Homeschooling,  Special Needs Parenting

ADHD Homeschooling: Balancing Consistency, Novelty, and Sanity

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When it comes to parenting advice, the advice I have most received is, “Be consistent!” If your kid is misbehaving, out of sorts, or struggling in any way, the MAGIC OF CONSISTENCY can fix it. Kids NEED consistency. Kids THRIVE on consistency. If they aren’t thriving, your lack of consistency is to blame.

By the time Ezra was four, I found myself saying “If one more person tells me to ‘Just Be Consistent’ one more time, I’m going to punch something!” all the time.

The “be consistent” rhetoric isn’t wrong. We ALL need consistency. It’s simply the way that humans are wired. There’s just one tiny problem:

Consistency, meet your nemesis, ADHD.

The ADHD brain craves novelty – maybe even more than it craves consistency!

I’ll explain this in a way that makes sense to the average person:

The ADHD brain is low in dopamine. Dopamine is that neurotransmitter that gives you a “hit” of pleasure when you do things like exercise, eat certain foods, have sex, or just accomplish something amazing.

Dopamine allows us to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific rewards. It’s responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward.

Scientists have observed that levels of dopamine are different in people with ADHD than in those without ADHD.

Some researchers believe this difference is because neurons in the brain and nervous systems of people with unmedicated ADHD have lower concentrations of proteins called dopamine transporters. The concentration of these proteins is known as dopamine transporter density (DTD).

~ Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Role of Dopamine

This is why stimulant medication can be so impactful for kids with ADHD:

These medications increase dopamine levels in the brain by targeting dopamine transporters and increasing dopamine levels.

~ Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Role of Dopamine

Because of this deficit, the ADHD brain is constantly seeking out stimulation, be it good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate:

For some ADHD brains, optimal functioning involves augmenting the existing stimulation — seeking louder, faster, bigger, funnier, and riskier — the more intense, the better. Boredom is a common complaint for the owners of these brains. For them, it is physiologically uncomfortable when their under-aroused brains struggle to engage with their environment. In fact, in mundane, low-stimulation situations, these restless brains may compel their owners to increase the intensity level with fidgeting, noise, laughter, or conflict, if there is no other route to high stimulation available. These more impulsive ADHD brains have their own logic: If some stimulation is good, more is better. This is the signature short-sighted philosophy of brains compelled to choose immediate rewards over long-term gratification.

In their hunger for greater stimulation, ADHD brains can suddenly find themselves in a state of over-arousal. Egged on by their need, most are unable to modulate their responses, and can’t anticipate an impending “crash.” The fun suddenly gets out of control, the laughter takes on a tinge of hysteria, sights and sounds bombard them until they are overwhelmed. Ambushed by physiological overload, and depleted of psychic energy, they become irritable, tearful, restless, or aggressive.

~ Never Enough? Why ADHD Brains Crave Stimulation

In other words, the brain of the ADHD child is always going to want novelty – something new, something exciting, something different. If the brain can’t get it, the child will act out. This is why behavioral systems, chore charts, token economies, and other proven strategies will work like a CHARM with your child – but only for a day or two, when it ceases to motivate him anymore. 

What motivates, inspires, or excites your child today may fail to do so tomorrow.

You can read more about this issue with dopamine, the “reward pathway,” and intrinsic / extrinsic motivation in kids with ADHD here:

ADHD Kids Need Consistency

It is important for parents and educators to remember the one word that can help make life with a child who has ADHD more manageable: consistency.

~TIPS FOR KEEPING THINGS CONSISTENT FOR KIDS WITH ADHD

I think I just heard you groan.

Many children are capable of structuring their chores, schedules, and activities and of developing good habits on their own. For a child with ADHD, however, this is a much more difficult undertaking because of how the disorder functions.

Children with ADHD struggle with the ability to regulate themselves. This means they find it challenging to stop impulsive behaviors and keep their focus when there are so many distractions pulling them in different directions.

The symptoms of ADHD lead to problems with self-control. As a result, children with ADHD need more external controls (i.e. structure) in order to help them manage symptoms.

When you build in external controls at home, you are helping your child to experience more successes and also teaching them good habits and skills along the way.

~Why Children With ADHD Need Structure and Routines

So, yes, I’m telling you that your kid is always going to be seeking out new and novel experiences, regularly be bored, and be chronically inconsistent – but to manage that better, you need to structure their environment to be as consistent as possible.

So, what is to be done when our kids so desperately need two antithetical things, especially in regard to homeschooling?

So, what is to be done when our kids so desperately need two antithetical things (consistency and novelty), especially in regard to homeschooling? #adhd #homeschool #homeschooling #homeschoolingboys
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1. First, recognize the impossibility of finding a perfect balance.

Being a mom means shelving ideals. I know this isn’t what you want to hear. But you need to know that you can’t do this perfectly.

Just like you can never really catch up with the dishes and the laundry (because you eat and wear clothes). It’s the brushing your teeth while eating Oreos scenario…or raking leaves in a hurricane. What’s done is never really done and all too easily undone.

Some days are going to lean heavily in one direction. And that’s okay.

Some days, you fold 17 million loads of laundry…while your kids watch WAYYYYYY too much TV.

Some days, you power through a week’s worth of schoolwork in a few hours…but then order pizza for dinner.

Some weeks you are going to be super consistent with your schedule AND your kids will be happy and compliant and you will wonder why you struggle so much the rest of the time. This won’t happen very often, but it will and can.

Other days you will grit your teeth and power through with miserable kiddos in the name of CONSISTENCY.

Other days you will embrace the novelty and your kids will be thrilled…but your house will be a wreck and you will only inch your way through 1/4 of the lesson plan for the week.

So, what is to be done when our kids so desperately need two antithetical things (consistency and novelty), especially in regard to homeschooling? #adhd #homeschool #homeschooling #homeschoolingboys
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The important thing is to keep your child’s needs in mind. If something isn’t working and everyone is frustrated, maybe it’s time to ditch the curriculum for a day and give the child(ren) something new and exciting. If everything feels out of control, it probably is – and that’s the sign that you need to tighten in the reigns a bit and try to give a little more consistency and stability.

2. Create a BROAD consistent framework.

Emphasis on broad.

This is where homeschooling year-round has been our practice (we will get to this in another post).

Our framework isn’t one of those down-to-the-quarter-hour, color-coded schedules you will find on Pinterest.

What this looks like in our house – for the 10-year-old / 4th Grader:

9(ish)-noon: school

12-1pm: break for lunch (sometimes accompanied by screen time), and general MAYHEM

1-2:30: more school

2-5PM: playing outside, watching shows with Daddy, family walks, free play, playdates

5-7:30PM: dinner, showers, MAYHEM

7:30-8:30: read-aloud time with Mommy

Create a schedule that works for your family that you can broadly hold to each school day.

3. Pick what’s important. Then cut some more and pick what’s MOST important.

I know, I know. It’s all important. I feel the weight of this so much. But there’s so much value in the ways of the past. You know, the three Rs:

Reading

wRiting

aRithmetic

For us, especially at the “start” of the 2020 school year (after labor day), I really tried to refocus myself and the kids in doing Bible, math, language arts, and penmanship daily, Monday through Friday. (Right now, Little Brother has his own math book and joins us for Bible.)

If we get to all four subjects, four days out of the week, I consider that a VERY successful week.

I have found that by knocking these out during the 9am-11am “golden hours” (when Ezra’s meds work the best), I’m shockingly surprised how much time we have left to do the other stuff. But if I start the morning with a science experiment or a history documentary, everything gets thrown out of whack and we get nothing done.

4. Find novelty in curriculum mix-and-match and supplementary curriculum.

Our approach of working through two curriculums for math and language arts and three for penmanship is not conventional in the least. I originally made this choice because I couldn’t decide between The Good and the Beautiful and Masterbooks – so I got both and found that the combination of content and approach works well for my kids. It also helps with the novelty aspects of ADHD. We can change things up day to day, week to week, month to month, based on what’s working. When Ezra seems bored or frustrated with the lessons, we can set down one curriculum and pick up the other.

Sometimes, even when the curriculum is a good fit, the child still gets bored or frustrated. I notice this especially in math, where Ezra seems to struggle a bit. Toward the end of September and early October, we were full-steam into addition and subtraction with regrouping. Even with the short lessons, the manipulatives, and a lot of patience, lessons were taking over an hour and we were both really discouraged.

I decided to take a few days off of structured lessons. One day, for math, I grabbed a MathStart picture book from the bookshelf. We worked through the story working out the problems on the dry erase board. Another day, we played a suggested game in the back of said book. Even that short of a break was a good reset for him, and we were able to go back to his curriculum within a few days.

So before you ditch the curriculum entirely or go on a feverish Google search to find a new one, try adding in something like this:

  • Puzzles
  • Picture books on the subject (you can find our lists organized by subject here for 3rd grade and 4th grade)
  • Board games or card games
  • Apps or online games (I find it best to limit game-related screen time, but on a rare occasion it can be helpful)
  • YouTube (create a playlist of a concept your kid struggles with, or something that interests him) or applicable TV show (we love our PBS Kids subscription on Amazon Prime Video)
  • Take a walk or a bike-ride
  • Schedule a playdate or field trip
So, what is to be done when our kids so desperately need two antithetical things (consistency and novelty), especially in regard to homeschooling? #adhd #homeschool #homeschooling #homeschoolingboys
Racko is great for practicing number concepts!

We have even started to get into a working routine of shifting between the curriculums throughout the week in a way that seems to work. (I was not able to accomplish it our first year homeschooling, but it’s working now.)

5. Find consistency in the curriculum.

One of the things I love about the contrast in the curriculums we use is that The Good and the Beautiful books are NOT set up on a traditional 4-5 days school week, but Masterbooks and A Reason For ARE set up for 4-5 days a week.

The weekly 4 (Bible) or 5 day (Math, Language Arts, Penmanship) schedule gives us the consistency. He knows that every week there’s going to be a Bible story, a Scripture verse to copy…those things that are built into the curriculum as weekly tasks. The Good & the Beautiful different-lessons-every-day style gives us the novelty.

Regardless of what curriculum you choose, consider having a mix of both 4/5-lessons-per-week curricula and less structured curricula. 

On days/weeks that feel chaotic, lean back into the more structured curriculum.

6. Add novelty TO the curriculum.

Use what’s there in the assignment, but let the child have a bit more freedom in the completion of it. For example, on day 4 of Language Lessons for a Living Education, this is the assignment: read the Bible story together, copy the caption under the image from the book, copy the Scripture verse, and draw a picture of the story.

He HATES the copywork. He complains about the drawing (although other times, he does a GREAT job with it – it’s really hit and miss). I’m a stickler and a meanie with copywork, he has to do it, period.

But lots of times I let him skip the drawing. One time, I told him to try to replicate the story using LEGO. It. was. AWESOME!

Moses and the burning bush!

Try to find ways to be fun and flexible while still teaching and applying the content:

  • Do copywork in something other than pencils
  • Sculpt or build with Legos instead of draw
  • Create a collage or use stickers instead of drawing
  • Use different manipulatives in math (we have substituted in Unifix cubes and snap cubes with great success!)
  • Let the child complete an assignment orally instead of written
  • Find an accompanying craft on Pinterest, fun worksheet on Teachers Pay Teachers, or drawing video on YouTube
  • Find a song to listen to (I do this especially with the hymn studies in More than Words and also when we are working on skip counting in math)
  • Do a freeze dance
  • Change location: let the child do school outside or in a different room than normal
  • Rearrange the school room – get the child’s input
LB’s Version of the Empire State Building (New York State Unit Study)
Ezra’s Version of the Empire State Building (New York State Unit Study)

7. Find consistency in utilizing series.

We supplement our homeschooling a TON with TV shows, documentary series, and books. I really like relying on series of things to offer some consistency for my child. Books series and TV show series are formatted in similar ways.

For example, for science, we watch a LOT of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That. But rather than having them watch the episodes in order, I pick the episodes on subject matter we are studying in science. So, when we were studying botany, we watched all the episodes about plants. This adds the aspect of novelty to their learning, because it goes beyond the curriculum in a fun and exciting way. Then, when we studied space, we watched all the episodes that had to do with space. Same with zoology, anatomy, etc.

The consistency comes in the way that the episodes are formatted, the characters, the same songs that they use every single time, etc. It’s novel AND consistent at the same time.

This is why we pay the extra $5 per month to add a PBS Kids Subscription to our Amazon Prime Video account. Screen time has always been very calming to my kids, and gives me a MUCH-NEEDED break. The shows on PBS Kids make great supplements to our science learning, while also being predictable to the kids.

The same goes for book series, both fiction and non-fiction. Whenever I find a book that is a good fit for my kids, I look to see if it’s part of a series, so we can read more books like it! The format then comes familiar to both me and the kids, while still teaching new concepts and adding novelty to our existing curricula.

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I do hope this has been helpful. I know it’s much longer than I had originally intended. The rest of the posts in the series should be a bit easier to digest! You can view the landing page here: ADHD Homeschooling: Hacks, Tricks, and Tips for Making It Work

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