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The pencil tapping. The tock clicking. The faucet dripping. On a small scale, all these sounds seem trivial. But to an ADHD brain these sounds amplify the constant white noise of their brain.
When ADHD children begin to struggle with the classroom structure, many parents turn to homeschooling for an alternative. But how do you homeschool to non-traditional student? Beyond simply being that Homeschool itself is non-traditional, ADHD brains are hardwired to move, bounce and shake. How do we, as parents help our kids reign in that energy long enough to learn new concepts and new material? How do we help them self discipline for virtual learning?
1. Teach and Utilize the Time Blocking Strategy
Time blocking is when you get truly intentional with your time. Instead of your schedule only being filled in with your random and rare appointments and reminders. It is filled with your schedule for each hour of the day. Here is a video that explains it well.
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With time blocking, it doesn’t have to become a new assignment (although it can). It can be a simple matter of setting your intention at the beginning of your home school day. Over breakfast, have your child take out a notepad and write down the home school schedule. The trick is to break up the hard stuff with fun stuff. And to keep the hard stuff short. If reading is not your ADHD child’s strong suit, break up reading into 3 separate 20 minute sets of reading. The great thing about home school? You can take as many breaks as needed to help maintain a sufficient level of focus.
2. Utilize Physical Activity
When you “take a break” from academics, have your child do something that moves their bodies. Exercise releases dopamine to the brain and can aid in ability to focus. We have a trampoline in our basement and when in doubt, I say jump it out. Movement helps so much. If the weather is decent, send your child outside to ride their bike or shoot hoops. Even a jump rope or a hula hoop can be a great physical activity to activate parts of the brain that want to fall asleep for ADHD kids.
3. Allow them to work wherever they feel most comfortable
This little trick is taken directly from my awesome friend Joann in her book Drama Free Homework! (Her AWESOME Course Homework 911, isn’t for sale right now but click the image below to get on the list to find out when it opens!)
In her combined experience as a teacher and a work from home mom, she draws on a few simple tricks to help your child maintain focus, and become more self-reliant when it comes to homework. Luckily for us, these tricks transfer seamlessly into a home schooling atmosphere. Instead of requiring that your child sit at the table, at a desk or anything of the sort, ask them where they feel they can focus best. The back porch in the sunshine? The living room rug with the TV off? Their reading nook in their room? Any of these places can help them relax and allow them to feel that their home school work is their elected activity. Not forced upon them. I’m not sure about you, but I am much more productive as an ADHD adult when I feel I am choosing to do something rather than being required to do it. Does that make sense? No, not really. But it’s true.
4. Get some Fidgets to help your ADHD child Focus for Home school
Your home is their classroom now. What may have previously been a distraction to other children in school, can now be a valuable asset. And the sky is the limit on which ones to use! With no class mates there to judge your child or give them strange looks if they want a chewing fidget, go crazy! Quiet fidgets are, in my opinion, the best ones. The ones that your child can move and utilize without distracting themselves. You can find some good recommendations below:
5. Schedule their schooling time around their brain, not their brain around their schooling time
One of the biggest perks of Home school is the freedom of your schedule. If your child doesn’t function best until after 10 am, then don’t schedule school before 10 am. I know that seems like common sense, but for many it’s not. Some may see the freedom of time as the opportunity to get everything done and over with before noon. For kids with ADHD that may not be feasible. That’s totally okay! Is your child a night owl? Let them work on their ‘Homework’ just before bed (reading does help to induce sleep). While it may seem like allowing your child to schedule school to be done when they ‘feel up for it’ is lacking self discipline, it’s quite the opposite. By helping your child to know themselves and how they operate best you teach them how to self manage their responsibilities in the future. Instead of trying to fit into a box, your child will learn to create their own box by teaching them how to maximize their most productive hours. A great characteristic of work ethic as an adult.
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6. Create or Use Lessons that use all the senses (or at least more than one)
Smell is the sense strongest tied to memory. If you can find creative ways to include more than just one sense into the lessons, an ADHDer is more likely to remember what you are teaching. You can watch an incredible Tedx Talk about memory below. Think of word association. My kids love singing the name game. Committing things to memory is part of education. If they have to learn new algebra formulas, let them write it on their clothing. I know that seems ludicrous but it works. Putting things they need to remember in places they see often and will read often can help their working memory push the items to long term memory.
When it was time for me as a teenager to memorize my Social Security number, I wrote in on my mirror in dry erase. While I don’t recommend this tactic for personally identifying information these days, I can attest to the fact that I memorized my social security number in record time. Within a week I could recite it very easily and could pull it up in my visual memory bank staring at it on my mirror like a photograph.
7. Take Your Child’s Lead but Keep hard boundaries on Screen time
One of the hardest things to do as an ADHD parent is find a good middle ground somewhere between free-range parent and helicopter parent. While ADHD kids thrive with accountability, the ultimate goal is for them to be accountable to themselves. If your child says they cannot focus right now to get their work done, making them trudge through it begrudgingly is going to make for a cranky unfocused student, and an extremely frustrated parent. Instead lean into this moment and give them options but keep up your boundaries.
Phrases like “OK, I understand. But Video games are not an option if you need a break. Why don’t we go for a bike ride and see if afterwards we can focus?” Or “I hear your struggle, what do you think would help you focus?” or “I get it, do you think you could work for just 10 minutes and revisit this after you play outside/with your sibling/with legos for an hour?” Don’t allow their struggle to focus as an excuse to give them more screen time. Screen time with ADHD kids will only make it that much harder for them to return to schoolwork. Instead, allow the breaks as much as they need with the trade off that they will use their down time wisely, and return to the responsibility as soon as possible.
Learning at home can be the best solution for ADHD kids but still have many pitfalls. If you have more ideas and strategies to add to this list, please send them my way. I’d love to hear how you are overcoming the focus conundrum. Better yet, share them in the Facebook group! As ADHD parents, sticking together in times like these is so important!