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Teaching a Child With ADHD: Homeschool Help
Are you homeschooling or teaching a child with ADHD?
Whether you are a new or veteran homeschool mom, harnessing the attention of the ADHD brain can be a challenge.
- Trouble paying attention to non-preferred activities (think math, reading, chores… whatever is not interesting)
- Can’t sit still,
- Difficulty taking turns,
- Trouble making transitions,
- A bedroom that is always messy no matter how many times it has been organized…
You get the idea.
Traditional Teaching: Setting Us Up to Fail
Frustration begins when we try to teach our kids using the traditional teaching approach.
The whole thing where the teacher lectures and the kid must sit-still and listen model?
Insisting on this teaching approach in our homeschools only sets up our kids (and moms) to fail.
Our kiddos struggle to maintain attention as they spend their cognitive energy trying to sit still. Or they become distracted as mom (or teacher drones on and on).
Mom becomes frustrated with her inability to teach her child. Academic growth stalls while frustrations and tensions between child and mom grow.
This is not good.
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What do we do?
So what does the homeschool mom do to more effectively teach her child?
Or more importantly, maintain a healthy relationship with her kid?
Teaching the ADHD Child: OT Rocks!
To gather some useful tips, I’ve asked the advice of an amazing occupational therapist.
Alicia Matthews, MS, OTR/L, has walked alongside my family for years. Love her!
She has been a key player in my journey to support our outside-the-box thinkers.
So of course I went to her to get her best tips for teaching a child with ADHD.
Occupational Therapy for Learning?
Occupational Therapy is not a new area of intervention. A good occupational therapist has a deep understanding of the brain, the body and how to optimize them both for effective learning.
Think of this optimization as the key to unlock the door to effective learning.
Seat Work Stinks
Any learning that requires a child to sit and pay attention can be extremely tough.
Many kids (not all) with ADHD are wired to thrive through movement. So we need to get our kids moving strategically!
Alicia always recommends the RIGHT sensory input before we have our children sit.
So when your kid starts to wiggle, make them wiggle well and more!
Movement is a Must for Sensory Needs
As an OT, Alicia recommends starting with sensory strategies to improve all learning challenges.
While you’ve probably heard that getting up and moving can “wake up” the body, you’ve probably never been told why.
When we move our bodies, our brain releases feel good chemicals that stimulate the brain and relax the body.
Teaching Tip #1 – Vestibular Input
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.
How to Use Vestibular Input to Increase Attention:
Outside vestibular activities include:
- going down a slide,
- 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.
Oh no! Yoga Pretzels are way too expensive on Amazon. Try these instead.
Tip #2 – Proprioceptive Input
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?
Proprioceptive Activities To Try
Outside, activities include:
- 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.)
- pushing/pulling a heavy bin of toys,
- deep pressure with a sofa cushion,
- or climbing up stairs on hands and knees.
Tip #3 – When Teaching A Child with ADHD Consider Time
When working on a difficult activity, always start with small increments of time. Even 5 minutes can seem like forever.
Set the 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.
I usually preface it this way,
As long as you give me your best effort, we are only going to work on this for 5 minutes. I know you can do it.
Slowly increase time when skill and confidence develops.
Small chunks of intentional teaching over time will yield fruit.
Tip #4 – Obstacle Course
When movement can be incorporated within a lesson, try utilizing an obstacle course.
Place lesson materials throughout the course or incorporate a “writing/reading/math” obstacle within the course. Have your child help create the course for increased motivation.
Tip #5 – Check The Seating
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.
Remember, our kids have all been designed differently on purpose.
Don’t fight it. Use their wiring to their advantage.
If something doesn’t work, try another option.
Teach A Child With ADHD: Warm Up The Eyes
Why is it important to warm up the eyes?
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.
The brain has to expend extra energy just to control small eye movements. This means that a child has less cognitive fuel to focus on controlling behavior and attention.
Here are some easy eye warm-ups you can do at home to prime the eyes, the brain and your child for effective learning.
Tip #6 – 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.
Tip #7 – Tick Tocks
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.
Tip #8- 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!
Tip #9 – 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.
While it might be great to sit beside a window, it may be difficult to “tune out” distractions from outside.
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.
Tip #10 – Slanted Desk
Many children struggle with eye convergence. 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.
Tip #11 – We All Hate Clutter 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 the 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. This often explains reading comprehension issues.
Let me point out that skipping words or full lines of text is not a willful choice or sign of laziness. This is an indication that something else is going on behind the behavior.
Quick tips to reduce visual clutter:
- Use a piece of paper to cover half of a page,
- or it can be used as a line marker when reading or referencing
- Purchase a page “window.”
- Use a white board and write one math problem on it at a time.
When In Doubt, Get An OT Evaluation
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, I highly recommend at least getting the OT evaluation.
You’ll be shocked at how much you can learn about how your child is wired.
ADHD & Meltdowns- Not Disobedience
Does your child meltdown and cry every time they even think about reading? Math?
Girl, I get it!
Let me encourage you though. Don’t confuse this behavior as a willful act of disobedience or “laziness.” Trust me.
It’s not worth it and it can kill relationship with our kids.
Want to know one of my secret weapons? A simple a sticky note. Yep. It can change everything. Read on to find out why.
Alicia 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.