Kindergarten is a wake-up moment for many kids with ADHD. Suddenly, they run into demands to "sit still and listen." Many encounter rules for the first time. Not only do they need to learn the rules, they also need to make new friends, learn new skills, get along with students from other backgrounds, and work in large groups.
Parents are shocked by that first phone call from school. At home, their child is manageable, but children with ADHD often lag behind their peers by as much as 30 percent in mastering life and social skills. Structure and support will prevent them from stumbling.
Hands-on learning and real-life teaching work best.
What Teachers Can Do
DOUBLE THE FUN. Paired learning is a highly effective strategy for drill and practice activities. Turn drills into a game, having pairs of students compete with each other. Pairing students to edit written work, practice math facts, and learn spelling words gives them the opportunity to interact and receive immediate feedback. It also helps students practice social skills. Discuss basic rules for interacting respectfully when paired with another student.
DRAW THE KIDS INTO LEARNING. Avoid long talks and discussions. Instead, have students respond by writing and by showing a whiteboard, giving thumbs up and thumbs down, lining up to show numbers with their bodies, and chanting and clapping. Alternate periods of discussion with pencil-and-paper work and other activities.
MAKE LEARNING A GAME. Introduce board and card games for practicing skills, such as letters, sounds, and math facts. Games teach social skills, like turn-taking and cooperation.
ALLOW ALTERNATIVES TO WRITING. Fine motor and writing difficulties often go hand in hand with ADHD. As a result, the young ADDer may be embarrassed to write, even when he has something to say. Teach handwriting at a separate time, and use a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard for practice. While other students may enjoy writing stories and may be able to complete written work, the ADDer often does best using a computer, acting out a drama, using a feltboard to tell a story, drawing a picture, or recording a narrative. Voice-to-text software -- such as Dragon Dictate -- can help.
COLOR-CODE TO HIGHLIGHT IMPORTANT FEATURES. Highlight vowel patterns, such as silent "e," and other important learning points in color. Have students do word searches in books they are reading to find patterns to copy and highlight.
CREATE MNEMONICS TO JOG MEMORY. Acronyms are helpful for memorizing lists. A well-known acronym to remember the names of the planets in order is "My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Noodles" (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). Create songs and rhymes to help ADD students remember. Keep it simple. Young children like to sing.
What Parents Can Do
ENJOY BOOKS WITH YOUR CHILD. Read aloud to your child for as many years as she will let you. Even older children enjoy a good story. Make reading together fun. Don't pressure your child to read aloud to you during read-aloud time.
SCHEDULE ENRICHING OUTINGS. Take your child to museums and plays. Avoid the embarrassment of public meltdowns by keeping the visits short and enjoyable. When possible, go to hands-on museums, where your child can use his senses to explore.
GIVE HIM A BREAK. Have your child work on schoolwork for short bursts of time. If necessary, set a kitchen timer or use an hourglass. Younger children can usually work for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. When time is up, give your child a short break to de-stress. Physical activities, like bike riding, are a great way to burn off energy. Or put on some music and let her dance or sing. The break is over when the song is over. Be careful with screen time, as it may be difficult to bring your child back to work.
PRAISE EFFORT OVER ACHIEVEMENT. Many children with ADHD are bright and talented, but all that ability is locked away because they can't sustain attention long enough to finish work. Knowing that she is smart only adds to the child's frustration. Parents must understand how hard this is, and recognize when a child is succeeding at overcoming her ADHD symptoms.
MAKE HOMEWORK EASIER. Avoid hours of insisting that homework must be completed. Talk with your child's teacher about obtaining the homework packet at the beginning of the week. Beware of those days when your child has difficulty concentrating, and break long tasks into segments that can be completed over a period of days.
TRICKS FOR GETTING HOMEWORK DONE. Instead of saying, "Go have a snack and do your homework," allow your child to have a snack while doing homework. Some ADHD kids do better while they're standing at the kitchen counter eating their favorite food and listening to music. Some kids like to hang off the couch upside down when reading a textbook. Let them do it.
NIP ANXIETY ABOUT SCHOOL IN THE BUD. Find an adult in the school -- the art or gym teacher, or the drama coach -- to give your child a job in class. Instead of being afraid of all the new things in school, your child will have a job to focus on that is specific and creative.
SHARI GHENT, M.S., education specialist, serves with the Diagnostic Center, Northern California, in the California Department of Education. Shari taught for 18 years in public schools in Oregon and California and parents a college student with ADHD.