Schedules & Routines

Stick to the Plan! How to Cement Your Child’s New Home Learning Routines

“Why can’t you stick to the plan?” For children with ADHD, the answer is multi-faceted: Transitioning to a home learning environment with new routines and expectations taxes their executive functions. A lack of social and physical interaction with peers saps their motivation. And a new reliance on personal time management breeds quick frustration. Here is how parents can help a new routine take hold.

Girl homeschooling in bed with laptop

In these uncertain times, when everything is topsy turvy, the importance of creating a family routine cannot be overstated. You know this and, as every expert suggests, you’ve carved out an enriching, personalized schedule for your children learning at home and rightfully patted yourself on the back.

There’s just one problem: Your child refuses to shift from “vacation mode” to “study mode” at home.

Getting a child, whether in elementary or high school, to adopt a new routine is complicated, certainly more so when no one can predict when ‘real life’ will start up again. For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), transitions and change are particularly disruptive.

If you’re at a loss, and fear that your child may be losing important academic ground, here’s my advice for you.

Collaborate. Don’t Dictate.

If you haven’t already, talk with your child about their daily schedule. Set up an appointment to talk and treat the conversation seriously; this will make them feel like an adult whom you respect.

[Click to Read: Are You Crisis Schooling? Daily Schedule Advice for ADHD Families]

Lay out your concerns and explain how you’re feeling. You can say something like, “I’m worried with you being out of school for so long that things might really feel unstructured. What if we set up a time for learning and a time for homework?” Invite them design or refine the schedule with you. Sometimes, approaching with a question rather than a command yields better results.

Younger children may need hand-holding — in designing their schedule and adhering to it day in and day out. Lay out clear expectations regarding what they will do independently and when it’s OK — and not OK — to approach you for help during the day.

Give any new schedule three days of transition time before determining if it needs revisiting.

“Chunk” Time Effectively

An hour and a half of steady study time is just way too much for any child, especially one with ADHD. No child is going to be able to sustain focus unless the work is segmented into smaller chunks.

[Get This Free Download: A Sample Schedule for Learning at Home]

To do so, follow the Pomodoro technique. This technique posits that people are more attentive and motivated to do a task when they have a specific amount of time to work. The ideal amount of time for adults is about 25 minutes, according to the research.

Between each 25-minute chunk of work should be a 5-minute break, and string together no more than four pomodoros in a row — any more than that deflates motivation levels.

Students in middle and high school can generally sustain attention for about the same time as adults, however they do better with two or three consecutive pomodoros, and then a longer break.

If your child is resistant or can’t focus consistently for 25 minutes, start where they are — and don’t stress. Shorten the time period and see what they are willing to do.

Do the Hard Stuff Before Lunch

There’s an optimal time to do just about anything, according to Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (#CommissionsEarned). He wrote in his book that human energy and motivation peaks and valleys throughout the day. When we get up in the morning, our energy and attention levels are flat. As we go through the morning, it gets better until it peaks around lunch time, and then it starts to go down — much lower to where it even started at the beginning of the day.

For that reason, start the day with the subjects that are hardest for your children, like math and language arts. Save the easier tasks for after lunch.

Commute Between Work Stations

For elementary school children: Younger children need to be active; they won’t do well sitting down for long stretches. For them, adopt the Montessori approach and set up an environment made up of stations. At the reading station, collect your child’s books with a beanbag chair or pile of pillows for comfortable reading. Designate a table for the math station, where you station pencils, books, and worksheets. Create a LEGO or puzzle station, and another one for science.

Set a 25-minute timer and encourage your child to physically move from station to station when it goes off. Remember, it’s your child’s job to stay busy at each station.

For middle and high school students: Likewise, older children should have at their disposal a few effective work stations that don’t include their own bedrooms. Letting them stay in their rooms all day long is not a good idea. If you have a two-story home, suggest that your teen stays on the first-floor in the morning for the heavy work before returning to their room in the afternoon.

Set up Virtual Social Interactions

It’s so important for kids to stay in touch with each other — they need their peers to keep motivated. If the school isn’t doing anything to promote or facilitate social interaction, encourage your children to set up study groups with their friends. If they are reading a book, they can talk about chapters after reading them together. Consider signing up for Zoom, a software exploding in popularity right now. Zoom allows users to share screens and it offers add-ons like that make for more calls more fun and interactive.

[Read This Next: Now Is the Time for Realistic Expectations (and More ADHD Advice for a Pandemic)]


The information in this article is based on Ann Dolin’s “Keeping Kids with ADHD in ‘Study Mode’ While Home from School” webinar, which was broadcast live on March 19, 2020.

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