Ask the Experts

Q: “How Can I Realistically Homeschool Kids of Different Ages and Needs?”

How does a family schedule work when you are homeschooling children of different ages with varying curricula, assignments, and attention spans? With a lot of deep breathing and these expert strategies.

Q: “Do you have tips for multi-grade schooling? I have four boys in three different grades and all of us — including me — have ADHD. I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

“Do you have suggestions about multiple children working in the same space?”

“I have a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old. How do you organize a schedule for both when they are both doing very different things?”

Let’s take a deep breath. I’m going to be super honest and tell you what I’ve been saying to the Order Out of Chaos community: We are in this for the long haul. And it’s going to take time for students, parents, and teachers to get up to speed with the online learning process. Remember, for most of us this is a brand-new technology with which we have little, if any, experience.

Also, 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 functions — time management, focus, effort and self-management — are immature, and so these will likely be the source of their greatest struggles.

[Click to Read: Stick to the Plan! How to Cement Your Child’s New Home Learning Routines]

Since everyone has children of different ages with different needs, here are an arsenal of ideas to pick from depending on your household. I hope they help you ease the process.

1. Schedule “class time.”

Have your students stay on their school schedule, no matter what their age. 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 to make sure they showed up on 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 since they are already used to the schedule and can more likely navigate it on their own.

2. Have your children “body double” one another.

For some children with ADHD, working in the same room as others helps them stay motivated and on task. They need the noise and the presence of others to get activated and focused. Though we might consider a quiet and secluded bedroom the ideal workspace, it actually can be very distracting. A “body double” functions as an anchor. The presence of another individual – either in person or virtually – focuses a person and makes it possible to sit down, focus, and get work done.

So in that vein, create a common work area for all of your children. The only rule is that this is a time for working — not talking. Outfit everyone with an inexpensive tabletop presentation board to place on the kitchen table so everyone has some privacy. Provide headphones for music or for listening to online classes. Finally, make sure you provide plenty of snacks. Food makes everything better!

[Download This Free Sample Schedule for Learning at Home]

Do your kids know other students in their classes? If not, is it possible for the school (with permission) to release names and emails? Sometimes, students taking the same class will form a Facebook group to discuss assignments and tests. Perhaps your student 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.

3. Infuse their learning with movement.

Homework is boring. And doing it in the same place all the time can get very old very quickly. Changing your children’s environment will keep things interesting and fresh just when they start to lose focus and attention. In other words, get your kids 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. Incorporate your younger children into the mix with art or reading stations.

Get outside! I can’t stress this enough right now, especially as the weather gets warmer. 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.

3. Create a study soundtrack.

Music helps the brain plan, focus, and initiate. Have each of your children create a study playlist of music they love. The key is to play the same playlist every time they sit down to work . Eventually, the music will act as a motivator – when they hear the music, it signals the brain it’s time to get work done. Are your children all working in the same space? Come up with a household playlist for quiet work time.

4. Designate different areas in your home for “school” and “homework.”

Try to mimic your child’s school schedule as much as possible by setting up two separate work areas in your home: One for school – this will be where your child takes his online Zoom classes, listens to downloaded lectures, etc. — and one for doing homework, reading, and independent learning. Anyway we can set up their environment so it provides motivation is a win!

[Read This Next: Are You Crisis Schooling? Daily Schedule Advice for ADHD Families]

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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