Thursday, August 7, 2014

Homeschooler Spotlight: Setting Up Homeschool while managing ADD


Welcome to my newest weekly feature: Homeschooler Spotlight. Each week, I will be featuring a different homeschooler and her blog. This week we have Amy from Six More Summers. She's sharing how to set up homeschool while managing ADD.

Amy is a full-time working mom turned homeschooler who writes about the ups and downs of parenting with a teenager in the house. After spending the first 30 years of her life living a small country town in the great lakes basin, she, her husband and daughter are attempting to live in peace and simplicity in the harried greater NYC area. 

Amy is teaching her daughter to seek Christ in a city where He's often hiding behind a homeless man, or in the song of a street performer.  Her desire is that her family grows to see Him in all situations, and that their focus would be on serving 'the least of these,' every chance they get.

As a Canadian immigrant, she's learning to live in the USA, and blogs about the last six summers of parenting - the middle and high school years. She and her family enjoy takeout and travel, sometimes binge watch TV, and visit family every chance they get. You'll find her writing at sixmoresummers.com, and you can follow her adventures on Facebook and Instagram.





My daughter is bright and happy. She is gifted in many ways. She’s kind and thoughtful. She also has ADD. While there are times when this learning difference makes life a bit more challenging, it also keeps us on our toes, keeps her mind working in new and interesting ways, and forces me to be creative in how we homeschool.

We used to have a very specific area dedicated to ‘school’ in our house. Recently, however, I have given up the dream of the perfect school room, and have embraced a simpler, messier more relaxed method, which boils down to school being a bit like controlled chaos, even with just one beautiful 14 year old in the house.

But when a child has ADD, you have to run with what works best for their ever changing thoughts and allow them, in some ways, to act on their whims. We can’t always drop what we are doing and move to a new subject, but we can change the scenery. And I choose to leverage that for all its worth.

I moved our ‘school table’ into storage last spring. It was a sad day for me – it was chalkboard painted, and it saw many miles of timelines, countless sketches of cells and atoms and more math rough work than you would believe. But it just wasn’t working for us. Sitting still on a stiff chair at the same table day after day was causing more harm than good when it came to my daughter’s distraction struggles. So, we carried it away, and, in its place, elected to pull our electric keyboard out of its dust jacket.

I ordered some beginner piano books for older kids, and have found a quick piano lesson or a few minutes of tickling the ivories to be a perfect way for my kiddo to burn some pent up energy. Soon after doing something creative, she’s ready and willing to hit the books for a while longer.

For curriculum and supplies, I purchased this simple 8 squared storage unit from Ikea. I installed 2 drawers, sold separately, and picked up a few solid bins for the bottom 2 cubbies. I also purchased magazine files which divide out our curriculum by subject. I keep our active stuff at the top, and less used books and teacher manuals at the bottom.

If you have a child with ADD, one of the best ways you can help them focus is to keep things uncluttered. It’s a delicate balance, really, of keeping enough relevant materials available to hold their attention without having too many distracting elements in the room either.

Simplifying the search for books and papers is a huge part of success when it comes to the easily frustrated mind of a person with ADD. Searching for a half completed literature paper or a math answer key can derail us for an hour! So, I insist all papers and books are placed back in their files at the end of each day.

The most helpful organization rule I try to enforce is: No Paper Can Be ‘Loose’ at the End of a Day.  It’s life changing really – when papers are put away in the right place, there is no panic over things that can’t be found, and that means less tears, less upset mamas, and less time spent searching and redoing work that's already completed.
Setting Up Homeschool (while managing ADD)
We aren’t perfect. But it’s the best system I’ve used. We try to carry this over to pens and pencils, and other supplies as well. Things get messy very quickly when you factor in distraction and disorganization.

For children who have ADD, executive function and organization is almost always an issue. I recommend a two-step approach for Type A moms who are trying to homeschool these messy miracles:
  1. Give up the dream of things looking perfect. Or – at least expect you will do the clean-up and your kids will make the messes. You can expect them to help, but they probably won’t ever care the way you do. Kids with ADD are not usually detail oriented, and they won’t see why a perfect looking space is important. You can usually get them on board with a system that helps them not be frustrated though – and just being able to find things is a big deal. Keep your eyes on the real prize.
  2. Repeat Step 1 over and over again.
When my daughter was first diagnosed with ADD, I read a wonderful book called Attention Difference Disorder by Kenny Handelman. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about ADD, and parents who want to be encouraged about it. When I’m homeschooling, and my best laid plans fail me, I remember that the author repeated that as parents, we can’t get set in our own ways. We have to be willing to constantly change and adapt and keep trying new things. Eventually, our children will stumble onto things that work for them.

But that stretches us. Because it means the system that works for our other kids (or us!) will be disturbed and be in a state of constant revision.

So I remind you about the 2 step process above.

I mentioned we put our traditional school table in storage. So where exactly do we school these days? Anywhere and everywhere. I've completely stopped nailing her down in one place. We change the scenery often, and have 5 areas in our house that she can work.
  1. Our desk – a big worktable that faces a window – just enough distraction to keep her focused!
  1. The keyboard – a perfect place to burn off some energy or frustration and take a music lesson
Setting Up Homeschool (while managing ADD)
 
  1. Our dining room table – the best spot for us to make maps, do projects, and sit together to do book work like math.
Setting Up Homeschool (while managing ADD)
 
  1. Our big comfy couch – where we curl up to review, study and read, and pretty much do all kinds of other work as well. Sometimes we break out the laptop desk, or pull up our big poufs and work at the coffee table together.
Setting Up Homeschool (while managing ADD)

  1. Not shown in pictures is her bedroom – where she likes to read and do work in the evenings without the distraction of the rest of the family.
 
Take heart, moms of kids with ADD. Don’t be afraid to adapt, modify, fine-tune and tailor your methods. Eventually, you will find something that works! And when your child finally completes a math lesson with no argument, no distraction, and no drama – you’ll be so thankful you gave up your ideals and learned to be a bit more fluid.

Allowing the freedom of movement makes a mess. It requires diligence to keep work areas tidy. They might look great today, and tomorrow, they might be – well – less than great. And that’s ok. The big picture is that our ADD babies loves to learn and can do their school work with no fights or fuss.

To me, that’s a win. Even if my ego has to lose.

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