Research-based tips for homeschooling with ADHD from a veteran homeschool mom who holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology and teacher/school counselor certification in two states.
Homeschooling with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be challenging for both students and parents, but it can also provide a learning experience that meets the individualized learning needs of these students in a unique and creative way! The following tips are based upon my dissertation research study, “Experiences of Current or Former Homeschool Students Who Report ADHD Symptoms” (Felkins, 2018). This was the first study of its kind in which current and former homeschool students were interviewed to gain insight into their own perceptions of the experience.
Up to this point, I’ve always written on this subject in a very academic manner. It was the topic of my dissertation, after all. Now, I want to be able to share this information in a more personable way, so I am going to try really hard to tone down the academic nature and just talk to you parent-to-parent and teacher-to-teacher.
Disclaimer: My research participants were current and former homeschool students ages 12-21. These tips are based on perceptions from this age group. However, the general information can be applicable to students of any age.
This post may include affiliate links, from which we may earn compensation, at no additional cost to you, when you click on the link. This post may also include links to third-party websites from which we are receiving no compensation. This is solely for the convenience of the reader. We make no claims and hold no liability or responsibility for the content of these linked websites. For more information, please see our Disclosure Policy.
The first thing to recognize is that all learners are different. Even among those with ADHD, there those who are hyperactive, those who are attention-deficient, and those who have a combination of these two types. The range of symptoms is significant, and it presents in varying ways throughout the population. It’s important to take this into consideration when you are homeschooling a student with ADHD. What works well for one may not work well for another. With that being said, there were a few common threads that my participants thought were very important for their learning process.
The most crucial tip I can give you about homeschooling a student with ADHD is to approach it with structured flexibility. These students need to have guidelines and boundaries, but flexibility is key. Things don’t always go as planned. It might take longer to do an assignment, or you might realize that they are completely overwhelmed with the amount of information they are trying to process in one sitting. That means it’s time to do something different! Take a break. Reduce the lesson into smaller chunks. Change the way you are approaching it. Move on to something else and come back to it later.
Remember, your homeschooling day doesn’t have to look just like a traditional school day!
For my family, we use an online tool called Homeschool Planet to organize lesson plans. I plan the lessons by student, subject, and day, but I’m able to move them around when I need to in order to accommodate our flexible schedule. At the same time, my kids are able to sign into their own accounts, see what lessons are scheduled for the day, and mark them off as they complete them. This gives them the structure they need, and it really helps them to be able to see their progress as they complete their assignments each day. My college kid has continued using this tool on his own to schedule out his coursework and keep him on track!
They do have a 30-day free trial, so you can try it out and see how you like it. We’ve used it since it first came out, and they have continually improved it. They even offer built-in lesson plans for many of the popular homeschool curriculum publishers now. If you don’t use this tool, some other sort of checklist (even handwritten) can help tremendously! It can be so discouraging for a student to think they are done for the day and then find out they have more school work to do!
Schedule and Pacing
One big advantage of homeschooling is that students can work when they are at their best and can go at their own pace. For teens, that might mean that you let them sleep a little later in the morning and do their school work later in the day. Younger kids might be ready to learn first thing in the morning. It all goes back to individualized learning. Find what works best for each student and be willing to adjust as their needs change (remember the flexibility part?).
Give them choices.
Does it really matter if they do math or English first? There might be circumstances where it does. For instance, our family has a few things that we do together every day. If I don’t get them all in the same room to do those things before they start their individual lessons for the day, it’s almost impossible to get them back together again. One finishes an assignment and is ready to do group stuff, but another has just started something and can’t join us at that moment…so the first goes and starts another assignment…then the other gets done with theirs and is ready for group stuff…but now the other one can’t do it…you get the picture.
Other than group work, though, my kids can choose for themselves the order in which they want to complete their work for the day. The older your kids get, the more control you can give them over their own schedule. Even though students with ADHD may need a little more guidance to successfully navigate this freedom, it will help them learn necessary skills for self-discipline as they grow into adulthood. The bottom line is to give them a framework to work within (structure), but then let them make some choices as to how to accomplish their goals (flexibility).
Going at their own pace is something the participants in my study mentioned over and over as a positive part of their homeschooling journey.
On the lessons/subjects that come easily to them, they are able to move quickly and get things done ahead of schedule. That leaves more time for the things that may prove to be a little more difficult. If you don’t take the time to make sure they fully understand one thing before moving on to the next, it will create a snowball effect that will make future learning much more difficult for them. This can lead to emotional consequences that can severely cripple a student’s self-concept and desire to learn.
The participants in my study really valued the one-on-one instruction and support that they receive from their parents/teachers. The homeschool experience allows for greater teaching flexibility to give students with ADHD the opportunity to have more intensive and explicit instruction to meet their individual learning needs. This aspect of one-on-one instruction seems to be more important for younger students, as students often become more independent in their learning as they get older, especially if they have been taught solid organizational and research skills. Older students, however, are more aware of the role emotional support from their parents plays in their overall success.
Don’t be afraid to make changes if something is not working.
Having the opportunity to work with your kids one-on-one gives you a front-row seat to their academic progress. If you and your student are overwhelmed because a certain curriculum is not working, take a good hard look at it. Is there something you could do to modify it to better meet their needs? The worst thing you can do for any of your students is to become a slave to the curriculum. Believe me…I’ve done it…it’s not worth it!
Just because a certain schedule or particular assignments are suggested in a textbook doesn’t mean you have to make your students do exactly that. Maybe you need to decrease the number of math problems required each day, have them answer questions out loud instead of writing them down, or ask them to teach the lesson back to you. The important thing is that they learn the concept, not that they produce pages and pages of busywork.
And if you just absolutely can’t make the curriculum work, change it! I know this is not something to take lightly. Curriculum is expensive, and you work so hard to choose just the right one. But if you hit a brick wall, and everyone involved is miserable, don’t submit you and your kids to months of struggle just to stick with a particular curriculum. You can usually find used curriculum online or at book sales, and you can re-sell the one that didn’t work for you. It will probably work great for someone else!
Here are a couple of things to think about regarding students who are homeschooling with ADHD. We often associate ADHD with hyperactivity, but we can’t forget about inattentiveness. Inattentiveness often causes more distractions during school time than hyperactivity. Something else that we, as parents and teachers, may not be able to see is brain hyperactivity. Students with ADHD often struggle with internal focus.
While trying to do school work, their brains may become easily distracted by something else while they’re studying and spiral into a funnel of thoughts. For example, one of my participants described how she might come across a word while she was reading that would remind her of a movie, which would remind her of a song, which would remind her of an artist, and so on. I heard these types of stories over and over. Before they know it, a good amount of time has passed and they haven’t gotten any work done.
So what are some tools students who homeschool with ADHD can use to help maintain focus?
Music is a great focus tool for many students. For most, instrumental music is the best choice, as music with words can often cause distractions. With that being said, I did have one participant who said when she listened to music with lyrics while studying, she could recall the information when she heard the song again. I have often found my son, who is a guitarist, picking a tune on the guitar while listening to an online lecture on his headphones. He’s providing his own background music and keeping his hands busy at the same time!
Finding the right tools for each student can take some trial and error. You always have to remember that individualized learning for students with ADHD includes finding individualized learning and focus tools.
Another tool homeschooling parents can use to increase engagement for their students with ADHD is to connect the content to the student’s interest. No, this is not going to be possible for every lesson in every subject. However, my participants reported a much higher level of engagement in their course work when they were able to choose topics of interest when writing papers or doing research projects.
Be creative with this! If a student loves to play computer games, find educational computer games for them to play (By the way, many students with ADHD learn better this way). One of my kids is like a sponge when he watches documentaries, while the other two usually fall asleep if I make them watch one. Those two love to listen to me read books, though (yes, even as teenagers).
And let’s talk about reading books to your kids for a minute.
It’s essential! Choose books that relate to the content your family is learning. Historical fiction is my favorite! We’ve also had a lot of success with book series over the years. We’ve done Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, Percy Jackson, and Little House on the Prairie, to name a few. Book series are great for keeping your kids’ interest! They are always eager to start the next book and find out what happens next!
For your students who struggle with focus, let them have something to do to keep their hands busy while you’re reading-coloring, puzzles, building blocks, clay, etc. My kids are teens, but you’ll often see them coloring a map that corresponds to the book we’re reading, painting a picture, doodling, playing quietly with the dog, eating breakfast, or playing a game of checkers while I’m reading to them.
They can often absorb the information better if they are doing something other than just sitting and trying to focus completely on what you are reading. Just make sure that what they are doing is not distracting others who are trying to listen or you, as the reader. There are lots of options that will work for everyone and promote individualized learning.
Another consideration for students who are homeschooling with ADHD is their learning environment. Some of my participants said they prefer to work in a place that is a little less comfortable (such as at a table or desk) because being uncomfortable helps them stay focused on getting their work done more efficiently. Others, however, reported that being uncomfortable creates even more of a distraction for them, so they prefer to sit on a couch, bean bag, or even their beds. This is something that parents really need to communicate about with their kids and help them modify their environment to find the most productive scenario.
If you’re insisting that your kids all stay in one area to complete all of their lessons, you may be contributing to the lack of focus for your student with ADHD.
Another important aspect of the learning environment that should be considered is external distractions. If you’re insisting that your kids all stay in one area to complete all of their lessons, you may be contributing to the lack of focus for your student who is homeschooling with ADHD. Siblings or other household noises and activity can easily take a student’s attention from their work, and they may have a very hard time re-focusing.
If this is a problem for your student, consider allowing them to work in an area with fewer distractions or use headphones with instrumental music to drown out the noise. I realize it’s easier to keep an eye on everyone if you have them all in the same area, but it might not be what is best for your student with ADHD. Be willing to make adjustments and be flexible, so your students can have the best opportunity at achieving academic success.
Structured flexibility should be the backbone of the individualized learning experience for students who are homeschooling with ADHD. Take a look at these four elements and see how you can manage them in the best way to help your students be successful:
- Schedule and Pacing
- One-on-One Instruction
- Focusing Tools
- Learning environment
What questions do you have about homeschooling with ADHD?
Pin For Later…
Felkins, M. (2018). Experiences of Current or Former Homeschool Students Who Report Adhd Symptoms (dissertation). ProQuest.