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Homeschooling an ADHD Child

My youngest son, who is almost fourteen, lives with ADHD. When I began my homeschool journey in 2008  he was only two and I had no idea that I’d be homeschooling an ADHD child someday. While it’s been a challenging experience I have no regrets about homeschooling him.

Through the years I’ve developed several practical solutions to common ADHD homeschooling obstacles. I wish I’d employed these tips before I lost my temper one day after my son spent twenty minutes distracting and interrupting me and my older two sons during a homeschool lesson. Unfortunately, I was overly harsh with him as I sent him to his room so we could continue the lesson.

When my older two sons agreed that my reaction was over the top and hurtful I knew I had find a better way to homeschool my son before his spirit was broken. I immediately begin to change the way I homeschooled him and right away homeschooling him became smoother.

Before I tell you my best ADHD homeschooling tips I want to encourage you to give yourself and your child grace on the difficult days. It’s okay to take a break from homeschooling when your child’s symptoms make it more difficult to homeschool.

Some days your child’s symptoms may be worse due to the weather, diet, illness, emotional struggles, etc. On those days provide him or her with comfort and reassurance, take things slowly, or take a sick day from school and try again the next day.

Remember, keep relationship at the forefront of your interactions with your child and the rest (yes, even learning) will fall into place.

This is a long, but useful article. Be sure to pin it for later if you can’t read it all now or want to save the tips for future reference.

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Ten Practical Tips for Homeschooling an ADHD Child

Give Your Child Choices

Whenever possible let your ADHD child make choices about his or her education. This empowers them to be an active participant in their own learning.

Here are some of the choices I let my ADHD son make about homeschooling.

What time to start homeschooling

My son likes to get up and within ten minutes or so start homeschooling. This time works for us both. However, if your child picks a time that doesn’t work for you use the opportunity to teach them about compromise.

Where to homeschool

I let my son decide if we’ll homeschool in the living room or at the dining room table. He decides which chair he’ll sit in. When the weather is nice we homeschool at the patio table if he wants.

Which subject to tackle first

If he wants my son can choose which subject to start with. Most days he doesn’t care what we start with and feels better keeping to the established routine, but when he expresses a preference we go with it.

Write a Daily Schedule

One of the best things I’ve done to help my ADHD child stay on track with homeschooling and the rest of his responsibilities each day is to create a daily schedule and post it to the fridge.

Now, I prefer to follow a routine or a block schedule, but writing down specific times for my son to accomplish specific responsibilities helps him to stay on track all day.

See, poor executive function causes those with ADHD to struggle with staying on task. Because my son can’t rely on his internal feeling of how much time has passed or remember which tasks to do next putting his day into writing helps him move from task to task with less stress and better direction.

Don’t Try to Replicate School at Home

One of the reasons why we homeschool is that I don’t believe a traditional school setting creates an ideal learning environment for my boys. In the beginning I tried to replicate a school-at-home situation because I didn’t know anything else. I hadn’t yet embraced the freedom of homeschooling, which allows a family so much more time to learn together outside of a busy-work-filled school day.

Public school is set up for a classroom situation where one adult manages the education of twenty (or more) students. The day must be carefully organized to meet the needs of many children at once. Unless you have that many children all of homeschooling age or enjoying playing the role of school teacher (no judgement here – many moms DO enjoy and embrace the role) you have some flexibility in how you teach your children. Use that flexibility to help your ADHD child meet their learning potential.

For my family that looks like a four-day school week,  year round homeschooling, and focusing on different subjects each semester.

Work One on One With Your Child

I’m sad to say that I didn’t discover quickly enough the benefits of homeschooling my adhd child one-on-one instead of homeschooling in a group setting with his brothers.

In fact, if you looked at our daily homeschool schedule from several years ago you’d see that I homeschooled my boys together on most every subject. This allowed my younger two sons to be ahead of grade level and makes their schooling as teens easier, but it was tough for my ADHD son to focus. (Hence the aforementioned blow-up from me when I became angered by his constant interruptions and distractions.)

I wish I had been less concerned in the beginning in saving time by homeschooling my children together. As it turned out, we didn’t save much time because I was always stopping to refocus my ADHD son. When I made the change to homeschooling him alone things moved faster for both him and my other two sons. Lesson learned the hard way!

Keep It Moving

I homeschool with my sons for about an hour each day. They each have some work to do after I finish my part, but I try to keep the total structured homeschool time under an hour and half each day for each child. (We do some unschooling/interest-led learning that occurs outside of that time.)

I set a goal of spending no more than twenty minutes per subject. I plan the semester to accommodate spending a short amount of time on each subject.

This keeps our homeschool session moving along without much a chance for my son to become bored with any of the subjects.

Keep it Short and Simple

When I’m actively teaching my ADHD son, he can listen to my words for about three minutes before his mind drifts off. I like to keep him engaged by making lessons short and simple with plenty of opportunity for him to repeat back to me what I’ve just said.

For example, a lesson about common and proper nouns might go like this:

Me: We’re talking about common and proper nouns today. A common noun names a general person, place, or thing. What does a common noun name?

Him: A general person, place or thing.

Me: Good! A proper noun names a specific person, place, or thing. What does a proper noun name?

Him: A specific person, place, or thing.

Me: Awesome. Hey, look at these common and proper nouns. What makes them different from each other?

Him: Um . . . these don’t have a capital letter and those do.

Me: Yes! Proper nouns are capitalized. Great job.

Instead of giving him three bits of info at once (common nouns name ___, proper nouns name ___, and proper nouns are always capitalized) I break up the info into tiny bites, have him repeat it back to me, and give him a chance to learn something about the lesson with his own eyes. He retains the information better if he has a part in discovering it for himself.

Keeping lessons short and simple results in my son being more engaged, less distracted, and retaining more knowledge.

Don’t Give More Than Two Instructions at a Time

Recently my son received a package in the mail. He tore it open by the front door leaving a cardboard box, plastic package fillers, and the item’s packaging right where they landed. Before he could race off to use his new gadget I asked him to clean up the area.

Me: (absentmindedly as I opened my own package) Hey bud, take the label off that box, break down the box, and put in the recycling bin, please. Oh, and let the air out of those plastic bubbles. Are they recyclable? Nevermind, I’ll check in a minute. Hey, don’t forget to throw away that packaging, too.

Him: Okay.

I left to put away the household item I’d received and came back a few minutes later to find the cardboard box broken down, but still laying in the entryway and the plastic package fillers missing. My son was gone, too. I found him outside with his new possession.

Me: Hey! You didn’t finish cleaning up, man. What happened?

Him: I broke down the box and threw away the plastic like you said!

Me: You’re right. Good job on those, but there’s more to be done. Come on, let’s finish the job.

This scenario was totally my fault because I already know that giving my son more than two verbal instructions at a time will result in his completion of about two things.

When giving your ADHD child instructions for a homeschooling assignment give no more than two instructions to be completed at once. Yes, this means you’ll need to be more present, available, and hands-on. That’s just the way it is, baby.

Let Your Child Move

Please let your ADHD child engage in some type of movement when they’re learning. It can really help your child to focus on the task at hand when they’re allowed to move their body. Sometimes the movements might be small fidgets, other times your child may need big muscle movement or rhythmic movement to stay engaged with the lesson.

When we homeschool, my son chooses to sit in a swiveling desk chair no matter which room we homeschool in. That way he can swivel and rock and thus pay better attention to the lesson.

He often gets up to stretch during a lesson, as well.

I can’t sing the praises of fidget toys loudly enough.

Here are some of our favorite fidget toys from his preschool days through his teen years:

Prepare to Redirect Back Constantly

A snippet of a typical homeschool lesson with my son might sound like this:

Me: Ok, now look at the first sentence. Do you see any proper nouns that should be capitalized, but aren’t?

Him: Yes, Yellowstone National Park should have capital letters. I don’t think I want that punching bag for my birthday. I think I want . . .

Me: Ok. We’ll talk about that after school. Go ahead and use the proofreading marks for capitalization on Yellowstone National Park.

Him: (proceeds to apply proofreading marks on two of the words and then looks up and straight at our cat) Look at Titan!  He looks like a loaf of bread in that basket. He’s so fluffy!

Me: He’s a cutie! Finish adding the proofreading marks so we can move to the next sentence.

Him: (drops his pencil) Oops! (flips his pencil in the air while trying to pick it up) Hee!

Me: (matter-of-factly) Okay, use your pencil to add that last proofreading mark. Yep, there ya go. Good job! Ok, let’s look at the next sentence.

Rinse and repeat.

My best tip for dealing with the amount of redirection you’ll do while homeschooling your adhd child is to expect it, handle it without drama, and don’t get sucked into the distractions yourself.

Follow Their Interests

Even though we homeschool some subjects (language arts and math, for example) in the traditional way, we’ve used unschooling, or interest-led learning, for other subjects (such as history, science, and most recently foreign language).

My son describes things he likes to do (playing drums or guitar, soccer, video games) as having color while things he has to do that he doesn’t enjoy are black and grey (chores, language arts, math). When my son is engaged in a “color activity” he can focus intensely for hours at a time, while “grey” activities require a tremendous effort from him just to show up.

One way around this common ADHD homeschooling obstacle is to follow your child’s interests on as many subjects as possible. My son loves to know how things work so we unschool a lot of science. I never found cursive to be important to teach my children, but my son was interested in learning, so I teach it as an art. He asked to learn a foreign language, so we use Duolingo.

My son has a desire to learn that I don’t want to squelch. Being forced to learn things that don’t interest you can really dampen your drive to learn. Go with your child’s natural interests for as many subjects as possible and keep the spark alive.

Resources for Homeschooling a Child With ADHD

Online Homeschooling Resources – We’ve always had success with computer-based learning. The graphics kept my son engaged better than traditional workbooks when he was a tween.

This journal and this book on mindful parenting ADHD are helpful resources as well.

The Hyper-Active Homeschool Journal: For Kids with ADHD - Ages 7 to 14

Mindful Parenting for ADHD: A Guide to Cultivating Calm, Reducing Stress, and Helping Children Thrive (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

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