Ask the Experts

Q: How Do We Get a Re-Do on Distance Learning?

Was distance learning a disaster last spring? You are not alone, and not without resources — like these ideas for starting fresh with better time management, motivation, and transitions in your home classroom.

Q: “Remote learning was a disaster in the spring, and now we have to do it again — at least to begin the fall semester. What can we do to create a truly organized and productive home learning environment for our 9-year-old with ADHD?”


I’ve been inundated with questions like this as exhausted parents try to navigate another semester of learning from home. If there’s a silver lining to distance learning this fall, it’s that we can now build on first-hand experience and intel! When our children first came home to “crisis learn” last spring, we had no idea how they would fare. Now that we’ve been through it once, we understand what works, what doesn’t, and what changes we should make to our children’s learning process to set them up for success.

Please remember that a child with ADHD is going to need supervision and guidance while working online. There is no magic elixir here. Their executive functionstime management, focus, effort, and self-regulation – are immature, and these were likely the source of your son’s greatest struggles in the spring.

I believe that a more traditional school environment provides students with consistent and effective motivating factors that promote successful learning – structures and schedules, transitions, visual cues, accountability and socialization – particularly for those with ADHD and learning challenges. The more closely you can mimic these factors at home, the more successful your child will be.

Since I don’t know exactly what didn’t work for your son last semester, here is an arsenal of ideas to pick from depending on what is causing you the most concerns.

[Download This Free Guide: Distance Learning Strategies for Children with ADHD]

1. Create a Personal Homework Profile. Creating a profile puts your child’s learning preferences center stage and allows him to tap into his best practices. Perhaps he prefers doing fractions in the bathtub at 7pm. Or he wants to tackle his vocabulary words sprawled out under the kitchen table with headphones while you’re preparing dinner.

A benefit to schooling at home is that there are fewer restrictions on where, when, and how we learn and complete work. Does your son like to see all his assignments for the week laid out in front of him so he can pick and choose his next task? Or does he prefer only seeing one subject at a time so as not to get overwhelmed?

Everyone has individual homework preferences. Tap into his to create a customized approach for getting work done. Feel free to go to our website – products.orderoochaos.com – to download our free guide.

2. Hang analog clocks. This is my number one “must have” tool for learning at home! Hang a clock in every room your child uses for distance learning. Aim to create an environment at home that mimics his environment at school. And clocks are a must. Your child needs to be able to see where he sits in time in relation to his day. An analog clock allows your child to see how much time has passed and how much time remains until the Zoom call is completed. In other words, it allows him to see time move!

[Read: Distance Learning Meets ADHD (Again) – Smooth the Transition Back to Remote Schooling]

3. Schedule “class time.” Have your child stay on his school schedule (as much as possible). Think of it this way: If they had to be physically present for class, they would set their alarm and get themselves out the door at a specific time. An online class needs to be treated with the same importance. Following your children’s school schedule as much as possible will also make it easier for your child to work independently because they can better anticipate what comes next and navigate it on their own.

4. Build in transitions. This is the Number One “lightbulb” moment for my parent coaching clients. A traditional school day has many transition points built in. There are typical transitions from home to school and school to home, as well as transitions between classes, subjects, and even during a classroom period. Provide your son with as many transitions as possible each day to give his brain the much-needed rest and restart it needs.

One of my favorites tricks is to pack a backpack in the morning complete with lunch and snacks, then have your child walk around the block and re-enter your home and head straight to “class.” In addition, make sure lunch, gym, art and music are on his schedule. Head outside for much-needed brain breaks. Arrange virtual lunches with his friends via Zoom or an appropriate socially distanced lunch break with your neighbors’ children outside.

Does your son know other students in his classes? If not, is it possible for the school (with permission) to release names and emails? Perhaps your son can reach out to someone who might also be in need of a “study buddy” so they can support each other to stay anchored, focused, and on task.

5. Infuse learning with movement. Homework is boring. And doing it in the same place all the time can get very old very quickly. Changing your son’s environment will keep things interesting and fresh just when he starts to lose focus and attention. In other words, get him moving!

Games like “Hide the Homework,” where kids search the house for hidden assignments that they complete where they find them, helps to add an element of fun and surprise to the daily routine. Spelling words can go in the bathtub (no water!) and math problems under the kitchen table. You get the idea. Or play “Beat the Clock” by setting up subject stations around your kitchen or dining room table. Place a timer in the middle; when it goes off, your child moves to the next station.

6. Get outside. I can’t stress this enough right now, especially while the weather is still warm. I have students doing math homework with sidewalk chalk or learning vocabulary works while jumping on a trampoline. Have a dog that needs walking? You grab the flashcards, your child grabs the dog — and by the time you’re back, he has studied for the exam.

If you would like more ideas for creating a successful learning from home environment for your son, I invite you to check out our newest video: Corona Virus Crash Course: Distance Learning 101 available at products.orderoochaos.com.

Good Luck.

Distance Learning Advice: Next Steps


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!


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Updated on August 31, 2020

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