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.

What to include in your nature journal

nature journal | how to get started and what to include | nature study

We were a few years into nature study before I started keeping my own nature journal along with the kids. I’ve stumbled along and tried a few different methods of sketching and journaling, but I’ve finally found a groove that’s working for me. If you are stumped about what to include in your nature journal, here are a few ideas to get you started.

What to include in your nature journal

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Start with a heading. Include the date and place of your hike, maybe the time of day, the weather, and anything else that seems pertinent.

Make a list of things you spotted on your hike. For me, this is the best way to get past the “writer’s block” of nature journaling. Instead of staring at a beautiful blank page hoping I don’t ruin my nature journal with my lack of artistic talent, I start with listing all of the plants and creatures we identified on our walk, even if it’s just a few common birds and flowers, turtles on a log, frogs in a pond, dragonflies, etc.

nature journal | nature study | whole-family learning

Sketch and caption of a few of your favorite moments. As I’m making my list, I usually always have a few favorite memories from our hike. I sketch two or three of these favorites into my nature journal, and then journal a sentence or two about what we saw and what happened. I’m far from an artist, so these are much more about remembering than anything else, just a rough sketch. I’ve tried a few different tools, but I’ve found I love using watercolor pencils and a watercolor marker most of all for my sketching, and a Sharpie pen or Micron pen for the journaling itself.

Include a few new discoveries. Our routine is to take a few pictures of “mystery” plants or creatures and then to use Google Images to identify them. After we’ve figured out our new discoveries, we sketch these on a page in our journals, practicing observation skills as we sketch the details. I’m not super talented, but I don’t feel I have to be. We’re learning plenty with our rough sketches and fun memories.

So often in education, we make the process of learning and discovery much harder than it has to be. Nature journaling and nature study do not have to be complicated or intimidating. It’s really about discovery and wonder and shared memories.

If you’d like a little gentle direction for your nature study, check out these NaturExplorer studies (affiliate link). Each study gives you fun books to read, tons of nature walk ideas and activities, as well as printable pages to add to your nature journal.

Our Journey Westward

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Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.

In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.

Projects

Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.