Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason

homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason

I have poignant memories of the chaos and trauma of those years right before we realized two of our kids had ADHD. The rages, the sensory issues, the meltdowns, the distraction, the hyperactivity! While early on we had embraced the classical method of education for our homeschool, I was drowning in the ADHD chaos. Trying to enforce a rigid daily structure with lots of memory work was a constant uphill battle. Additionally, our family was also experiencing different health issues at the time. My husband was going in for his second back surgery when I picked up Karen Andreola’s Charlotte Mason Companion to read in the waiting room. Within just a couple of hours, I devoured that book. It was a breath of fresh inspiration, the grace I needed to navigate our torrent of homeschool challenges. Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason’s ideas became a game-changer, even a life-changer for us.

While I don’t adhere to everything Charlotte Mason, I really appreciated the outlook she had on children and education in general and her practical tips for maintaining a healthy love for learning. Charlotte Mason changed how I approached homeschooling ADHD kiddos.

Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason

Soon after my kids’ were diagnosed with ADHD, my pediatrician recommended a popular book on the topic. I hated it. I hated that the focus was largely on how hard life with ADHD would be. I already knew that. I lived it daily. I wanted to hear something positive. As I read Charlotte Mason’s ideas about children and people, I loved how she helped me gain perspective in those hard moments.

“We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.”

I needed to train myself to look for those positives. The struggles were obvious, but what were the triumphs? What were my kids excellent at? What did ADHD give them? For my kids, ADHD gives them an incredible enthusiasm for life, for adventure, for change. They love people and the spontaneity of life as a pastor’s family. They are highly creative and innovative. They rarely use anything for it’s intended purpose, and very often think of solutions most people would never see. They are idea-machines! They have more ideas in a single day than some people have in a lifetime. And my kids are flat-out funny! Oh my goodness, we are never short on laughs. In the daily grind, it’s not always easy to remember these positives. We have to train ourselves to see the beauty and joy.

“A child is a person in whom all possibilities are present – present now at this very moment – not to be educed after many years and efforts manifold on the part of the educator.”

Parenting is far from easy. In the midst of training who they will be, we can’t lose sight of who they already are. We tried ADHD meds for a year before deciding to treat it with diet changes. And I’m so thankful for that time. It allowed me to get my head above water and see the connection between what my kids ate and their behavior so that we could make permanent diet changes to help them. And both the meds and the diet allowed me to see who my children really were, beyond the moods and meltdowns and rages and behavior problems.

The possibilities are already present in each child. Look for them! Some days you may have to look hard, but they are there. You aren’t just educating their future possibilities; our children are full of possibility each day.

“We attempt to define a person, the most commonplace person we know, but he will not submit to bounds; some unexpected beauty of nature breaks out; we find he is not what we thought, and begin to suspect that every person exceeds our power of measurement.”

It is so hard to see people make judgements based on what they know or think they know about ADHD or your child. But honestly, we are all guilty of that. Even as parents, we can easily fall into this trap of attempting to define who our children are. But every person exceeds our power of measurement. ADHD kids know no bounds! That’s the best and worst of every day. They will exceed every measurement and every expectation. They go far above and beyond even where you want them to be. I am often surprised and humbled by my children; they are not always what I think, and they often exceed all power of measurement.

“Look on education as something between the child’s soul and God. Modern Education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the standardized test.”

homeschooling charlotte mason | homeschooling ADHD

“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.”

Charlotte Mason reminded me that my job as a homeschool parent was to nurture much more than the just the brain. Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason challenged me to think of educating them emotionally, spiritually, and physically as well as mentally. This one aspect of Charlotte Mason gave me enormous freedom. So many days I would get discouraged about what didn’t get done academically; we’d spent the whole day talking through intense moods and character and behavior. There were days when I felt I did more counseling than teaching. And yet, Charlotte Mason reminded me that I was teaching, that this counseling and working through BIG FEELINGS was as much part of their education as math or reading. I am educating them for living and for life, not just for college and career.

“Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.”

homeschooling charlotte mason | homeschooling ADHD charlotte mason

“So much for the right books; the right use of them is another matter. The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea.”

“For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.”

“Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin, and that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food.”

Charlotte Mason has a lot to say about ideas. Ideas vs. facts—that is the cornerstone of the Charlotte Mason homeschooling, and the key to recharging our homeschool. I’ve mentioned already my kids are a fountain of ideas, constantly. When I switched our focus from simply memorizing facts to capturing and connecting with ideas, our homeschool turned 180 degrees. It was night and day difference. What did this look like? Instead of battling my kids to memorize timelines and facts, we read about people and wrote in the dates to the timeline that my child connected with. I stopped forcing quantity and chose a smaller assortment of content and facts that we could savor and enjoy. My kids remembered people and events because they connected with the ideas that resonated with them; they began empathizing and identifying with the people we read about. They remembered those connections for years, long after they forgot the memorized facts.

Other practical aspects of Charlotte Mason that we use to homeschool ADHD include:

  • Short lessons and lots of variety. For my younger kids, lessons are no longer than 15-20 minutes. Their sharp, fast minds learn a lot in a short time and then have to move on. Staying longer on a topic does not teach them any more; it just frustrates all of us. Even for my sixth grader, most subjects are 15-20 minutes with a couple of subjects (like math)  taking him 30 min.
  • Nature Study and outdoor time. Fresh air can do more for my kids’ moods than anything else. I’m an introvert and a home-body, but I’ve learned the importance of getting us all outside regularly. 
  • Variety and handicrafts. As part of embracing the education of the whole child, Charlotte Mason recommends a lot of variety and arts and handicraft. I’ve allowed a very loose definition of handicraft as any craft done by hand: duct-tape projects, rubber band bracelets, paracord crafts, crocheting, drawing, woodwork, making paper airplanes, sewing felt animals or monsters, building paper minecraft villages, legos, etc. Their hands are busy, and their creativity is nurtured as much as their intellect.

We are still a pretty solid mix of both classical and Charlotte Mason. A day in the life of our homeschool would clearly show a blend of both of these methods, but the Charlotte Mason method has enriched our homeschool immensely. Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason is a joy, a beautiful mess of ideas, and an atmosphere of rambunctious learning.

How to Blend Homeschool Styles to find the Best Fit

blend homeschool styles | classical and charlotte masonOne of the aspects of homeschooling that I am most thankful for is the ability to customize a learning approach that fits my kids’ individual needs. It’s a beautiful thing to recognize that classical or Charlotte Mason or delight-directed or Montessori fits with your vision and goals for your family and your children. However, I know first-hand that it is also really easy to trap yourself within these labels. What once inspired and informed your choices suddenly becomes what’s strangling the life out of your homeschool. What do you do when one size doesn’t fit the whole family? Or what if you feel like a conglomeration of ideas is a better fit than a single approach? The answer is simple: blend homeschool styles into the custom-fit for your family!

Our Decision to Blend Homeschool Styles

Shortly after beginning to homeschool our kids, I read about the classical style of education. My husband and I loved it. The logic, the rhetoric, the apologetics, the Socratic discussion, the learning stages—so much of this style appealed to us, and I dove in head first.

Of course, that was before I discovered that I’d been blessed with a house full of ADHD. A couple of years in and the rigid structure and rigorous demands of a strictly classical education had just about killed us. Toss in a series of family health issues, and our life was chaos. As I sat in the waiting room of a medical office waiting for my husband’s second back surgery to be completed, I devoured Karen Andreola’s book Charlotte Mason Companion. Charlotte Mason was the breath of fresh grace I desperately needed.

While I wasn’t ready to abandon the premise of classical education we’d loved and identified with, I immediately saw how Charlotte Mason’s principles both complemented and embellished the starkness of the classical model. Charlotte Mason gave grace and beauty where I was in much need of it. Over the next year, I worked to blend the two styles together in a way that kept what we loved about classical but gave grace in the areas of ADHD distractibility where I needed it most. The result: a perfect fit for our family, a blend of knowledge and grace.

So how do you achieve this for your family? How do you take what you like, toss what you don’t, and blend what’s left together?

How to Blend Homeschool Styles

Identify what you love best about the styles you are considering. Every curriculum, every homeschool style has it’s strengths and weaknesses. As you read and consider the differences, make a list of what appeals to you the most.

For instance, I love the classical model of a 4 year rotation of history; I love the learning stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; I love the emphasis on classical languages and Socratic discussions of ideas. But the rigor of long lessons, drill, and grueling memory work was squelching the active, creative spirits of my ADHD kiddos, not to mention creating real obstacles for my dyslexic child.

From Charlotte Mason, I loved the short lessons, the variety, the incorporation of handicraft and creativity and beauty, the emphasis on the whole person, and the rich feast of ideas to engage their busy intellects.

Exchange principles you don’t like with ones you do. I replaced classical suggestions of 45 minute subjects with the Charlotte Mason principle of short lessons. I was stunned by how much my busy kids learned in only 15 minutes, and the rich variety kept them engaged without gimmicks or bribes. While the encyclopedias and information-rich texts of the classical style appealed to my son, the living books of Charlotte Mason were much more effective with my dyslexic daughter who could follow a plot to remember information better than she could remember random facts.

Embrace trial and error. Ideas that sound perfect in theory may totally fail in application. And that’s okay. Make adjustments. I loved the idea of Charlotte Mason’s approach to teaching spelling, writing, and narration. But in practice, the method was a total fail with both my older kids. Though I loved the open-ended CM concept of narration, my children did much better with the guided, structured classical narrations. Blending the two has been a constant work in progress, but the result has been a style of learning that captures the very best of my kids’ ADHD strengths rather than frustrating their weaknesses.

A couple of years later, and I’m still towing that line between these two styles, daily making decisions about which principles fit our family’s vision and personality best. It’s empowering to blend homeschool styles to what works best for us. It’s liberating to have something else to try when we fail. It’s inspiring to know I’m not trapped in a method that feels like the wrong fit. 

Knights in Training review

knights in training book review

I love knights. I enjoy the stories of King Arthur as much now as I did as a kid. And I love studying the Middle Ages with my children. So what could possibly be better than tying in character training with knights and chivalry, right? When I stumbled upon Heather Haupt’s Knights in Training at the homeschool convention this year, I really felt like I’d hit the jackpot.

Knight training started out as a way to equip the warrior class in medieval times. It soon became so compelling that all nobles sought to have their sons embark on this training and take up the chivalry challenge. The principles are timeless and ready for a new generation of boys to take up.

Knights in Training is a creative way to teach 10 areas of character using inspiring knights stories to captivate our sons’ imaginations. This is habit-training that encourages boys to be boys—strong, daring risk-takers, protectors and champions. By shaping and nurturing their natural masculinity with biblical principles and character-building stories, we teach our sons to be men, in every sense of the word.

In the first few chapters of the book, the author explains the problems she is addressing with her principles. She discusses how the culture undermines our boys, the struggles they face to become honorable men, and the solution that knight-training provides. Her principles are based in Scripture and creatively presented to young boys. I agree whole-heartedly with the problems she mentions in these chapters, although there were a few areas I would disagree in practice. Nothing major, but for instance, we have no problem with superheroes at our house, while the author avoids them. So while, you may find practical ways to live out these principles that are different than the author has chosen for her family, don’t let that discourage you from reading this book. The meat of this book is phenomenal!

The rest of Knights in Training takes each of the 10 “codes” and develops them for you. Every chapter begins with a knight story to illustrate how the code was lived out and to inspire our young men to do the same. Then, Heather spends some time giving you practical examples of how to encourage and teach the character lesson in your day-to-day life. Finally, each chapter ends with a challenge to “throw down the gauntlet,” with practical goals and action steps for you to take on the journey.

Her website also includes a downloadable poster of the Knight’s Code. My boys have one hanging in their room, and my oldest has the code memorized without any prompting from me! He will remind me throughout our day which code applies to the situation we are facing. “That’s number 4, Mom,” he’ll tell me when he has the opportunity to defend or protect his younger siblings. 

I loved this book and the conversations it’s prompted me to have with my boys, and I’m really looking forward to implementing the code with my boys throughout this year, especially as we study knights and castles and medieval life in history. Knights in Training is aimed for your younger crowd, preschool to middle-school, I’d say. If you have older boys that you want to include in this training, they’d probably enjoy training your littler ones and even creating a Knight’s Training Camp with some of the ideas that Heather includes in her book. She also includes a ton of great books and read-aloud options for each principle in “the code.”

For a list of places to purchase the book, an audio sample, downloadable resources (including the poster), and a preview of the Table of Contents, visit Heather’s website.