I hope everyone is doing well. This post is going to be mainly about what it is like home-schooling our son, Little A, who has ADHD just like his father did at his age. I will start out saying that I had always wanted to home-school my children even when I was a child myself. I had a sort of romanticized vision of how I would go about it and how my children would love learning, and how I would have their rapt attention when I would read them classics and teach them second, third, and maybe fourth languages. As I am sure you know, this is not how it normally works out. Things don’t normally turn out as picture perfect as they do in your head.
Starting off in my parenting adventure I got married and gained a wonderful, and energetic young boy, who was already enrolled in public school. Well, at that time I put my homeschooling fantasies on hold, and my husband and I worked on working jobs and then opening our own business while our son was at school. In the beginning our son struggled a little, but once we had our first IEP meeting to discuss the problems they were having with Little A things seemed to get much better. They implemented a reward system for him staying on task, and in his seat. They created another reward system for him eating/chewing things that he shouldn’t (mostly his pencils, and erasers, and a few times paper).
This seemed to work wonderfully for him through to first grade. Then when he got to third all the problems that we thought we had left behind not only crept back up but increased terribly. Now, one thing I noticed is his classroom size also had increased. It doubled in size. He had trouble staying in his seat and would wander when he should be sitting, he would get up to help other students before even finishing his own work. His grades were dropping though he new all the information. He just could not seem to stay connected with the tasks they gave him.
I would have loved to stop right there and home-school him, but was worried that with our business and being pregnant, then with an infant that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with his needs as his teacher. We decided along with his therapist he sees weekly that we would try one more year, and if things did not seem to improve that it may be a good idea to either try to get a student helper in the classroom to keep him on task, or to home-school as I had been wanting.
As you can guess, things did not improve. In fact, things got much worse. In third grade the children were expected to be able to self regulate themselves and their time. This was something our son already struggled with even with the help he received. Things got so bad we thought about pulling him out mid-way through the year. We discussed this with him, and asked what he thought. He wanted to stay and try and do better and if he was still struggling then try learning at home.
Things the rest of the year were terribly stressful. We would dread what sort of note, or behavioral slip would be coming home with our son almost everyday. We went to IEP meeting after IEP meeting where everyone was at a loss for what to do to help him. They were trying but they just couldn’t seem to give him the help he so desperately needed.
Once that school year finally ended we began to prepare for schooling Little A at home. He was excited about me teaching him, and was excited helping me look through different things we could do. I have to admit I was not only relieved to finally be home-schooling, but I was also excited. Anyone who knows me knows that that is saying something as I very rarely get excited about things. I am a very serious personality.
We find the paperwork online for PA and fill them out, we get all the necessary files we need ready, and file everything we need to with the superintendent of our district. It is finally official. We are homeschooling Little A. I was slightly worried we would see the same issues we did from him while he attended the public school when we started.
Some habits stuck around, like chewing on his pencils and erasers. When I say he was chewing on them I don’t just mean little dented teeth marks in the wood. I mean splintered wood and almost no pencil left after. He destroyed pencils in one sitting. We tried doing mechanical pencils but he fidgets with the click part so much he would break them or waste all the graphite. We finally found a routine that seems to help with this issue.
First I have a little reminded written where he can see it about not eating/chewing things that aren’t food. This helps him actively think about it and stop if he starts. Then we have a little check list where he can check off if he did not eat or chew non-food items that day. Then at the end of the week he gets a reward for not acting on that impulse.
There was a lot of trial and error to set our son up to succeed even doing homeschooling. Being ADHD he has trouble focusing on things for too long with out some sort of sensory input in between. He has trouble sitting still even for short periods of time although this definitely has improved. He used to end up on the table when he was eating or coloring when he was younger. Now he just moves around in his seat or stands up(on the floor not the chair). He is very easily distracted by absolutely everything. I mean everything. He also notices everything. He also has impulse issues, and that is what gets him into trouble most often. He will act then think about it.
When we first started out homeschooling him I looked up so many articles about homeschooling children with ADHD. One of the biggest things I have seen that reoccurs the most in those articles are checklists. Luckily I love doing checklists. I am a master list maker. My mother wrote lists, and passed it on to me. I write lists for everything. Well I started out making a list that I had and we would go through it together in the morning before he would start working. Well that didn’t seem to work out for him. He would lose track of what he was doing and would seemingly completely forget that there was more he still had to do before the end of the day.
So, I decided to have a handwritten master list that I used to keep track of what we were doing and then I would print out a nice clean(no pictures or fancy fonts as those distract him horribly) list with check boxes next to each thing he was to do just for him. I bought some very plain(colorful but no busy patterns) folders for these lists. Each daily check list would go in the front so all he had to do was to open the folder and it was right there. No flipping through pages to distract him from actually working. This started out great.
Then he started taking all day to finish work that could be done in 3-4 hours(broken up of course) time. We tried setting time limits on each thing but he would get so distracted he would still drag everything on with out constant prodding to keep working. He knew the info but just would try and rush through it just to get it done or would get so distracted it would never fully get done.
It was at this point I went back to the drawing board. Lists helped, but didn’t keep him focused. At this point we were doing multiple day on one subject. Lets say 2-3 day math, the same for science, and everyday for writing (he started a daily journal). I decided that maybe the reason we started out so well with the checklist but then went back to struggling was because doing the same subject back to back wasn’t keeping his attention even if we were doing it in different ways. So I decided to make a list of all his subjects. I know more lists. Then break it up into things we could do daily (reading, and writing, and exercising), and things I could break up and do less often but still get the full impact from.
We ended up still having reading everyday(although that child loves reading so much he would read whether or not it was scheduled), writing everyday in his daily journal and his spelling/vocabulary work, and then also do exercising everyday as this helps him release some of his energy and gets him back on track. He does at least 30 minutes of reading everyday but normally does much more on his own time, and then we discuss what he was reading to make sure he is computing the information.
Then he practices his vocabulary/spelling words on flash cards with me, and he writes the ones he is struggling with in his notebook, then he takes daily tests on these words. First he takes the test with a word bank and we focus on him knowing the meaning of the words, then once he has the meanings down we test without a word bank to see how well he can spell them. He loves seeing how much he has improved from the first to the last test. We don’t have a set amount of time he has to master each set of words as rushing through them wont help him actually learn them. Instead we keep working on each set of words until he knows them and then we move to the next set of words.
He also is working on sentence structure, spelling, and grammar while he writes in his daily journal. At first this was a struggle as he never seemed to like writing all that much, but now he is excited to have his future kids and grand-kids read his journals, and is really getting into writing each day.
Then we break up his studying with exercise. He really loves The Flash and wants to run fast like he does. So he runs laps around our house and records how fast he can do them and then compares them to the other day’s times. We also make sure to have him stretch as he has trouble with flexibility, muscle tone, and balance/posture. He has become so much better with all these things since we started stretching everyday. Something else we started recently is doing mid-line exercises, which are meant to help connect the hemispheres of the brain in people who struggle with the things he struggles with. He enjoys doing them and it does seem to help him so far.
The rest of the day is spent doing two subjects. We have 5 days of two subjects each that we cycle through. So Day A would be say, Grammar and World history and then Day B would be Math and PA history, and so on. This way he isn’t getting bored because we are doing a subject multiple day but I can still make sure we are hitting on everything important. Now just because they aren’t on the list doesn’t mean he isn’t learning those subjects those days. Those just aren’t on the scheduled to do parts. This helps a lot with him being more excited to do his work, and then he gets excited to do the next lesson on certain subjects when they come up again.
Something else we started doing to help him try and finish his work on time is split his to do list into things he can do completely independently , and then things we have to do together. Then if he finishes everything that needs done by a certain time, he can play, and every-time he does get it done he gets a sticker on a chart with a goal he decides ahead of time for the end of the week. He has other things we are working on on the chart that earns him stickers as well. If he reaches his goal by the week’s end he gets to choose something extra to do. His favorite is extra time on his Leapster Explorer.
So what I have learned, this far into the school year, about teaching this particular ADHD child is:
- Make lists for yourself to keep you on track and make sure they are meeting the goals you have set.
- Speaking of goals, sit down with your child and set realistic goals for what you want them to achieve, and how they can work towards achieving said goals.
- Make a list for your child of what you expect of them, including reminders of what happens if they get everything done(you can do reminders of what happens if they don’t but from my experience so far and from what I have read children in general respond better to the positive end than to the negative).
- Make sure to gently remind them how much time they have spent on a certain task periodically if it seems to be taking longer than expected. Remind them of what they get if they finish it on time, and see if they need help with something without doing it for them.
- Set up a reward system for them so that when they are working they know what they are working towards and what they get when they achieve their goals. This doesn’t have to be a physical item that they get, but it can be if that is what you would like. Use what works for your child. My son loves books so sometimes it just means he gets more time to read. He loves playing on his Leapster so sometimes it is he gets extra time playing on that. Sometimes he wants to work towards getting an extra snack at the end of the week.
- Keep them involved. Kids of all abilities love to feel important and involved in their own lives. Ask them what they want their goals to be, or what type of reward they want to work towards. Let them help you plan their lessons so they know what is coming.
- Love them. I know this is cliche, but sometimes, especially with working with children who have trouble learning, things can get heavy. You can feel like you are failing, maybe even that they are. Sometimes you just have to take a break from all the expectations and just spend some one on one time on with them doing something that will bring you all peace. Take a break, recharge. Let them recharge. Things are just as overwhelming for them as it is for you. Most kids don’t want to be told they are failing especially when they really are trying the best they can. Sometimes they are just overwhelmed.
- Realize that things won’t likely be how you imagined, and that is perfectly okay. Go with it. Let go of the fairy tale homeschooling dream, and do what works best for your family. If what you try first, or second, or third, isn’t working, try something new.
- Remember you are setting your children up to be awesome adults. Help them the best you can to learn to cope with life before they have to do most of it on their own.
- Keep it interesting. I am sure you don’t like boring things. Neither do they. If you make it interesting they will likely be paying more attention and will retain more of the information you feed them.
I hope this helps someone who is thinking of homeschooling their child, or someone who has started but it looking for a new way to go about things. I am by far not an expert, but feel free to ask about how we do things. I am happy to help. Even if you just need to vent.
Thank you for reading,
The Momnipresent Mother