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“The Most Dynamic Learning Experiences Favor Passion Over Penmanship”

“With creativity and a sense of humor, it is possible to homeschool children with ADHD and otherwise help create meaningful learning experiences for them. Whether a longtime homeschooler like me, or brand new thanks to the pandemic — or if traditional, in-person school is your family’s choice — we all need help and support in motivating our children around learning. Here are my top tips for helping your child with ADHD survive and thrive educationally, no matter the setting.”

Boy jumping on trampoline in his backyard.

Learning can be a war of opposing agendas.

I want my child to read, know their multiplication tables, and have decent penmanship. I worry that they will fall behind — that we aren’t “doing enough.”

But my child with ADHD wants to follow their passions unhindered. They want to create a 12-part LEGO stop-motion movie series or build a cardboard robot from scratch. The mere thought of school can elicit an atomic bomb-like reaction. When we finally do get started, simple tasks can take hours.

So how do we broker a treaty when we want such different things? And how do I get my kid to just do their math already?!

These are all questions I have asked myself on my homeschooling journey, which began with my first son, now 14. We didn’t realize when he began school that he had ADHD. His symptoms were mild, so the battles were small, but still challenging.

Then my second son came along. What we thought we knew about parenting and schooling was blown apart. Now 9, he is a whirlwind of intensity and passion. ADHD-wise, we like to say he is “the total package.” I felt overwhelmed at the thought of trying to teach this child for the next 12 years!

[Read: 11 Expert Tips for Schooling Kids with ADHD from Home]

But I learned more about ADHD and tailored my homeschooling and general approach to education accordingly. In doing so, my respect for my children and all the creative, brilliant individuals with ADHD grew. It takes a lot of energy for my boys to sit and focus on something in which they aren’t interested, and to reign in their active minds, always running with ideas. I began to understand their frustration and, out of that, I felt compassion. It was harder to feel at war with my children when I began to see the world through their eyes.

With creativity and a sense of humor, it is possible to homeschool children with ADHD and otherwise help create meaningful learning experiences for them. Whether a longtime homeschooler like me, or brand new thanks to the pandemic (perhaps you also intend to continue homeschooling in the long run), or if traditional, in-person school is your family’s choice, we all need help and support in motivating our children around learning. Here are my top tips for helping your child with ADHD survive and thrive educationally, no matter the setting.

A Good Learning Experience: 6 Tips for Children with ADHD

1. Don’t take ADHD symptoms personally.

It’s easy to worry that your child’s behavioral problems mean that you’re a bad parent or teacher. Detaching from the emotional side of life with ADHD has done wonders for me. I don’t have to get upset or emotional, but I can still correct disrespectful behaviors. I’ve found the more “dispassionate” I remain, the less we have power struggles.

For my youngest child, emotional impulsivity makes it hard for him to stay calm and respectful when faced with disappointment. (Having to do boring schoolwork is disappointing when he hoped to write a symphony that morning!) Knowing his triggers has helped me be sympathetic and more patient. Some days, school will be easy, and some days it will be hard. But regardless, I don’t have to get upset or overly emotional.

[Read: Never Punish a Child for Bad Behavior Outside Their Control]

2. Break work into manageable chunks and add incentives.

For my 9-year-old, the 28 problems in his math lesson can feel overwhelming and impossible. So we break it up. He completes 10 problems, then takes a short break.

Many kids with ADHD also love having something to look forward to. When I realized my child was spending more time doodling than working, I turned the activity into an incentive. He gets to draw one picture after he completes 10 problems. He is excited to earn this reward, and shows me what he creates. Your kid might like to try and “beat the clock” and get a certain amount of work done before the timer goes off. Whatever it is, having an incentive makes the work more interesting and the focus more steady.

3. Get moving! Incorporate physical activity into learning.

We have a trampoline – I consider it a necessary item when homeschooling kids with ADHD. If everyone is getting too squirrelly, I send them outside to jump for 20 minutes. My children typically come back refreshed and ready to start again. Sometimes, I even read history aloud while they jump. Get creative with the activities your child already enjoys to get their energy flowing and revitalize a sluggish brain. Here are some fun ideas:

  • Jog around the yard and work on spelling words together.
  • Kick a soccer ball and have them answer a math question before they kick it back.
  • Take a 10-minute dance break in the living room before starting a harder subject.

4. Weave interests and passions into school.

Many kids with ADHD hyperfocus on a particular interest. My 9-year-old loved Pirates of the Caribbean, only, for 2 years. He would wake up each day with fully formed plans, like writing a 10-book series about his Teddy bear’s adventures on Tortuga (an island featured prominently in the series). I could’ve said no, since I already had a different writing curriculum planned, but why waste such drive and passion? And the good news is whatever your child’s obsession, some homeschooling parent has probably turned it into a lesson!

The Internet is filled with ideas for using LEGOs in STEAM activities (the same for Minecraft). If your child loves bugs, bake a bug-shaped cake and have them measure out the ingredients as part of a fun math lesson. Older kids can study the Latin names and root words for the most obscure insects or write diary entries from the point of view of a particular bug, incorporating all they’ve researched. The possibilities are endless.

5. Focus on small positive accomplishments.

The dreaded “We aren’t doing enough” syndrome is very real for homeschooling parents. Instead of comparing yourself and your child to others, focus on victories. Did they finish most of their math today with only two breaks? Great! Did you think of a way to tie in the necessary work with their current hobby or obsession? Wonderful. Did you redirect your child 52 times back to their work without losing your cool? Amazing. Celebrate any and all victories — your child’s and your own.

6. Get support – for yourself.

When you find yourself at your wit’s end, is there another parent, preferably of a child with ADHD, with whom you can commiserate? Being able to vent your frustrations, whether to a person or even in a journal, is a lifesaver. Being vulnerable and getting and giving support with friends, without feeling judged, is life-giving. Most cities have active online homeschool communities, usually through Facebook. Reach out to find people who are in a similar boat. Homeschoolers usually love to help others start on, or continue with, this path.

Homeschooling – or schooling in general – can feel impossible when your child has ADHD, but it doesn’t have to be. By working with our child’s strengths, accommodating their struggles, and seeking creative solutions together, the battles can cease and everyone can win.

Learning Experience: Next Steps

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1 Comments & Reviews

  1. As an Occupational Therapist in the public school system, I work with a ton of neurodivergent students, especially students with ADHD. The tips in this article are spot on! Great advice for parents and educators!

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