How To Homeschool ADHD: 19 Effective Tips

January 20, 2021, 6:43 am

If you’re looking to know how to homeschool ADHD, you’re in the right place.

Whether you are a new or veteran homeschool mom, harnessing the attention of the ADHD brain can be a challenge. But, not impossible.

So when homeschooling kids with ADHD, we moms need to know how to work with the grain of our unique children.

Understanding this can make all the difference. I promise. 

How To Homeschool ADHD: Know The Signs

The reality is that the way ADHD displays itself is different for everyone. Some signs of ADHD are:

  1. Your child may have trouble paying attention to whatever is not inherently interesting;
  2. Your kid’s bedroom, backpack, or binder may be perpetually messy no matter how many times it has been organized;
  3. Perhaps your child’s ADHD brain may show itself through impulsivity:
    • Blurting things out (‘Did he just say that outloud?’)
    • Dare-devil behaviors and thrill seeking
  4. Low-frustration tolerance:
    • rage,
    • meltdowns when things are challenging,
    • shutting down when overwhelmed, etc…
cartoon adhd kids cartwheels learning

How To Homeschool ADHD: Embrace It!

Those are just a few signs of ADHD in kids (and adults). Hint: ADHD is hereditary.

And guess what? ADHD is NOT a bad thing when it’s understood well.

ADHD Is A Strength

In fact, I’m convinced that ADHD is a a gift that makes so many of us shine. (Of course, I’m biased, but I own my adult ADHD proudly.)

You can read more of my own adult adhd story in the About section.)

For more info on ADHD in kids and how to most effectively harness the power of the ADHD brain, check out Homeschooling The Distracted Child.

Traditional Teaching: ADHD Students: Set Up To Fail

When we try to teach our ADHD students at home using the traditional teaching approach, kids are often set up for failure.

Insisting on teaching our kids with a sit still, listen, and do what I say mentality is a recipe for disaster.

Sitting Still Can Hurt Academic Growth In Kids

For example, students with ADHD often struggle to maintain attention when forced to spend their cognitive energy trying to sit still. 

This ultimately impacts their ability to receive and process information. In the end, academic growth stalls.

Additionally, frustration and tension between child and homeschool teacher grow. Clearly, this is not good.

How Homeschool ADHD Kids

So how do we homeschool ADHD kids?  And more importantly, how do we maintain healthy relationships with our ADHD kids?

After all, the traditional model of teaching that creeps into our homechools often causes nothing but battles at every turn.

To answer these questions, I’ve partnered with an amazing pediatric occupational therapist, Alicia Mathews, MS, OTR-L.

Together, Alicia and I are providing you 19 of the most effective strategies to use when homeschooling kids with ADHD.

Occupational Therapy Helps Us Know How To Homeschool ADHD

So why would a mom seek the support of an occupational therapist in order to know how to best homeschool her kid?

Well, Girlfriend, I’m glad you asked.

Here’s the deal. Learning is so much bigger than the compartmentalized system that we’ve traditionally seen in education.

How To Homeschool ADHD: Understand The Brain & Behavior

A good occupational therapist has a deep understanding of the brain, the body and how to optimize them both for effective learning.

As such, we need to think of this optimization as the key to unlock the door to effective learning.  And we moms need to understand it.

We’re all students. We’re always learning something. Adults and children alike.

Homeschool Moms Saying No To Tradition

When moms start to say no to traditional parenting and educational paradigms that are failing outside-the-box thinkers, we then have the power to better equip our kids.

So let’s learn how to better homeschool ADHD from someone who understands the brain.

Alicia Matthews, MS, OTR/L, has been a key player in my journey with my own children.

A good occupational therapist has a deep understanding of the brain, the body and how to optimize them both for effective learning. 

Every parent and educator should have this understanding in order to provide children the best possible education: homeschool or otherwise.

19 Tips For Teaching ADHD Students At Home

1. Movement Is A Must

Any learning that requires a child to sit and pay attention can be tough.  Many kids with ADHD are wired to thrive through movement. 

Physical movement releases feel good chemicals that stimulate the brain and relax the body.  So when teaching to the ADHD brain, we need to get kids moving strategically! 

Alicia and I always recommend the RIGHT sensory input before we have our children sit.

Sensory Input For Learning While Seated

A sensory cushion, therapy ball, or chair band can help a child who needs to sit. For our more fidgety kids, these tools allow them to make small movements without being distracting.

On the other hand, they can be very helpful for kiddos that need to increase attention.

For the child that appears to daydream (this is a gift as well), offering them small ways to stay alert can help.

2. What is Vestibular Input & Why Does It Help ADHD Kids Learn

Vestibular input refers to the sensory system that allows us to know where our body is in space.

That tickle we feel when on a swing or riding a roller coaster is the brain’s way of understanding that you’re not on solid ground, for example.

This movement releases histamine, which increases attention.

Vestibular Input To Improve Learning

Outside vestibular activities include:

  • going down a slide (headfirst is always fun & increases vestibular input),
  • swinging high in the air,
  • or riding a scooter.

Indoor vestibular activities:

  • Log rolls,
  • spinning in an office chair,
  • or performing inverted yoga poses

In my home, we love these Yoga Pretzel cards. Just have your child grab one or two and easily incorporate these movement breaks into your homeschool routine.  

3. Proprioceptive Input For The ADHD Brain

Proprioceptive input refers to movement and changes in joint position.

This movement releases serotonin, which decreases hyperactivity levels and “calms” the body and mind. 

Think deep-tissue massage.  Wouldn’t that be heavenly?

Outside Proprioceptive Activities To Prime The ADHD Brain:

Outdoor prioprioceptive activities your ADHD child can engage in before learning or even while learning are:

  • climbing a rock wall,
  • maneuvering through monkey bars,
  • or jumping on a trampoline. (We actually love this one and have it in our family game room.)

Inside Proprioceptive Activities To Prime The ADHD Brain:

Indoor proprioception activities you can try to optimize your child’s brain for learning are:

  • pushing/pulling a heavy bin of toys,
  • deep pressure with a sofa cushion,
  • or climbing up stairs on hands and knees.

This is an excellent book to help parents understand why specific forms of movement and sensory input are ESSENTIAL for learning.

4. ADHD Teaching Tip: Short (I’m Talking SHORT) Lessons

When working on a difficult activity, always start with small increments of time. Even 5 minutes can seem like forever. 

Set a short time expectation ahead of time.  This will allow your child confidence that they can do it. And whatever you do, stick to your word.  If you say 5 minutes, stop at 5 minutes.

5. Your Words Matter

Kids with ADHD and other executive functioning struggles are continually receiving messages from the world that tell them they’re not enough.  Our words matter.  When laying out expectations, I usually preface it this way,

I just need your best effort for 5 minutes.  I know you can do it.

Slowly increase time when skill and confidence develops. Remember, small chunks of intentional teaching over time will yield fruit.

neurodiversity quote, how to homeschool adhd and other kids who think differently

6. Obstacle Courses For ADHD Kids Improves Learning

When movement can be incorporated within a lesson, try utilizing an obstacle course.

Place lesson materials throughout the course. Likewise, incorporate a “writing/reading/math” obstacle within the course.

Have your child help create the course for increased motivation.

7. Check Seating When Teaching

A sensory cushion, therapy ball, or chair band can help a child who needs to sit.  For our more fidgety kids, these tools allow them to make small movements without being distracting. 

On the other hand, they can be very helpful for kiddos that need to increase attention.  For the child that appears to daydream (this is a gift as well), offering them these small ways to stay alert can help.

8. Stop Fighting Against ADHD

Remember, our kids have all been designed differently on purpose. Don’t fight it. Use the ADHD wiring to your student’s academic advantage. If something doesn’t work, try another option.

9. Look Behind The Behavior

There is always a reason behind the behavior. And despite the predominant attitude that kids are lazy, there are often valid reasons for academic struggles.

For example, when the brain has to expend extra energy just to control small eye movements, it has less cognitive fuel to focus on controlling behavior and attention.

10. Warm Up The Eyes When Teaching A Distracted Student

When reading and writing, the eyes perform a variety of movements. If these skills are not present or automatic, the brain has to work harder to compensate.

Understandably, this negatively affects a child’s ability to focus and sit still for a number of reasons.

Here are some easy eye warm-ups you can do at home to prime the eyes and the ADHD brain for optimal learning.

11. Toss a Ball or Balloon

Hit a balloon or toss a large ball back and forth 10 times.

You can change it up by varying the type, height and speed of the object.

ADHD kids, teaching tips ADHD, homeschool mom

12. Eye Tick Tocks: Improve Learning

Complete “tick tocks” by having your child follow an object with their eyes.

Try up and down movements 10 times in a slow pattern.

Follow with looking right and left.

You can add music and and increase efficiency by following the rhythm.

13. Play “Eye Movement” Simon Says

Mirror eye movements made in the 4 corners of your visual field. Start with 1 movement and increase until someone loses the pattern!

14. Natural Lighting Is Best

Fluorescent lights can quickly cause fatigue, especially with intensive reading activities. Use natural light when possible, and try to limit visual distractions.

When natural light is not possible, you can remove the amount of light bulbs in an overhead light or position your child with their back facing the light source.

15. Slanted Desk & Eye Convergence

Many children struggle with eye convergence (See tip #10). Meaning the left and right eye working together to focus on text both near and far.

This often explains a child’s complaints of headaches and lack of desire to read. When teaching your child with ADHD, try offering a slanted desk area.

Try offering a slanted board or large binder under your child’s paper or book.

16. Visual Clutter Drive Us Nuts For A Reason

Full pages of text can be overwhelming for children (and adults… ahem… me). We mommas become overwhelmed when we walk into a messy and cluttered house, right? Too much visual input at once increases stress and shuts down a child’s ability to receive and process information. When there is too much on a page, the likelihood of skipping words or full lines of text increases.

17. Visual Discrimination & Reading Comprehension

Skipping words or full lines of text is not a sign of laziness. It may be a sign of visual discrimination or other eye tracking issues. Quick tips to reduce visual clutter:

Quick video where I demonstrate how to eliminate visual clutter when teaching to the struggling student. (ADHD, dyscalculia & other learning differences).

Think less is more when it comes to struggling students.

18. When In Doubt, Get An OT Evaluation For Your ADHD Student

If you think your child may have ADHD and is struggling with schoolwork, I cannot more highly recommend an OT evaluation. An occupational therapist can provide you with so much insight and clues to how to best support your child.

If you are concerned about the financial and time commitment involved in occupational therapy, don’t be. Even if you just go in for the evaluation, the OT repost alone is an excellent starting point.

You’ll be shocked at how much you can learn about how your child is wired. As such, you’ll then have a starting point to look for strategies and support that may best support your unique child.

A Heart For All Students is one such resource.

19. Teaching ADHD Students At Home: The Training That Can Change It All

One last tip, Friend.

Does your child meltdown and cry every time they even think about schoolwork? Refuses to do anything asked of him or her? I’ve been there and I get it. And I’m here to help.

Homeschooling The Distracted Child Available Now

Sign up for the newly released workshop Homeschooling The Distracted Child. I presented this workship at the 2020 NCHE Summit For Teaching Exceptional Children.

If you missed it, here’s chance to access the training! Make the change today by investing in one solid hour of in-depth training for you, the homeschool mom. You’ve got this!

Alicia Mathews is a pediatric occupational therapist with 8 years of experience in North Carolina. She has a Master of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She developed OT Avenue, LLC in 2017. Alicia currently works in home health and private practice.

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13 thoughts on “How To Homeschool ADHD: 19 Effective Tips”

  1. What a great blog post, my son has ADD and a lot of the advice mentioned here is useful for him…… every start of the new year is a struggle for him, dependent on who is teacher is? I have to teach his teacher how to teach him!!

  2. Wow this is an excellent source of information. I love your research. My son is
    ASD with ADHD and major depression. I will definitely be bookmarking this and pinning it! Thank you for these amazing ideas!

  3. This was such a great read, thank you. As an ADHD diagnosed person myself I became a homeschool parent so my children would be forced medications and so that they could learn to their best ability. Well, now one of my boys I would guarantee is highly ADHD. I have never had him tested, but just knowing the signs and symptoms he would be. But now as the teaching parent, I actually get to see and experience first hand the frustration I am sure my teachers had. Finding good proactive ways to help my child learn has been a little difficult, even though I myself am the same. Reading this I found many things we could add to our homeschool life that would make learning better for my little guy!

    Thank you, Beth

    • So fun!!! Love hearing from another ADHD momma raising her ADHD kids! I can’t wait to hear how these ideas work out for your sweet boy. I am constantly looking for more tips and strategies for my family (including me). Thanks so much for the encouragement, Beth! šŸ™‚ Have a great week!

    • Totally hear you. It’s so easy to think longer is better. I fall into that trap as well some times. Shorter, more relaxed lessons will stick and yield fruit so much better every time. I always need the reminder as well. Thanks, Adriane! šŸ™‚

  4. Thanks for telling me that we should let them focus for short periods of time first if I’m trying to make my sister do a difficult activity. My parents and I are thinking that she might have ADHD because of her unnatural behavior, so we might find your tips helpful in making her focus. I also hope that it’s not too late to seek treatment for her condition so she won’t have a hard time growing up.

    • Be encouraged! šŸ™‚ It’s never too late to support our kids with what they need to thrive. My biggest piece of advice is to look for the strengths of her ADHD. Learn as much as you can about the incredible abilities and possibly shift your perspective to see what could be. Adults have much greater capacity for executive functioning which allows us to be the ones to shift our expectations in order to serve our kids well. Your sister is blessed to have you in her corner. Yay!


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