home schooling

Some kids with ADHD are lucky enough to thrive in school. The concrete expectations and structure compensate for their executive functioning weaknesses.

Others struggle mightily just to sit at a desk.

I recently caught up with my lovely friend Meg to talk about homeschool. Meg runs her own business in addition to caring for three children, the oldest of whom is seven-year-old Corban. After a frustrating kindergarten year, Meg and her husband Adam decided to homeschool Corban, who has ADHD.

This interview is the first in a two-part series on homeschooling. Next week, we’ll catch up with Meg again to discuss some more practical details for parents considering homeschooling.

ADHD Homestead: Describe the school environment you left behind.

Meg: We live in a fantastic school district and our son’s teachers were attentive, caring, compassionate and flexible. They adhered to Common Core standards and added to that curriculum to make it more rigorous. However, my son spent most of his time at a desk learning reading and math. His favorite subjects — science and history — aren’t Common Core priorities. He daydreamed, got bored and frustrated, and often stood at his desk the entire day. His teacher was understanding, but unsure how to handle him.

A: Talk to me about your process for choosing homeschooling over traditional school

M: We intended to homeschool all along. We love teachers and admire all their hard work with kids. We don’t necessarily think we can do a better job educating our children. However, we strongly believe the school day is too long and the curriculum/education style in this country is too ‘one size fits all.’ When the teacher alerted us to Corban’s problems focusing in class, we felt it was time to offer him an alternative.

ADHD home school pull quote

A: ADHD can cause frustration, emotional outbursts, overwhelm, disorganization, and time blindness. If you have ADHD yourself, how do your own symptoms present themselves in homeschooling?

M: I’m often in my own little world. I daydream and get bored incredibly easily. There are several things in my life that interest me and hold my attention, but homeschooling isn’t one of them!

I have little to no patience for trying to engage my son when he ‘can’t be engaged,’ and while I understand first-hand his frustration with “boring” subjects, I lack the ability to make them fun for him. I’m horrible at organizing projects for him or trying to come up with teaching strategies. We often butt heads and I wish he could see the value in “just getting it done,” but I can’t teach him that.

A: Social skills can be a major issue for ADHD kids. How are you helping your child learn these skills outside the large-group school setting?

M: Corban has excellent social skills, but he struggles to find kids he really clicks with. He’s surprisingly cooperative and flexible with his friends — allowing them to dictate what games they play, etc. However, he gets stuck on a trend and expects the other kids to be as obsessive about it as he is.

For example, he’s obsessed with Pokemon right now. Unless a kid is also obsessed with Pokemon, he doesn’t want to play with them. He has to find a kid who will allow him to go on and on about his latest obsession to really click with that child. Otherwise, he plays politely, but doesn’t seem to find much pleasure in it. It makes me really sad because he’s a great kid. Only a few kids seem to know how to get the best out of him.

We try to arrange play dates with other kids as often as possible, but people are so busy it rarely happens. We’re actively seeking out affordable group activities to provide social interactions with peers. He’ll be joining Boy Scouts later this month and he attends Sunday School. Luckily, he also has siblings to play with. Corban tends to get along best with older kids and even adults, which also presents challenges.

A: What have the biggest upsides been for your family? The biggest downsides?

M: The biggest upside is being with him all day. The biggest downside is…being with him all day! He drives me absolutely crazy! But I adore him.

In theory, homeschooling should be this beautiful parent/child journey of discovery. In practice, I’m tearing my hair out and he’s fighting me on every step. However, every day we gain insight into our son. Every day we tweak our technique with him and find better strategies to engage him. We love that he has the freedom to dive deep into the subjects that interest him. We also love knowing he isn’t stuck in a chair all day, desperately trying to pay attention.

We can feel like we’re failing every day, but when we look at the facts, he’s learning, and he’s much less frustrated and emotional than he was in traditional school.

A: What does a normal homeschooling day look like? Week? Month? Year?

M: We’re just learning our groove. So far, this is what seems to work: Corban wakes up, has breakfast, plays for a bit, and then we do a verbal lesson. We go over multiplication facts and spelling words for about 30 minutes. Then he has a break. Later, we have him read a book of his choice for 30 minutes. He often does math problems on the computer for half an hour as well.

Once or twice a week, we do a history lesson with him for about an hour. He does a science lesson with an experiment for an hour each week. We read to him every day.

We don’t do formal writing because he hates writing and we’re trying not to overwhelm him. We encourage him to write letters or lists several times a week. He also goes outside for exercise at least once a day. It’s not perfect, but we’re learning.

A: How long do you plan to homeschool?

M: As long as it feels like the best choice for each of our kids. We have a daughter who’s currently in public school kindergarten. For now, that’s working well for her. 

But for Corban, homeschool is the best choice for right now. We need to work on getting his ADHD under control before we’d even consider sending him back. We also have much more flexibility to play with different teaching strategies at home. Right now we’re learning about our son and what works best for his education. We may choose to homeschool him through high school. He is a bright kid, and he may be able to advance through the grade levels more quickly at home.

Parents and teachers: how do you feel about homeschooling? Have you tried it? Considered it? Taught kids in a traditional school setting before or after their homeschool experience? Please share in the comments!