I'm a mom of four special needs children, even though three aren't kids anymore: they've moved out, gotten married, off the payroll. But three of those children have ADHD, and the youngest, who is 13 now, is blessed (insert sigh) with a good dose of ADHD, too. Suffice it to say that I know my way around ADHD. Here are 13 tips from a seasoned mom of kids with ADHD on how to homeschool a child with attention deficit disorders.
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When homeschooling, the temptation is to sit at the dining room table or in your homeschool room and make the kids sit for all subjects (insert laugh track here). Children with ADHD have to fidget, squirm, move--it's how they process information. If they don't, or aren't allowed to fidget, that's when problems occur and they act out.
There are many ways you can allow fidgeting. Bouncing legs, playing with fidget spinners and other fidgeting toys, wiggle seats, tapping fingers on the table...all are tools kids with ADHD use to help them process information and deal with the myriad of thoughts parading through their minds.
In a similar vein, movement helps kids with ADHD to absorb information. It goes against everything we know as parents, but allowing your child to do jumping jacks or bounce on a trampoline while saying his spelling words really does help. Don't have an outdoor trampoline? This small indoor one will help your child get that sensory movement they crave, while doing schoolwork. I've even told my child to run around the house between subjects to get some gross motor skills in with the movement. If you have a swingset outside, allow "recess" to happen between subjects to get out those wiggles. You could also walk with your child around the neighborhood between subjects to get in some movement--and maybe have a conversation about what he or she just studied as added reinforcement.
Ear Plugs or Headphones
Kids with ADHD often have sensory issues, too, and are heavily distracted by the world around them. You can minimize these distractions through playing soft instrumental music during your homeschool time, silencing your phone or turning it off altogether, hanging a sign on your door that says "Homeschooling in Progress; Please Don't Interrupt," and using noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs. Make a peaceful environment in your home during school hours.
Use a Timer
Using a timer was a game changer with my kids. When I'd give them a set time, using either a manual timer or the timer on the stove, it was a huge incentive for them to beat that time. The kicker is, if I used the timer as a motivating force for them to do math or any other subject, the answers to the questions had to be right. They just couldn't fly through it; questions had to be answered correctly. Using a timer wasn't just for schoolwork, though; I used it in chores, such as cleaning the kitchen, or anything that they would typically dawdle in.
Make a To-Do List
Making a to-do list for each child is imperative. Whether it's for homeschool, chores, or anything else, a to-do list helps the child keep track of what they need to be doing. My daughter will be using this amazing planner from Not Consumed for middle school homeschoolers. They have planners for elementary and high school students, too (and moms!).
Be Very Specific in Instructions
With my kids, I found that I needed to be very specific in giving instructions and in what I expected of them. For example, "clean the kitchen" was too broad and overwhelming, but "unload the dishwasher" and "sweep the floor" were more concrete requests. I don't know about you, but I just find it less of a hassle to load the dishwasher myself, or stand there and direct how to do it. In schoolwork, with my daughter who has ADHD, I tell her (then she writes it in her planner) what she is to accomplish the next day, including the page number range she is to read in certain subjects like history and science, questions she needs to answer, and words she needs to define. Just saying "do your math," leads to a lot of frustration to child and parent alike. When she is cleaning her room, I get her to write down what she needs to do: "pick up trash, put laundry in hamper, make bed." Then she can cross off the items as she does them.
One thing I did when my kids were younger was write down a chore on a craft stick using a thin permanent marker, such as "unload dishwasher," "sweep living room," "scoop the cat boxes," "wipe dining table," etc. Then each morning they'd choose a chore stick or three to do that day. This doesn't work so much when you have just one child at home, poor girl, but when I had all four at home, it worked well.
One thing that has helped is to label things, especially when you small children such as preschoolers or early elementary. Label toy bins for specific toys so your kids won't get overwhelmed putting things away (we'll talk about bedtime routines below). Label homeschooling bins with the appropriate supplies so people can find things and put things away.
Help Your Child Study
Sit beside your child as he's doing his schoolwork. If you work from home, work beside him with your laptop. Often just your presence there will help minimize distractions and keep him on track. Plus you can easily help him if he gets stuck. Often, reading the text to your child will help her absorb the material better than reading it on her own.
Utilize Flash Cards
Utilize flash cards for review, such as math facts or states. Have your child use index cards and make their own flash cards for facts they need to know, such as their spelling words or history facts.
Instead of flying off the handle and giving attention to the naughty things your child does, reward compliance when they do something good. Often, my children would misbehave because they'd get more attention when they misbehaved. When I figured this out, I changed the way I was doing things and spent a lot of quality one-on-one time with each of them. I'd take one out for ice cream or something and spend time talking with him or her (with the child, not at the child). I found that when I did this, behaviors that ran contrary to what we wanted diminished. For little kids, stickers on chore charts go a long way.
Set a Bedtime Routine
Have a set bedtime routine and time for each child. Turn the television off and wind the whole family down. Have a fifteen minute pickup where children put toys and books away, you get ready for the next day's homeschool day, even to the point of laying clothes out. Showers or baths, storytime, reading the Bible--whatever helps your family wind down and prepare for a good night's sleep. The key is routine. Kids with ADHD thrive on routine and structure. Give them that, and negative behaviors will slowly disappear.
Outdoor Free Play
It is crucial to give your kids with ADHD outside free play, where they can run and shout and explore. If you have a fenced-in yard, that is ideal; if not, plant yourself on a chair with shade and a cold drink, and watch them play. Engage yourself in their play and build those relationships apart from textbooks and worksheets.
Kids grow up so fast -- even kids with ADHD. Those moments are fleeting. As I type this, I look up at a picture I took of my two boys when the oldest was five and the youngest was two. Now, they're 28 and 25 -- and the 25-year-old is married. It seems like just yesterday I snapped that picture on a playground, the oldest holding a stick and the youngest holding his brother's hand. Even though you have a child with ADHD, don't allow ADHD to take away from the joy that is rearing children.
(C) 2023 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Terrie Bentley McKee is an author and speaker who homeschools her youngest daughter. Married to her husband Greg, they have four children, all of whom have special needs of varying degrees. Terrie is a follower of Jesus Christ and tries to glorify God in all she does. To read more about her testimony, click here.
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