My oldest son (referred to as “Boy Marvel” henceforth) was the most whiteknuckle toddler you have ever seen. He was physically precocious–walking at 10 months, climbing tables at 1, riding skateboards by 2. He wanted to do it all, all the time, and all at once. He didn’t speak until he was 3, so we couldn’t communicate about any of this. And he never slept. For sure, I thought, this child would be diagnosed with ADHD. It’s clearly in his DNA. When our family made the decision to homeschool, an early concern of mine was How will I effectively teach a child with ADHD?
Apparently, the question I should have been asking myself was:
How will I effectively teach when I have ADHD?
I did not clean up for this photo, but I did not purposely make it a mess, either.
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I am not a complete potato. I did well enough in school. I have been a camp counselor, a preschool co-op activity leader, and have otherwise taught both children and peers in various capacities over the years. If you need something taught to you, you could do a whole lot worse for a teacher. So I felt like I was definitely qualified to homeschool, especially in an environment where classroom management didn’t factor into the equation.
But you know what else I did not factor into the equation? Me!
I have no shortage of ideas, or motivation. And I can plan. Oh, baby, can I plan. Nothing turns me on like making a well-organized spreadsheet. I can lay out an entire curriculum for an entire year in a couple of breathless days, and get a rush doing it. I am constantly thinking of new ideas and experiences to build into our endeavors.
If you or someone you love has ADHD, though, you know what happens next.
I get wrapped up in one kid’s math lesson and don’t leave equal time for the other kid. I succumb to cries for “One more chapter!” of Charlotte’s Web and oops, now it’s dinnertime. I once forgot to do formal science lessons for an entire year. Art? BRB, researching every possible plan, co-op, outside lesson, self-taught curriculum… Did someone say curriculum? I mean, I love the history curriculum I have, but sure, let’s jump into another one, for no good reason.
This probably makes it sound like I’m a Terrible teacher. I promise you, that is not true. We have learned a ton; my kids are at or beyond grade level in most subjects. Luckily, there is ample grace built into the homeschooling timeline (after all, we have 365 days to cram in 180 days’ worth of learning), and time is proving that I am a pretty good teacher.
But I am also usually disorganized, perpetually overwhelmed, and inconsistent in areas where I really should be rocking steady. The freedom of homeschool is a huge plus for me, so I’m not aiming to get us in marching-band formation, but experimental jazz isn’t a great sound for us, either. I want us to be the Dave Matthews Band of homeschool: enough recognizable hits to help us fit into the mainstream, a solid technical foundation that allows us to do mind-blowing creative improvisation… and I’d prefer to spend the entire summer doing it on the road.
I was constantly finding myself in a position where Boy Marvel and Wolfgirl both needed the laptop at the same time. Or the iPad. Or, worst of all, ME! If I’m trying to hear one kid read aloud, but another has math questions, and the preschooler wants to use scissors, and the toddler needs a snack, and my phone is dinging…my brain short-circuits, and I will either shut down or become highly irritable. Either way, I’m not being the mom OR the teacher I want to be. In short, I am NOT WORKING TO MY POTENTIAL. Wow, it’s almost like that’s a pattern in my life or something. Weird.
My surprise ADHD diagnosis at 36 has me looking at many aspects of my life with fresh eyes, including teaching. It’s not that I can’t or shouldn’t be homeschooling–it’s that I need to be approaching it differently. I need to focus on managing my time, so that I can help my kids manage theirs. I need to recognize where my brain will want to run amuck, and minimize those opportunities for distraction. And I need to throw away the aspirational to-do lists, and get real about what and how much I am capable of doing well.
So what does this look like right now? It looks like a totally new schedule…including a shiny new spreadsheet!
Instead of populating this spreadsheet with six thousand superfluous details, lists of books I haven’t bought or borrowed yet, and links to Pinterest projects that may never happen, I have chopped our day into simple blocks. The blocks have starting and ending times. Yes, I set a timer. I even built in a bonus block, so we can go back and finish anything that got cut short by the timer.
One major issue we were having was that secondary subjects (history/social studies, science, art) often got pushed back and back and back, until they were falling right off the agenda. I realized that I was devoting entirely too much time to language arts…probably because that is a subject that naturally commands my attention. So, we now have “A days” and “B days”, because handwriting, grammar, spelling, typing, and freewriting do not all need to happen on the same day. On A days, I can geek out over language to my heart’s delight/until the timer goes off. On B days, we do far less of that, and prioritize history, science, and art.
I’m doing a much better job at stretching myself amongst the four of them, because I purposely scheduled them in alternating blocks of “hands-on” and “hands-off” activities. If Boy Marvel is reading aloud, Wolfgirl is doing a typing lesson, which requires exactly zero of me. Under no circumstances are they allowed to do math at the same time, because I cannot effectively toggle between two math lessons.
And that’s okay! It’s okay to have limitations. It’s okay to arrange the day in a way that allows me to be the best version of myself. I’ve been trying to knot myself like a pretzel to get everything done, and then beat myself up when I inevitably crumble into salty dust, because I am actually a Cheez-It. I’m perfectly capable of satisfying your need for a savory snack, but I’m never going to be a pretzel. And who cares, because Cheez-Its are delicious.
Oh, and bonus! It was tough to find enough things that they can do completely independently, so I added a yoga and mindfulness block for each of them. We’re huge fans of Cosmic Kids, and it has been a beautiful thing to build into each day.
Everyone is happier now. We get more done, more consistently, and with better attitudes. It’s pretty much the best! All because I made an honest assessment of myself and figured out how I needed to accommodate my own wild Cheez-It of a brain. Trying to be something I wasn’t really messed up my own education, so I’m glad I caught it before it messed up my kids’ stuff too much.
PS: Boy Marvel is almost 8 now, and I don’t necessarily think he has ADHD. Please don’t informally diagnose your own children, especially when they are toddlers.