Learning Challenges

When Traditional Schools Fail Your Child: How to Homeschool

When a child is left behind, ignored, or frustrated in a traditional classroom setting, many parents begin researching alternatives. Homeschooling a child with ADHD or learning disabilities is not easy, but it can a student build skills, gain confidence, and love learning again.

A mother who learned how to homeschool her daughter with ADHD, pictured laying next to her, both reading
Mother laying with daughter on living room floor, brown hair

The traditional approach to learning — a teacher standing in front of children sitting behind desks — is not the most productive for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who get bored easily. If your child is demoralized by his poor grades, receives detention for forgetting books, is looked down upon by teachers, or is bullied by classmates, he may be a candidate for homeschooling — even if you’re not quite sure yet how it’s done.

Melinda Boring, who started Heads Up Now!, a company that supplies information and products for parents, teachers, and therapists who work with hyperactive, distractible, and sensory-challenged children, home-schooled her daughter Beckie and son Josh, both of whom were diagnosed as having ADHD. “Josh rarely followed directions, and he became agitated when asked to sit still,” says Boring. “Sights, sounds, and even odors that most people didn’t notice bothered him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do what teachers asked of him, he just couldn’t.”

Josh successfully graduated from home high school, and is now working full-time and taking college courses. Beckie is a junior in home high school, and takes classes at the local community college. She earns A’s at both schools.

The Benefits of Homeschooling a Child with ADHD

Each family has to decide whether homeschooling will work for their child. In some cases, leaving the work force or juggling work and homeschool is easier on a family than continuing mainstream school that is not working for a child.

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“Several parents told me they home-schooled to reduce the stress in their life,” says Kathy Kuhl, author of Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, and an ADHD coach. “One mom I know left her job as a teacher’s aide because the stress of trying to get services for her son was damaging her health.”

Other benefits of homeschool include:

  • Avoiding those mad dashes to catch the bus.
  • Holding parent-teacher conferences at the dinner table — or the nearest mirror.
  • Knowing exactly what your child is learning and when he is goofing off.
  • Having free time for creative play, such as art and music appreciation, which have been cut from many schools.
  • Incorporating a child’s need for movement into the day.
  • Being able to move quickly through material that comes easily and to spend more time on subjects that are difficult.
  • Gearing the curriculum to accommodate a child’s strengths and weaknesses.

How Does Your Child Learn?

The number of homeschool teaching methods is overwhelming. Kuhl suggests that parents identify academic goals for their child and plan to achieve them by an individual learning style. “Don’t duplicate mainstream school at home. If it didn’t work there, it won’t work at your kitchen table.”

The Charlotte Mason method teaches through “living” books — written in story form by authors who have passion for their subjects — rather than textbooks, and cultivates habits of character.

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The Unschooling method is guided by the child’s curiosity, allowing her to choose what, when, how, and where she learns.

Unit studies use a hands-on approach to learning that presents a topic from several angles. If a student studies water, it will be explored as chemistry (H2O), art (a painting of a beautiful waterfall), history (the Red Sea), economics (a bill from the water company), theology (baptism), and so on.

Whatever the chosen method, parents should use techniques that work with their child’s learning style. If a child is a visual learner, use highlighters, colored pens, and eye-catching graphics to teach key concepts. If the child is a kinesthetic learner, games, experiments, field trips, and role-playing would be effective ways of teaching a subject.

“Some parents gear math and language arts around their children’s passions, whether it be horses, reptiles, robots, or medieval history,” says Kuhl. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to choose what is learned and how it’s taught.

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“Homeschooling allows you to teach in several ways — auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic,” says Boring. “Even if your child is mostly a tactile learner, using all of these approaches helps a child retain the information and keeps the curriculum fresh for brains that need stimulation.”

Online Homeschool Courses for Students with ADHD

Many children with ADHD are drawn to computers and are skilled at using them, making online home courses a natural fit. “Some educational software is engaging, using sound and animation to attract the ear and eye. Some programs incorporate games or offer a few minutes of game time as a reward at the end of a session,” Kuhl says.

Parents can supplement other forms of homeschooling with online courses, or have their child take all courses online. Homeschool Your Child for Free, by LauraMaery Gold and Joan Zielinski, recommends online curricula and gives tips for Internet learning.

“The nice thing about online learning is that educational software is patient, and never sounds annoyed because it is tired or busy cooking dinner,” adds Kuhl.

How Do Homeschooled Children Make Friends?

Some parents worry that homeschooling may mean their child with ADHD, whose social skills are marginal at best, will be unable to make friends. Not true, says Kuhl. “Home-schooled children are not anti-social weirdos who sit in the house all day.”

In many communities, students attending homeschool join together to participate in activities, co-ops, volunteer programs, and other social events. Groups regularly schedule activities, such as proms, plays, spelling bees, chorus practice, debate leagues, art classes, sports outings, as well as the all-important graduation ceremonies.

In fact, some experts suggest that a child taught at home has more opportunities to interact with people of all ages, compared to a school’s structured environment with only peers around. An added benefit is the social training parents can provide on the spot. “Parents who home-school have one-on-one time with their child, to coach him in social skills before and after he plays with friends,” Kuhl says.

Melinda Boring is proud of Josh and Beckie. “Josh says he wouldn’t have learned nearly as much in public school, and Beckie, while having many public-school friends and attending homecoming events in high school, prefers to work at her own pace at home,” says Boring. “I always knew they were smart. Schooling at home proved it.”

8 Helpful Tips To Keep Your Child Learning

Melinda Boring found that using the right materials and techniques will help children better retain information. Here are eight items she recommends:

1. Post-it tape — to cover part of a chart, so the child isn’t overwhelmed by too much information on a page.

2. Foam earplugs — block out background noise while allowing a student to hear what you’re saying.

3. Colored overlays — to frame material on the pages (a rectangle to cover a paragraph, a square to cover a math problem)

4. Block-out reader — a colored strip of see-through plastic that allows the student to see only the text that he is reading and blocks out lines above and below.

5. Tri-fold display board — blocks out visual distractions when placed on the student’s desk or work table.

6. Peanut butter dough map — enhances geography lessons for kids with ADHD; mold cookie dough into the shape of a state, using colored sugar for rivers, large M&Ms for cities, mini M&Ms for smaller cities.

7. Colored notebook paper — each subject is assigned a different color, allowing the child to find and file loose papers quickly.

8. Post-it arrow notes — helps a child to locate an answer in a page of text without having to re-read and allows him to highlight areas in which he needs assistance.