If you’re looking to know how to homeschool ADHD, you’re in the right place.
Whether you are a new or veteran homeschool mom, harnessing the attention of the ADHD brain can be a challenge. But, not impossible.
So when homeschooling kids with ADHD, we moms need to know how to work with the grain of our unique children.
Understanding this can make all the difference. I promise.
Know The Signs of ADHD
The reality is that the way ADHD displays itself is different for everyone. Some signs of ADHD are:
- Your child may have trouble paying attention to whatever is not inherently interesting;
- Your kid’s bedroom, backpack, or binder may be perpetually messy no matter how many times it has been organized;
- Perhaps your child’s ADHD brain may show itself through impulsivity:
- Blurting things out (‘Did he just say that outloud?’)
- Dare-devil behaviors and thrill seeking
- Low-frustration tolerance:
- meltdowns when things are challenging,
- shutting down when overwhelmed, etc…
Embrace Your Child’s Wiring
Those are just a few signs of ADHD in kids (and adults). Hint: ADHD is hereditary.
And guess what? ADHD is NOT a bad thing when it’s understood well.
In fact, I’m convinced that ADHD is a a gift that makes so many of us shine. (Of course, I’m biased, but I own my adult ADHD proudly.)
Traditional Teaching & ADHD
When we try to teach our ADHD students using the traditional teaching approaches, kids are set up for failure.
Insisting on teaching our kids with a sit still, listen, and do what I say mentality is a recipe for disaster.
For more info on ADHD in kids and how to most effectively harness the power of the ADHD brain, check out Homeschooling The Distracted Child.
Sitting Still Hurts Academic Growth
Studies have shown that forcing kids to sit still limits learning. Whether your child has an ADHD diagnosis is irrelevant. When people (kids and adults) are forced to sit still, many struggle to maintain attention because they’re using their cognitive energy to do just that.
This ultimately impacts their ability to receive and process information. In the end, academic growth stalls. And when homeschooling, tensions between mom and child grow.
So how do we homeschool ADHD kids? And more importantly, how do we maintain healthy relationships with our ADHD kids?
Brain, Behavior & Occupational Therapy
To answer these questions, I’ve partnered with an amazing pediatric occupational therapist, Alicia Mathews, MS, OTR-L.
So why would a mom seek the support of an occupational therapist in order to know how to best homeschool her kid? Well, Girlfriend, I’m glad you asked.
Learning is so much bigger than the compartmentalized system that we’ve traditionally seen in education. A good occupational therapist has a deep understanding of the brain, the body and how to optimize them both for effective learning.
A good occupational therapist has a deep understanding of the brain, the body and how to optimize them both for effective learning.
Every parent and educator should have this understanding in order to provide children the best possible education: homeschool or otherwise.
19 Tips For Teaching ADHD Students At Home
We need to think of brain body optimization as the key to unlock the door to learning. This is true for kids regardless of whether your child has an ADHD diagnosis.
So today, Alicia and I are providing you 19 of the most effective strategies to use when homeschooling kids with ADHD. Let’s do this!
1. Sensory Input & Movement Is A Must
Any learning that requires a child to sit and pay attention can be tough. Many kids with ADHD are wired to thrive through movement.
Physical movement releases feel good chemicals that stimulate the brain and relax the body. So when teaching to the ADHD brain, we need to get kids moving strategically!
Alicia and I always recommend the RIGHT sensory input before we have our children sit.
Sensory Input For Learning While Seated
A sensory cushion, therapy ball, or chair band can help a child who needs to sit. For our more fidgety kids, these tools allow them to make small movements without being distracting.
On the other hand, they can be very helpful for kiddos that need to increase attention.
For the child that appears to daydream (this is a gift as well), offering them small ways to stay alert can help.
2. What is Vestibular Input?
Vestibular input refers to the sensory system that allows us to know where our body is in space.
That tickle we feel when on a swing or riding a roller coaster is the brain’s way of understanding that you’re not on solid ground, for example.
This movement releases histamine, which increases attention.
Outside vestibular activities include:
- going down a slide (headfirst is always fun & increases vestibular input),
- swinging high in the air,
- or riding a scooter
Indoor vestibular activities:
- Log rolls,
- spinning in an office chair,
- or performing inverted yoga poses
In my home, we love these Yoga Pretzel cards. Just have your child grab one or two and easily incorporate these movement breaks into your homeschool routine.
3. Proprioceptive Input For The ADHD Brain
Proprioceptive input refers to movement and changes in joint position.
This movement releases serotonin, which decreases hyperactivity levels and “calms” the body and mind.
Think deep-tissue massage. Wouldn’t that be heavenly?
Outside Proprioceptive Activities:
Outdoor prioprioceptive activities your ADHD child can engage in before learning or even while learning are:
- climbing a rock wall,
- maneuvering through monkey bars,
- or jumping on a trampoline. (We actually love this one and have it in our family game room.)
Inside Proprioceptive Activities:
Indoor proprioception activities you can try to optimize your child’s brain for learning are:
- pushing/pulling a heavy bin of toys,
- deep pressure with a sofa cushion,
- or climbing up stairs on hands and knees.
4. Short Lessons
When working on a difficult activity, always start with small increments of time. Even 5 minutes can seem like forever.
Set a short time expectation ahead of time. This will allow your child confidence that they can do it. And whatever you do, stick to your word. If you say 5 minutes, stop at 5 minutes.
5. Your Words Matter
Kids with ADHD and other executive functioning struggles are continually receiving messages from the world that tell them they’re not enough. Our words matter. When laying out expectations, I usually preface it this way,
I just need your best effort for 5 minutes. I know you can do it.
Slowly increase time when skill and confidence develops. Remember, small chunks of intentional teaching over time will yield fruit.
6. Obstacle Course
When movement can be incorporated within a lesson, try utilizing an obstacle course.
Place lesson materials throughout the course. Likewise, incorporate a “writing/reading/math” obstacle within the course.
Have your child help create the course for increased motivation.
7. Check Seating When Teaching
A sensory cushion, therapy ball, or chair band can help a child who needs to sit. For more fidgety kids, these tools allow them to make small movements without being distracting.
At the same time, they can be helpful for kiddos that need to increase attention. For the child that appears to daydream (this is a gift as well), offering them these small ways to stay alert can help.
8. Stop Fighting Against ADHD
Remember, our kids have all been designed differently on purpose. Don’t fight it. Use the ADHD wiring to your student’s academic advantage. If something doesn’t work, try another option.
9. Look Behind The Behavior
There is always a reason behind the behavior. And despite the predominant attitude that kids are lazy, there are often valid reasons for academic struggles.
For example, when the brain has to expend extra energy just to control small eye movements, it has less cognitive fuel to focus on controlling behavior and attention.
10. Warm Up The Eyes
When reading and writing, the eyes perform a variety of movements. If these skills are not present or automatic, the brain has to work harder to compensate.
Understandably, this negatively affects a child’s ability to focus and sit still for a number of reasons.
Here are some easy eye warm-ups you can do at home to prime the eyes and the ADHD brain for optimal learning.
11. Toss a Ball or Balloon
Hit a balloon or toss a large ball back and forth 10 times.
You can change it up by varying the type, height and speed of the object.
12. Eye Tick Tocks: Improve Learning
Complete “tick tocks” by having your child follow an object with their eyes.
Try up and down movements 10 times in a slow pattern.
Follow with looking right and left.
You can add music and and increase efficiency by following the rhythm.
13. Play “Eye Movement” Simon Says
Mirror eye movements made in the 4 corners of your visual field. Start with 1 movement and increase until someone loses the pattern!
14. Natural Lighting Is Best
Fluorescent lights can quickly cause fatigue, especially with intensive reading activities. Use natural light when possible, and try to limit visual distractions.
When natural light is not possible, you can remove the amount of light bulbs in an overhead light or position your child with their back facing the light source.
15. Slanted Desk & Eye Convergence
Many children struggle with eye convergence (See tip #10). Meaning the left and right eye working together to focus on text both near and far.
This often explains a child’s complaints of headaches and lack of desire to read. When homeschooling a child with ADHD, try offering a slanted desk area such as:
Try offering a slanted board or large binder under your child’s paper or book.
- a slanted board
- large binder
- pillow desk
16. Visual Clutter Drive Us Nuts For A Reason
Full pages of text can be overwhelming for children (and adults… ahem… me). We mommas become overwhelmed when we walk into a messy and cluttered house, right?
Too much visual input at once increases stress and shuts down a child’s ability to receive and process information. When there’s too much on a page, the likelihood of skipping words or full lines of text increases.
17. Visual Discrimination & Reading Comprehension
Skipping words or full lines of text is not a sign of laziness. It may be a sign of visual discrimination or other eye tracking issues. Quick tips to reduce visual clutter:
- Use a piece of paper to cover half of a page,
- or it can be used as a line marker when reading or referencing
- Purchase a page “window.”
- Use a white board and write one math problem on it at a time. See this video where I demonstrate what this could look like with 3 digit-multiplication.
Quick video where I demonstrate how to eliminate visual clutter when teaching to the struggling student. (ADHD, dyscalculia & other learning differences).
18. Consider An OT Evaluation
If you think your child may have ADHD and is struggling with schoolwork, I cannot more highly recommend an OT evaluation.
An occupational therapist can provide you with so much insight and clues to how to best support your child.
If you are concerned about the financial and time commitment involved in occupational therapy, don’t be.
The OT evaluation alone will be full of information to help you understand how you’re child is wired.
You’ll then have a starting point to look for strategies to best support your unique child.
A Heart For All Students is one such resource.
19. Homeschool Moms Need Continuing Education Too
One last tip, Friend. Learn and equip yourself with tools to help you best support your ADHD-type learner.
We’re all students. We’re always learning something. Adults and children alike.
Does your child meltdown and cry every time they even think about schoolwork? Refuses to do anything asked of him or her? I’ve been there and I get it. And I’m here to help.
Sign up for the newly released workshop Homeschooling The Distracted Child. I presented this workship at the 2020 NCHE Summit For Teaching Exceptional Children. If you missed it, here’s chance to access the training!
Alicia Mathews is a pediatric occupational therapist with 8 years of experience in North Carolina. She has a Master of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She developed OT Avenue, LLC in 2017. Alicia currently works in home health and private practice.
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