Homeschooling a Child with ADHD (and everything that comes with it)

homeschooling ADHD | parenting ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD is challenging on so many levels, and honestly the hyperactivity and distraction is a walk in the park compared to the rest of the package. ADHD rarely comes alone; it’s accompanied by depression, anxiety, rage, sensory processing issues, auditory processing issues, and a slew of other “disorders” and “syndromes.” And as if our kids weren’t challenging enough, there are the additional challenges of battling our own insecurities and mommy guilt, as well as battling what other people are saying and what we think they are saying.

So homeschooling a child with ADHD is, as you might assume, rather chaotic. It doesn’t look anything like I had imagined. And though we are in a much better place today then we were a couple of years ago, I remember the days when I doubted that I could do this. There were days when I felt like I did more counseling than actual homeschooling. There were days when one child would fly into a biting, scratching, head-banging rage, another child would be screaming inconsolably, and my toddler would be smearing poo all over the house. And I wasn’t sure I’d survive the day. But you know what? My kids learned, even when I didn’t think it was possible.

We learned in short spurts (10 to 15 minutes per subject).

We learned creatively and actively.

We learned when we had a chance, in the good moments.

And because of the environment of having that one-on-one attention and plenty of time to burn that excess energy, my kids have done well academically. Our ADHD kids are smart.

And while medication was not the long term answer for our kids, I’m thankful for the gift ADHD meds gave to my family during that time. It helped me to see who my children really were in the midst of that overwhelming fog. It gave me the chance to get my head above water and rethink our lifestyle and habits and routines. It wasn’t perfect: some days the meds worked, some days they seemed to be too much, other days they weren’t nearly enough. But the meds worked enough to help clear the haze and allow me to see that there could be some dietary links.

About a year and half ago, we began an elimination diet and I journaled religiously—everything we ate and every behavior. After awhile, some patterns emerged. It took several months of watching those patterns and eliminating different foods. But eventually, both my older kids went off meds and my youngest (never on meds) also had dramatic improvements in his temperament and sensory issues. My daughter’s journey took a little longer and involved a few more supplements, but eventually she was able to reach a healthy baseline. Are they cured? No, the dopamine and seratonin issues show up in the DNA; it will always be there. But we are able to manage their challenges best right now with diet and supplements.

My kids are still a very active, loud, dramatic, funny, personality-plus crew of hooligans. They still have BIG EMOTIONS that we have to work through. But in spite of all of the challenges, we’ve had the chance to see the treasure, too. You see, ADHD rarely comes alone; it comes with creativity, innovation, humor, imagination, and a wild sense of adventure. We are never short of laughs and unbelievable antics. My life is full and rich (and loud) and never dull, not for a split-second.

homeschooling active learners | ADHD | parenting ADHD

Is homeschooling the right option for your ADHD child? Only you know that. But I definitely don’t regret having homeschooled ours and the opportunities they’ve had to excel in learning in spite of their challenges, to love learning because we can keep it short and active and customized, to have meaningful friendships that allow them to be loud and quirky and every bit who they are. Can you homeschool a child with these obstacles? Sure you can. Just like you can wake up each day and parent. There are good days and bad days in homeschooling, just like there are good days and bad days in parenting. There are days when it is the most amazing experience ever, and there are days when I wonder what on earth I’m thinking. But there’s not a single day when I wouldn’t do absolutely all I could for my kid.

So if I could have a moment with myself of two or three years ago, if I could tell you what I’ve learned over the last few years, I’d say it’s okay to feel inadequate and helpless and imperfect. It’s okay to not know the solutions right now. It’s okay that you aren’t the “fun mom” or the “creative mom” or even the “patient mom.” You are still the perfect mom for this job, because God chose you for this child. And He doesn’t make mistakes. ADHD doesn’t come alone; and you are a key component in the journey.

If you are new to this journey and need a friend, I would love to hear from you. I also highly recommend the book Superparenting for ADD.

Want to follow more of our journey?

Incorporating Drawing into Learning

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into learning

When I first started homeschooling my kids, I began with the homeschool style I identified with best (classical). It wasn’t a bad start. At five years old, my son had not shown a clear learning style yet, and I didn’t know his strengths or weaknesses. I had to start with what I did know. But over the years, I’ve shifted my style slightly. We are still predominantly classical, but it’s not easy to have a hard-core classical, literature-rich homeschool with all the ADHD we have going on!

I’m learning that the key to making our homeschool method work well is working within my kids’ learning styles and strengths, adding activities that they enjoy or that keep them active. For instance, my son LOVES to draw, so I’m incorporating drawing into more of his homeschool. Drawing is more than just art. For both of my kids, drawing focuses their attention on the details that their active minds and bodies would otherwise not notice. Drawing slows my ADHD kiddos down enough to catch the details.

Because I’ve already mentioned how we’ve been using some drawing and sketching to help my daughter through some of her dyslexia struggles, I wanted to let you behind the scenes to see how my 5th grade son has been incorporating drawing into his subjects.

Incorporating Drawing into Science

We are putting together our own science curriculum this year with an encyclopedia we love and some experiment kits. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been covering sound, which had him learning about the ear and how it works. The encyclopedia we use had a cool diagram. While I knew I could find some free worksheet somewhere for him to label, I also knew—my son LOVES to draw.

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into science

So I had him draw the ear and label it. Honestly, I wasn’t positive how this would turn out when I first assigned it, and my son’s reaction was not instant enthusiasm. But once he started this project, he was eagerly asking for more. And he did an awesome job! Also, the attention to detail that the drawing required helped him to notice more than simply labeling an ear would have.

Okay, so this won’t work for just any boy. But because drawing is his strength, incorporating drawing in this way was a serious win for us.

Incorporating Drawing into Geography

There’s lots out there about drawing maps from scratch as a way to learn geography, but because he was already drawing an ear I wanted to change it up a bit. My mom got us a light table for Christmas, and it has been a huge hit. We use it for everything, except school. I hadn’t tried that yet. So when I suggested he used the light table to trace his map of ancient Phoenicia, he was stoked!

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into geography

Have you heard how ADHD kids can hyper-focus and have a rough time breaking away from something they enjoy? Yes, my son was so tuned into this assignment that he finished the entire week’s map assignment in a single day (we didn’t get math or language finished, but you know— you win some, you lose some). Hyper-focused is understating it.

The next week, when I gave him his new map, he immediately asked if he could use the light table again. Of course, I defined some terms of use this time.

Incorporating Drawing into Writing

My son loves writing as much as he loves drawing. In his spare time, my son is writing novels. But he doesn’t just love to write. He loves to draw and illustrate. If I give him a writing assignment, he’s on board. And if I ask him to illustrate his paper, draw a comic strip, or create a map for the setting of the story—he’s ecstatic!

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into writing

incorporating drawing | story writing | story settings

It’s hard to say if incorporating drawing into our homeschool is such a hit strictly because of their personalities or if it’s successful because it focuses some of that energy into a kinesthetic activity that helps them to slow down and pay attention to those tedious details. I honestly don’t care why or how it’s working, only that it is! And while I know not everyone’s kids love drawing in the same way my kids do, I’d love to encourage you to incorporate your child’s strengths (whatever they are) into your homeschool (whatever your homeschool style may be).

It’s not just about classical vs. delight-directed, it’s about using everything to our kid’s learning advantage.

Motivating YOU when your child is unmotivated

homeschool moms | encouragement | motivation

Nothing drains the energy out of a day like a sulky child. No matter how optimistic I feel at the start of the day, no matter how much coffee I consume, no matter how many Scriptures I quote to myself—pouty, sulky, unmotivated kids are rough to homeschool. So, how do I keep a good attitude? How do I stay motivated to homeschool when my kids are not? There’s no easy answer, but I try to keep 3 things in mind when I’m tempted to throw in the towel. 

It’s not my fault. 

This is such an easy trap to fall into. Maybe I haven’t made school enjoyable enough. Maybe I have the wrong curriculum. Maybe I’m teaching this wrong. Maybe I’m a terrible teacher. Maybe I’m failing at this. It’s such a vicious trail of defeat and lies. But it’s so easy to assume it’s my role to make everyone happy and my fault if they aren’t. It is my job to put learning materials and opportunities in front of them. And I do try very hard to match their learning styles and make school “fun.” But in the end, whether or not they enjoy it is their choice, not my fault. Some days, my kids are just bound and determined to not enjoy anything. I don’t prefer it that way, but their choice does not make me the “mean mom.” It doesn’t make me a failure. It just makes me the mom of a bunch of unmotivated kids having a bad day.

It is not my responsibility to keep them happy. 

It’s my responsibility to keep them healthy, to protect them, to provide learning opportunities for them. But to keep them in a constant state of happiness and contentment is not my responsibility. I fight this constantly. We can wear ourselves out looking for the next best thing, feeling as though it is our responsibility to make them love every moment of their education. I’m so guilty of this! And I have to reign myself back after some time on Pinterest and say, “You know, it’s okay that we haven’t used all of these super cool Lego Learning ideas. And it’s okay that I don’t have a cool acronym and song for everything we memorize.” My responsibility is to teach; it is their responsibility to learn. I have to consciously cast that back onto them: “I’m sorry you feel that way. That must be miserable. I would much prefer that we choose to do things this way, but I can’t be apart of your choice to….” Bottom line, my kids can choose to love learning (and I do try hard to encourage that), or they can choose to hate it all. But in the end, it is their choice. My favorite line in these moments: “If it were me, I’d prefer to enjoy learning. But if you’d rather be miserable, I’ll let you.” Most of the time, after they’ve calmed down those BIG feelings of theirs, they decide they’d rather enjoy it with me.

It is my choice.

Just like my child has a choice about his or her attitude, I have a choice about mine too. It is not my child’s fault if I join his pity party. It stinks when kids are unmotivated or in a bad mood. All the negativity can be very draining, which is why it is ultra-important (and not a bit selfish) to do some self-care. 

  • Step away (even if it’s to the bathroom). I make a point to let my kids know that I need a time-out to control my attitude and reactions. It teaches them, by example, that this is the correct way to handle those BIG FEELINGS, and it teaches them to respect others feelings. I also let them know the consequences. “I may become a Momster, and I don’t want to act that way. So I’m taking a time out.” Some times, they still don’t get the point, and I have to be a little more specific: “I feel like I’m going to either cry or scream, and I don’t want to do either. So I need you to be completely quiet all the way home.” (And unfortunately, they know I mean it. Because, yeah, I’ve done both.)
  • Supply your time-out space with what you need to regroup—an inspiring devotional, some battle verses, a cup of coffee, some chocolate, whatever it takes! I have a playlist of “Battle Songs” that I use for times when my emotions need to be redirected. I keep my Paul David Tripp devotional handy. And yes, there are times I take chocolate with me.
  • Do something shocking. Think of a car that has a dead battery. It doesn’t need a gentle nudge; it needs a giant shock! Sometimes my day needs a shock, too. Mondays tend to be our horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days. To shock our week into action, I’m trying a couple of different things: (1). taking school to a different location or (2). canceling our normal schedule to do a big learning project that we’ve been meaning to get to. Other times we’ve gone on a nature hike, watched educational movies, or taken an impromptu field trip. Make the kids do their schoolwork under the table, in a tree, or in a pillow fort. SHOCK THEM! And maybe even shock yourself. Most of the time, the thing I feel least like doing (leaving the house) is absolutely the thing we need most.

In the end, for my kids and myself, it’s a heart issue. And these days take lots of prayer—for my kids, with my kids, over my kids. I have my kids pray for me. And then we inch forward, in the Lord’s strength and sufficient grace. Because most days, when I’m unmotivated and losing momentum, it’s because I’m doing it in my own strength. I’m not enough for this job, even on a good day. But He is. Thank God, He is!

Motivating Your Child with Anxiety

child with anxiety | homeschooling ADHD | homeschooling dyslexia | motivation

Over the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned our top motivation-killers at my house: Big Emotions and creativity. Today, I’m revealing the last of our big three: anxiety. I’m not sure if the anxiety at our house is rooted in the ADHD or the dyslexia or something else entirely, but anxiety has been a real motivation-killer at several different points in our homeschool. How do you get your child moving again when anxiety has her totally shut down?

While a lot of the same ideas for motivating an intense child will also work for the anxious child (our anxiety is usually emotionally intense), there are a few things I do differently when dealing specifically with my daughter’s anxiety.

5 steps for motivating your child with anxiety

  • Reassure first. Don’t reassure with logic! (I’ve mentioned before that I am really working on this.) Know your child and what that child needs. Reassure with affection and sentiment: “I love you and it’s okay. We will get through this together.” I think, perhaps more than anything, my anxious child needs to be reminded that she’s not alone, that I’m there supporting her through all her struggles.
  • Validate her feelings and assure her that you will do all that you can to prevent her fears from becoming reality. “I can see how that would be devastating, but I will not allow anyone to laugh at you.” “I can see why you would be terrified, but I will make sure that [whatever the fear] doesn’t happen.” While my natural instinct is to tell my child that what she feels will never happen and logically explain why that fear is absurd, this just doesn’t have the same outcome as telling her that I will not allow that fear to occur. Sometimes, I can’t make that promise. It’s not in my realm of protection. In those cases, I reassure that if it were to ever happen, we would overcome it together, that she wouldn’t be facing that situation alone.
  • Be for her, not against her. I mentioned this in my post about motivating your intense child. Of course, we are “for” our children. But it is easy to default to an “us against them” when the work isn’t getting done. By positioning myself as the ally, I and my child work together against the obstacle or natural consequence, instead of against each other. I am not punishing her with the consequences; the consequences are hers. But I want to work alongside her to find a strategy to help her make good decisions and avoid those consequences.
  • End on a positive note. Humor, a secret code word between the two of us to reassure her in anxious moments, a treat (food heals the soul), a hug—anything that seals the deal and provides a little nudge of momentum. 
  • Set up the learning environment to reassure the child the next time you encounter that obstacle. When we begin a subject or an assignment that I know my daughter is naturally anxious about, I begin by going over what we’ve discussed before, and remind her of what we are doing differently this time to make sure that her fears are not a reality. Reading used to be our anxiety-subject; then it became spelling. For a long time, she would burst into tears and shut down at even the sight of an assignment that required spelling. Slowly, we’ve worked through the anxieties from both of those subjects. And the other weekend, she picked up a spelling book on her own on a day off to work through some of the activities! Talk about a miracle! Though she is not completely confident in spelling, we’ve definitely come a long way. 

Motivating a child with anxiety takes an enormous amount of patience. And I have to remember that even though the fears don’t always make sense to me, they are very real to my child. I’m not always grateful for these moments. I’m not always patient. I’m sure, at times, I’ve aggravated and intensified some of those feelings by handling it the wrong way. But as I look back over the weeks, and think about what God is doing in my life through this journey, I appreciate so much more how God handles my fears.

How illogical are mine most of the time! I have an almighty God who knows and cares: what do I have to be afraid of? And yet, God doesn’t launch into all the reasons why those fears don’t make sense. Instead, He assures me—”Don’t be afraid!” And He’s there for me—”I will never leave you or forsake you.” In the end, these are the verses and promises that both my child and I have to come back to. She and I are both scared, anxious little sheep, but He is the good Shepherd of us both.

Display Boards for whole family learning

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace

We’ve had so much fun with display boards recently that I just had to give you a peek at the action. As part of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, we’ve been learning about the cultures and people of ancient Palestine during the time of King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. I love doing as much of our learning together as we can, so I assigned both of the older kids this display board project for their writing assignment. Immediately, they were all on board.

Preparation for the Display Boards

My preparation, overall, wasn’t bad. I printed off the Teacher Notes from our curriculum and highlighted the portions for them to read through for the writing part of the assignment, picked some images to print from Google images, and picked up some display board supplies at our local supply store. Each child picked their board, including Littlest, my preschooler. He wanted in on the action, and I figured getting him his own poster board would keep him from “participating” in the other kids’ projects in ways they would not prefer.

Directions for the Display Boards

We chose four cultures that had the most information available: Canaanites, Hittites, Philistines, and Phoenicians. And I gave them 3 weeks to work on it.

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace | display boards

For my fifth grader, I assigned a paragraph for each culture. Other than providing his materials and showing him a few sample projects, I really did not do much more for him. He likes his independence.

For my third grader, I only required a couple of sentences for each culture. Because of her skill level and dyslexia, I helped her quite a bit more. I read the information to her rather than have her read it, and she used a new favorite app of ours to write her sentences. (Dyslexia Aid allows her to speak her sentence into the app, and it gives her the text for her to copy into her projects.)

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace | display boards

dyslexia app | dyslexia aids for writing

For my preschooler, I gave him permission to use any left-over photos the big kids were not using. He got his glue stick and scissors and went to town. I love it! The red scribbles are his map of Palestine.

whole family learning | hands-on learning | Tapestry of Grace | display boards | preschool

In Love with Display Boards

Seriously, we are in love with display boards, and I keep asking myself why I haven’t tried this sooner. My daughter has already asked about a hundred times if she can make another one. And it was an easy way to incorporate everyone at their own skill levels, interacting with the same information, which after all, is why I love Tapestry of Grace to begin with. I love whole family learning, and I love getting to put that learning on display.

Motivating your Creative Distracted Child

creative distracted child | homeschooling ADHD

I love my kids and their unique personalities and gifts. On most days, I love what ADHD adds to their personalities. My kids are funny, innovative, out-of-the-box kids who do everything in a BIG way—messes, noises, emotions, drama, imagination. It’s all big. While I told you last week about how I handle our top distraction (BIG emotions), I’m writing this week about our second biggest distraction: creativity. Yes, believe it or not, I have more than one highly creative distracted child, and one extremely creative right-brained child. While I do love this about my children and have a lot of fun with their creativity and out-of-the-box ideas, sometimes it makes completing the work of homeschool a monumental task. If you, too, are blessed with a creative distracted child, here are a few ideas to get through the day.

5 ideas for motivating your Creative Distracted Child

  • Let them create first. Trying to set my creative child down to any kind of structured school while those creative juices are flowing is pretty nearly impossible. I’m setting us all up to fail. But I’ve noticed that if I give them the freedom to create first, to express some of that creativity, the release allows them to be able to settle in for the harder tasks. Sometimes all it takes is half an hour. For quite awhile, I gave them the whole morning and allowed them to start their discipline subjects after lunch when they were (a little) more mellow. Giving your child a time to expend that energy and creativity may help him to settle into the hard work later.
  • Give both rewards and consequences.  Of my three kids, my daughter is my most creative, right-brained (i.e. distracted) child. At times, to reward her and motivate her to finish her work, I’ve allowed her to have 5 min. to decorate her page with colored gel pens and stickers if she finishes the lesson in a set amount of time. For my son, allowing him to write a funny comic strip in the margins after he’s worked the exercise is lots of motivation. On the other hand, natural consequences are equally as motivating. “I’m so sorry you played today instead of getting your math page done. I always love to see what you create during your doodling time. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” I’m their ally; I want to help them succeed, but I can’t make their choices for them.
  • Set a timer. In our homeschool, I have always used timers. Early on, I noticed all my children go into an absolute panic if they were timed for something, so I used timers regularly to help them overcome their fears. But secondly, I’ve used timers as a tool to help them become aware of how much time has passed. Children in general, and ADHD children especially, have no concept of time. Time and time management are very abstract concepts; timers have helped my kids understand these abstract ideas. When we first began, I only used the timer in 5 or 10 minute increments, assigning maybe one side of a page; it was a short enough amount of time for them to stay focused and get a sense for how long that amount of time lasted. If they didn’t complete their page in the given time, I’d simply reassure them: “That’s okay. Now, you know how long 5 minutes is. Let’s try again, and this time I want you to try to get this much done.” Over the years using this method, we’ve worked up to about 20 minutes.
  • Use creativity as a reward. Honestly, I should use this one more. But it is rather effective when I have used it. I’ve seen moms use video game time or minecraft as a similar motivator. Essentially, if my child finishes in a decent amount of time, that child has earned the reward of a larger art project. “If you finish all of your assignments by lunch, you’ll have time to paint or sculpt with clay.” Those big art projects take a lot of time, and we just don’t always get to them, which makes them a real treat. The work itself is not necessarily motivating for a creative child, but finishing school in order to tackle a big art endeavor is very motivating, at least for my artsy crew.
  • Leave as many subjects open-ended as you can. This is my go-to. I love leaving assignments open-ended and seeing how they creatively approach the topic. The idea is to let your creative child decide how he wants to learn the material and complete the project. Does he want to write a story about a boy living in ancient Greece or a comic strip of the Trojan War? Would he rather sculpt a Grecian vase or clay models of the different types of columns? Would he prefer to make a display board or a diorama? If my kids are excited about the project, they are more motivated to tackle the harder aspects of learning (like reading and writing, for instance). We recently tackled display boards, and they were a huge hit! One of my all-time favorite homeschool moments last year was watching my daughter learn about Kandinsky’s art. I gave her a set of stickers and told her to copy the works as best she could, in whatever medium she wanted. She chose the stickers she liked best and had a blast with construction paper, tissue paper, crayon resist, watercolor, etc. And the results were brilliant! She did an amazing job, and I had very little to do with it.

motivating creative distracted child

I love having active, creative ADHD kiddos. And I really don’t want to be frustrated with such an amazing part of their personalities. This isn’t a distraction that goes away or that they will grow out of. This is a part of who they are, and it’s here to stay! I want to encourage the creativity while teaching them to manage and set boundaries for it. If you are at odds with your highly creative distracted child, start using that creativity to your advantage. It’s one of those rare distractions that can also be their greatest motivation.