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.”
“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.”
“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.