your needs.

I am continually grateful that homeschooling gives us the time and space to do just that.

Are you homeschooling a sensitive child too? What tips and tricks do you use that make your days go more smoothly?

About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, with a goal of encouraging fellow mamas in real-life homeschooling. She also's the happy co-host of The Homeschool Sisters podcast.


  1. Shannon says:

    We are homeschooling with sensitive children related to sensory processing issues. Thank goodness we are homeschooling! The difference it makes when we do all of the same things you are doing is monumental. I feel like you were reporting on our family in this article. Thanks for sharing your experiences, it is nice to know there are others going through what we are going through too.

  2. We have a very social, sensitive child too. Glad she’s not the only one with both traits! This is one of my favorite reasons for homeschooling…we can tailor things to all of our specific needs. I can’t imagine the overload and meltdowns that would ensue from a more traditional educational environment. A strong rhythm to our days has definitely helped the most.
    Steph’s latest post: My Kids Wrecked Me

  3. Yup, got one of those too.
    Sounds are a real trigger, especially sounds that are unexpected (dog barking, baby crying, ballons that just might pop at any second!!) This was much worse before Simplicity Parenting came into our lives as well, but age has also helped.
    Great post!
    PS Just wanted to let you know all my comments are on “moderation” status here. Wondering if that can be changed before I need to moderate comments again. And you can delete this part of the comment! LOL Thanks Kara!!
    sheila’s latest post: Links and Other Thinks: July 2014

    • Yes. Age makes a huge difference — not just maturity, but over time, I feel like I’ve learned a lot, like that fireworks from a little farther away are just as pretty 🙂
      Kara’s latest post: Live your season.

  4. This is a great post. We have to have recovery days after a long tiring day. My friends don’t seem to get that, but we need it.

  5. It sounds like you are describing my son! Like you I have a social but sensitive boy and I have to manage our schedule carefully so that I don’t become overwhelmed too. I think it’s taught me to honour what my son is experiencing and to work on strategies to encourage his confidence; I think that is the key to overcoming the anxiety that seems to go hand in hand with sensitivity. I’ve been so grateful for homeschooling and the community we’ve built around us, where my son is popular, loved and always welcome.

    • Absolutely. When we aren’t able to honor that sensitivity, it creates so much worry and anxiety. I think it’s so important to tell our sensitive kids that it’s OK to feel the way they do 🙂
      Kara’s latest post: Live your season.

  6. Good Morning! Great article, it’s wonderful to learn about this stuff before we start homeschooling 🙂
    I’m just curious though, the way you describe your sensitive child, (which I think is a great term by the way) it sounds suspiciously like your child may fall somewhere on the Austism spectrum. Have you had your kiddo tested? There are tons of GREAT therapy options out there for children on the spectrum that help them cope better with life in general. They also work with the parents so that you can work on these strategies at home or when you are out and about. One of my friends has been doing this with her son, who will be five this year and I’ve seen such a vast improvement in him over the last six months, let alone the last year and a half since he was diagnosed. I’m not trying to be nosey or bossy or anything of the sort, your description of your child just really stood out to me as potentially being on the spectrum. 🙂 All of you moms who have commented, too! ASD is not the end of the world, I promise, and there are so many places your child can fall on the spectrum. Getting the right diagnosis and right therapies are SO important. 🙂

    • There is such a thing as highly sensitive children/adults. Look it up. Not everyone different is on the spectrum.

      • I agree, totally. I think the world is too quick today to need a label (ADD, ADHD, etc.). I do not disagree that all of these exist along with Autism, etc. but too many are too quick to jump to that instead of taking a bit of time to get to know their child(ren), to see if it really is something deeper going on or is the child just a bit ‘different’. As with Nina, not everyone that’s “different” (if you will) has some sort of disorder…

  7. Kristina Yang says:

    Wow, this is so me and one of my daughters. Along with meeting Kim John Payne and yes reading his “Simplicity Parenting” a couple years ago. I think I need to revisit his book, so thank you for the reminder. Getting caught in the day to day mundane can become overwhelming and I forget sometimes to handle this before it’s right in my face, which is not fun. My daughter is eight and yes knowing what’s happening during the day is what helps her function smoothly through the day. I’ve found that just continuously discussing her ways with her helps her calm down along with getting her to use a breathing technique(which she fought me on for awhile, until she realized it worked). She overwhelms herself with all that she wants to do during the day, so when I see she’s creating the impossible I recently discussed possibly writing down all that she wants to do and we can decide what’s physically possible along with her chores and the happenings of the day. I do have to remind her regularly that she cannot possibly do everything. We continue to clean out the clutter that the kids like to hold on too(me too)and yes they always feel better physically and mentally when we do this. We also pick one day a week to stay home all day, however this doesn’t always work, but it’s a work in progress. We continue to work on these things and I hope to continually improve and make life easier for all of us. Reading this article helps me see this as a main priority instead of just one issue. By reading this, it reminds me I need to start with the Simplicity and base everything around it. Thank you so much.

  8. Virginia says:

    Lovely article! Resources that have helped us with our sensitive boys are Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person books/website, and reading about gifted children and the concept of “overexcitabilities” as discussed in the book “Living with Intensity”. Looking forward to checking out Simplicity Parenting.

  9. Lisa Bellot says:

    Thank you so much for this! This is my son to a Tee! He has always been very sensitive… To noise, smells, atmospheres… You name it! I have tried different things to help us “function” better with his sensitivities (such as food smells making him puke…no joke!) But I have struggled with solutions for homeschool. Infact, I’ve been researching new curriculum, thinking of different ways to organize our schoolroom, and trying to incorporate more fun stuff into our day. My son says he hates school 🙁 And although I know a lot of kids say this, it breaks my heart. So… Thanks for sharing this info for sensitive kids! I will be incorporating these tactics and see what works best for us! 🙂

  10. I loved this! We’re homeschooling kindred spirits! So much of what you say here is what works for us. I just go with my gut and this is where we’ve landed. It’s nice to know it’s not “just us,” and confirms to me that we’re on the right track. Thank you! And I’ll have to get that book!

    • Not at all. I think there are a lot of kids and adults out there who are just a little sensitive, but our world isn’t set up for that. (I’m thinking Disney World isn’t either! 😉 ) I second going with your gut, and knowing your child and what works in your home!
      Kara’s latest post: Live your season.

  11. Great article, Kara! I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. My kids, scratch that, my entire family!, can be of the sensitive sorts. Of course, when I utilize my coping mechanisms first everyone else seem to do much better too. For me, that is sleep and food (oh how often I find myself overly sensitive to every little thing, only to realize all I’ve had to eat all day was some bites of my kids mac n cheese!). An overbooked schedule and a house full of clutter do not help, as well as too much screen time. I loved Payne’s book, and you have reminded me to re-read it!
    Amy’s latest post: 3 Ways I Inspire Learning in OurUnschoolhouse

    • Hi Amy!
      That is so true! Being a sensitive mom is tricky, but I think it also sets us up to be extra understanding of the sensitive who we care for 🙂 (And yes to a few bites of mac and cheese! Been there!!)
      Kara’s latest post: Live your season.

  12. Oh yes. And i’m off to check your posts you linked to as well. We have found this to a tricky thing to navigate. Some just don’t understand why we don’t do day after day of activities. We HAVE to have down days or it is absolutely nuts here. I’m so glad others share this experience as well. We also have structure to our days, but I’m looking at how to implement more of a weekly rhythm. Any books you recommend on that topic?
    Johanna’s latest post: On a change of perspective {life as a pedestrian family}

    • Oh man — the looks we have gotten when we’ve turned down events in favor of down days … it’s tough. I love Mitten Strings for God just as a reminder of the POWER of rhythm. Heaven on Earth is another good one. 🙂
      Kara’s latest post: Live your season.

  13. This post really resonated with me. I will start homeschooling my pre-school-aged daughter starting in the fall and she can be described as sensitive (along with social, loving, creative, and fun). One of the things we’ve noticed with her is that transitions can be hard for her, so we make sure to let her know our plans before switching it up on her. Sounds are another trigger, and loud misting fans are her arch-nemesis! We try and keep our home clutter-light and we also implement slower days after days when we’ve been in noisy/busy/bright places. It definitely helps bring us all back down to a state of calm. And I agree with your recommendation of Simplicity Parenting. I read it about a year ago and took so much valuable information away from it. Thanks so much for a great post!

    • Yes Kelly! And it sounds like she was born to a wise and caring mama 🙂 I love how you describe her – yes our kids are sensitive, but they are also so many other things! But those transitions are tricky, aren’t they? Only more recently have I come to see the kind of focus that makes transitions tough as really positive, except of course when I really, really need the table back so we can eat! 😉
      Kara’s latest post: Live your season.

  14. Charlotte Quevedo says:

    My son has severe autism. I do not attempt to avoid the label because it is no mystery. Anyone can tell immediately and without such dx I would not be getting help.

    But anyhow my son is also very over the top about things and I have had to focus on what is most important. While I certainly strive for academics daily, my son will never go anywhere in life without first learning emotional regulation. If I need to spend an hour restraining him from self injury he will probably benefit from that far more than learning how to read. Some things we just cannot do with him and focusing on it will just depress us even more. Instead I am trying to build up a list of things that we can do. Unfortunately that excludes us from the homeschool groups significantly.

  15. Yes yes yes! I finally need to post a comment and say, Kara, how much your posts always resonate so much with me. I have a sensitive child too. Two, in fact, but in such very different ways. I was already on the path when Simplicity Parenting was published, but only because I was on a Waldorf journey and had already gratefully soaked up Raising Your Spirited Child, which, while quite different, shares a similar mindset. As I plan for this coming school year, I have been revisiting and considering the sensitivities and what they mean for me and my need to say “no” to people and activities when I want to shout “yes.” A very timely post!

  16. We have one of those too and are constantly declining to do things “kids like.” Ours has sensory input disorder, aka he’s sensitive, and he gets terrified if anyone even suggests doing school. Little does he know that we do “school” every day! haha
    Kierstin’s latest post: Obsessing Over Turning 18

  17. I highly recommend the book The Sensitive Child. My daughter and I are both HSP and also a sensory seeker which means we are constantly trying to balance needing stimulation and being overwhelmed by it. We also absorb others’ emotions which can be hard if two people are the same. My non-HSP offers a buffer which I am grateful. Also, I’ve learned to make being present and calm a priority which tend to reflect on my daughter. Over time we have learned to work with each other. We try to avoid excessively negative people and find ways to laugh often. That helps to make our days go smoothly, plus a lot of down time.

    There is an overlap with autism and high sensitivity such as sensory overload but there are differences that leads me to think we are not on the spectrum. My friend who has autism believes that perhaps, autism may be on the extreme end of the sensory continuum. In which case, we would fall under highly functual variety.

    There is also an overlap of giftedness with “overexcitabilities”. It might help to get tested. The Mislabeled Child book has help me sort out the differences.

    When our daughter was younger, we worked on self-regulation and communicating our needs appropriately which has helped in all aspects of our lives. Great sensitivity in senses may also bring great perceptiveness and thoughtfulness which are a blessing.

  18. Sorry for the typo….the book is called The Highly Sensitive Child.

  19. i SO appreciate your comments on sensitivity! i have two sons who are quite sensitive, and a third who is very sensitive and overly social! our problem is he can only handle social for so long and then he is DONE! i love Simplicity Parenting, but has anyone else had this problem…my oldest is very sensitive, but craves new and exciting daily. i know that sounds like it doesnt go together, but it does. he can only take so much of people and crowds and friends, but absolutely falls apart with the simple life at home…wants action and adventure! does anyone know of any good books, or suggestions for this type?

    • Hi lolo! Something we’ve been doing this summer is planning a weekly adventure day into our rhythm — my kids know what day that will be, and we talk the night before about what to bring (a sweater, certain footwear, books for a long drive, etc.). Some of the adventures are bigger than others, (many are free!) but it’s something new every week, and yet fits into a predictable rhythm. Do you think your son might enjoy something similar?
      Kara’s latest post: Navigating homeschooling with a sensitive child

  20. Terrific post! We have a sensitive kiddo too. This past year we focused more on emotional education than actual education-or at least it felt that way many days. 🙂 I love Simplicity Parenting as well as Discipline without Distress. Those two books changed our lives for the better in so many ways.
    We feel we are very lucky for the opportunity to homeschool so that our child can have a positive schooling experience that is not only focusing on his intellectual education but also on his emotion and physical education too!
    Sharon’s latest post: 6th Grade Plans

  21. You’ve just described my entire family. This post hit home. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been fighting and forcing us along the path we are “supposed” to be on and it’s just not working for anyone. It’s time to honor who we are and treat it properly in order for all of us to flourish together.
    Mel’s latest post: on defending your parenting choices

  22. I have a highly sensitive daughter as well. She’ll be eight in September and we’ve made many of the changes you listed. It helps that I am also highly sensitive so I can understand and relate to her. This is becoming especially helpful as she gets older and we can have actual conversations about emotions, etc. 🙂

    I have a resources page on my blog about parenting highly sensitive children. I’m not sure if it is appropriate to link to it here, but people are welcome to stop by and check it out. 🙂
    Sallie Borrink’s latest post: Relax and Plan More Fun to Re-Energize Your Homeschool

  23. Sensitive me. says:

    I was one of these children. Thanks so much for wrinting this. I am so thankful that 40 years ago and not able to homeschool in my country, my parents had the sense that something about my brother ans I was different. They did have many of these tips applied for us. My children do not have sensitivities at the level I had at their age, but my experience have tought me to observe them closely and read, by their reactions, what is wrong. For our family all these tips have worked so well, thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

  24. HI Kara…
    Someone posted your link on a sensory homeschool group and so glad they did! This was such a great post that I can related to as a sensitive mom with a sensitive daughter (10 yrs.). I am going to look into that book you recommended.

    I find it helps if my daughter knows what to expect for the day but we are not so rigid either. If she wants to spend more time doing spelling than another subject that day, we go with it. If she needs frequent *breaks* from writing to complete an assignment, I allow them. I let her help choose what field trips we will attend.

    She is definitely a sponge…I can so relate to that!

    Thanks for sharing.
    Theresa’s latest post: Reflections on silence

  25. Great article. I recognize most of the sensitive traits you and your commenters described from HSing my son. Like you, I had many “before and after” moments when I realized something wasn’t working and did my best to adjust life for the better. Things improved with practice and age, yes. I have to say, however, that at some point (G7-8 for us), the solutions are no longer “simple,” or even apparent. Think high school, when you no longer have the flexibility you once had. There is a tension, now, between accommodating the sensitive learning style and preparing my son for life in the real world beyond his accommodating home environment. No days off to unwind now, as the demands of high school often have us working weekends to finish projects my still-sensitive son could not face or did not prioritize or found too frustrating. It gets harder, trust me, when the “simpler” solutions from the early days are not — for us — the answer to more complex demands and content. When cognitive awareness catches up, and sensitive kids begin to bring an adult-like sensibility to knowing who and what they are, the answer is not always to accommodate, but often to accept, adjust, and just accomplish through the pain. So I often feel, when I read blogs from Moms with young sensitive kids, that they have no idea what is to come. HSing lets you take what you need and leave the rest, but eventually, your child no longer has that freedom. When the real world calls, and they must answer, it will be time for coping skills that are not always tolerated or enjoyed. The transition from sensitive “kiddo” to sensitive YA is perhaps made even harder when you know what you are dealing with. It’s not all hard, don’t get me wrong, but when the romance of solutions from the younger years is over, the full weight of the real world can push back pretty hard.

  26. Noelle B says:

    Thank you for this!

  27. Can I ask where you get your relaxation techniques from? My 6 yo could really use some of those 🙂

  28. Thank you for sharing. I also want to thank you for being specific about not being ‘officially labeled’ or labeling, which is such a big thing these days. I HS (newly) a sensitive child (who neither I nor the pro’s think has a diagnosable issue…. even though well-meaning ‘friends’ sometimes want to provide their, ermh, input) who is a very hard worker but I think she was constantly emotionally overwhelmed at school. She is very introverted, and much more sensitive than I realized before starting to HS. It is fascinating how much better I am getting to know her. I am so VERY guilty of The Rush. I always squeeze too much into the day, and then have to rush everyone at the last minute. Not such a good plan, but as she settled into the more relaxed pace of HSing, it is interesting that she now has much more resilience to the occasional ‘mad dash’ and can handle it better than before!
    Thanks for this post, it’s nice to learn of others with ‘special’ children.

  29. I don’t think its necessarily a sensitivity thing, but more so a human thing. Humans were designed to get rest when we need it. If we don’t make time to rest when we are tired we start to break down physically and emotionally…even as adults. On average, the way we live life in the western world is totally unnatural. Lots of noise and day after day of long work periods and spending an entire day in a cubicle with only a lunch break. This is simply not natural for our biology. I know many adults who suffer from adrenal fatigue, and thyroid issues which can be caused in part by prolonged stress brought on by too much busyness for prolonged periods. I hope we can all learn to slow down a bit and get the rest and stillness which is essential to our well being.

  30. I’m currently reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It sounds like you may have children who are just “more”. Sensitivity is one of the factors of temperament that’s looked at, as well as introvert/extrovert and how to energize your child. It’s a great read so far, I highly suggest it!

  31. i think theres a deep, powerful and underlying importance here. our kids come from the future. life as it has become in 2016, loud, fast, toxic, sometimes disingenuine, is intolerable to many of us and many many more of our children.
    their behaviors are forcing us to slow down, prioritize rest, breath, calm and connection which are all so healing.
    by following their lead, honoring their uniqueness and listening deeply to them, i feel the solutions we so desperately need will arise. thanks for owning the label “sensitive.” i think its very important to gather around this idea.

  32. Donita Hammond says:

    I happened about this older post, but so glad I found it. This so describes my daughter and I need the reminder that this is her nature and I need to be aware of it. I am also sensitive, but in a more introverted way than my daughter. So, while I understand some of her anxiety and sensitivities, other things I need to be reminded of. I am going to check out the Simplicity Parenting book now.

  33. I am quite new to this homeschool thing but chose to homeschool for, well, about a million reasons… one being my sensitive child. He might want a brick and mortar school experience someday, but we both agreed to homeschool this year, his kindergarten year. I’m still mastering “structure” and flailing about, but at least telling him “today we will do x,y,z” helps us both. We take frequent breaks, as in, ten minutes of “school”, ten minutes or more of break. When frustration hits, I talk calmly and expect him to do just one more sight word or whatever, letting him know he is about t his limit but pushing, gently, one more thing, talking him through it. Hugs and cuddling help as do really cray active things like jumping and screaming out a math fact or what have you, as he can get very active and aggressive almost, so I use it constructively before it “blows up”. For now, my sensitive child would not do well in a classroom. I can read his signals and push his boundaries but not to much, and provide love, protection, etc.

  34. What a great article! I find it very relevant to the needs of our homeschooling family. Can you please share some of your relaxation techniques?

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