Thursday, May 19, 2011

Homeschooling... our ADHD experience

On this post, I have written about my experiences homeschooling an ADHD child.  It is written from a perspective of looking back.  I was thrilled when Stephanie e-mailed me some of her own ideas and then wrote them out on her own blog.  I'll be linking to it at the bottom of this post but it gives a fresh perspective from someone in the midst of homeschooling (and lots of ideas any parent can use).

Christopher had challenges in his preschool and Kindergarten years but nothing like what he came up against with his first grade teacher and the school's demands that hyperactive children be drugged or they could not stay in school (it may not have been legal but they could get away with it).  It all came together in our decision to pull him out of school after we realized our son was being labeled by teachers and other students... not to mention the affects those high levels of Ritalin were having on him.

Being a bookish type person and having had a teaching background in churches as well as the corporation (but not trained as a teacher), I knew I could handle teaching a little boy for a year or two.  Back then homeschooling was legal in all fifty states but still rare, I knew only a handful of other homeschool families very well.  Since Christopher was so easily distracted, I chose not to join the homeschool co-op but they did invite me along for some "field trips".

So... going it pretty much alone I ordered some books and started reading a lot about homeschooling from the pioneer leaders of the day.  As I prayed over the decision to homeschool, I felt God was leading me not to become and expert in homeschooling or ADHD but instead to become an expert on homeschooling Christopher.   In the past I would have automatically learned everything I could about a subject and end up in a leadership position but it wasn't until Christopher's high school years that we even became involved in a co-op.

Our first few months were rather awkward since Christopher had been used to being in a group situation and was not quite sure about Mother as Teacher.  He was also still physically difficult to handle and while he does not like me to talk about it now... there were days when I literally sat crying against his bedroom door as he was kicking and screaming on the other side!  There were days and weeks and months when I thought there was no way God would call me to do something this difficult and demanding (not that He had not before!).

However... very slowly and hardly noticeable at first... the days began to change and homeschooling became enjoyable.  Part of it had to do with Christopher calming a bit (as his doctor had predicted would happen) because he was away from a group situation.  But... if one is around a child who is ADD or ADHD... you know it takes time for them to get used to change.  Christopher began to enjoy our homeschooling experience, too.  Well, except for math but I'll get to that later.

Thus began a journey which started just before he turned seven and continued until he was seventeen and we decided to enroll him in the community college full time for his senior year of high school.  I learned early that ADHD children need to have plenty of time to run and jump and MOVE.  Even when we had our read aloud time, Christopher would be putting together Lego's and by doing so actually absorbed more of what I was saying than he did sitting still... or trying to sit still.

Much of our early science studies were spent studying nature as we walked and hiked and looked up close and far away at the stars and mixed together and took apart and often taking a picnic to the park or the forest or the beach or the zoo or the museum or wherever else we found ourselves learning hands on. 

I learned that he loved putting kits together as well as taking things apart... and soon learned to give him something to take apart so he didn't decide upon an object I still used.  :)

Christopher loved learning about history... especially wars and warriors and everything surrounding them... so we bought books (new but mostly used) and put together a library at home as well as checking books out of the city library.  For a few years, there was one day each week when we would stop by the farmer's market, and then buy a cherry coke and cheeseburger at the candy shop, and then spend an hour or more at the library... memories that still bring a smile today.

In the midst of the years as the little boy grew up, he came to love working on the computer and spent hours talking to "friends" online who taught him how to write computer code and write his own programs.  These friends were monitored by Mother and we chatted about them so often they became like family members (while the intention was safety, I also acquired many to pray for through the years).  Christopher learned to spell better by these guys laughing at his original spelling!

I'm not sure how safe that would be today because there are so many opportunities for unwanted friendships and information to be given out but if you can find a way to make online friendships safe... it worked for us.  Until he was in his high school years and built his own computer, the main computer was always in a central location so it was easy to check up on what site was on at the moment.

Most of our homeschooling years could be called Charlotte Mason meets Unschooling... the former keeping us on track and the latter necessary as we dealt with severe hyperactivity and attention challenges. One important lesson learned about teaching an ADHD child... it only took two or three years to figure it out... is that the homeschool rabbit trails could be just as educational as the original course of studies, at least for this family.  :)

With all aspects of homeschooling, if you try to do "school at home" then you will miss the opportunity educating your child at home provides.  For instance, if you spend hours and hours each day with textbooks and never read "real books", or go to the zoo, or spend an afternoon hiking trails through the forest, or sitting on the shore learning about ponds or rivers or lakes or oceans, or taking the little guys to visit the fire department, or having a picnic when the weather turns nice and bringing the current favorite read aloud along, or putting aside studies when a farm animal or pet is having babies, etc... then the real joys of homeschooling are not experienced.

This is true of all homeschoolers but especially if you have an ADHD child who learns more from doing than just reading (although Christopher loved nonfiction books about subjects he enjoyed in elementary school and suddenly began reading French literature in early high school years).  The ADHD child needs short "table time" events and as I found those first couple of years... you can't wish away how they learn!

As much as I wanted to teach Christopher in the same way I helped Stephanie along in elementary school, it was not going to happen.  They may only be able to spend fifteen minutes on math or spelling while the rest of the kids work longer.  Homeschooling allows that and unless you are in a state that looks over your shoulder all the time... you don't always have to finish the math book or the English book or the history book... at the end of the year.  You'll get it all taught if it is important, it may take a few years.

The ADHD child needs to move and "do stuff"!  That is how I ended up getting a lot of reading accomplished while Christopher took fencing lessons a few nights a week and later participated in fencing tournaments.  Ditto with the reading that took place in a cozy chair while watching his tennis lessons and "tournaments" at the tennis-soccer building.

It is also how I came to be a judge in debate tournaments while he umm... debated.   Not to mention attending plays and concerts and book readings and... well, you get the idea... through the years.  While we worked on basic skills such as math and English in the mornings, the rest of the day during the elementary years were spent doing... or watching great TV shows and videos when he was a little older.

During our homeschooling years I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, had to be rushed to the hospital to intensive care, nearly died because my original doctor misdiagnosed the Type 1 diabetes as Type 2, moved five times (twice from one state to another), experienced two separate years of my husband being unemployed, and then watched his health deteriorate until he had to go on Social Security Disability.  But with determination and lots of prayer... we finished well.

We had to get creative during those months and months I had to homeschool from the sofa.  That was when I found out that shows on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, Military Channel, etc. could be Godsends (literally).  Christopher loved shows about wars, history of nations as well as "things", documentaries about conquerors, shows about how things are made, etc.  We still laugh about the time we had dinner with his uncle who was fascinated at his knowledge about the history of bricks.  :)

It would have been wonderful to have Netflix available but we did bring videos home from the library, along with lots of picture books.  We got to know the people at the library so well, we both ended up as volunteers when we moved back "home".

Which reminds me of that big word everyone throws at us... socialization.  It is one area that causes me to chuckle out loud when I am asked about it for there is no one group of young people I know who are more socialized than homeschoolers.  Except instead of mainly knowing the kids in their class, they are around all of humanity from babies to really, really old people.   I have said that homeschooling is one long conversation and it is true... only the conversation encompasses many years and a lot of people.

There were seasons of loneliness when we moved back to Michigan for a few years and had no friends or family nearby but it all worked out and God was not surprised.   The circumstances do not have to be perfect and our experiences would certainly prove that!

Once it became apparent that Christopher was set on studying science at the University... which requires a lot of lab science classes and advanced math... we started him taking a class now and then at the community college, ending with him attending full time his senior year of high school and his freshman year of college.  He transferred to the University his sophomore year (although still having to take a full four year curriculum at the University due to his major).

So... what happened with the kid whose first grade teacher called him a troublemaker and stupid? He was chosen as a student representative for his community college and is assisting them in building relationships between the college and the University.  He's been on the Dean's List in one of the most difficult science curricula at the University and in their honors program. 

He has been voted president of two computer student organizations after serving as vice president in one of them his freshman year.  What amazes his father and I is the fact he is getting A's in his advance math classes (where did that come from?).

The biggest lesson I learned as I look back is that the important lessons of life are taught not semester by semester but moment by moment.  We had to learn that homeschooling was not school at home.  We tried things that didn't work but often led to what did.

Perhaps the best advice I received (which turned out to be so true) was in a book written by a homeschool father from Michigan (unfortunately I can't remember his name or the name of his book, I brought it home from the library long ago).  He had already graduated a few of his children and said there was nothing they had to know before starting college or a job which could not be made up in a year or two of community college.

Thankfully, we have an excellent community college within a short commuting distance where many homeschoolers take classes.  As I mentioned earlier, Christopher was able to take everything he needed for State graduation requirements (which we had not covered) in one year at the college.  He decided to attend for a second year just to prepare him for the demanding math and science classes at the University. 

A community college is a fraction in cost of the Universities... we paid for an entire semester what one class cost at the University (however, the cost of textbooks are the same).

For the cost of a few college classes, Christopher not only caught up but was prepared in such a way as to make excellent grades, developed good study skills, learned how to cope with distractions in large classes, and went on to win numerous scholarships at the University.  His only downside will be graduating in five years instead of four but many college students have to do that if they switch majors, anyway.

My best advice for the parent of an ADHD child... take one day at a time.  Those attributes which are challenging now are exactly the same as they can use later for good. 

When we wonder how God can ever use that child who is giving us so much trouble, He sees how they turn out!  All we can do is just keep going on day in and day out... praying a lot... and never giving up even when it looks like they will never "get" what is being taught.... they are.... just in their own time.

Now... Stephanie's blog post called Ultimate Lists: Home Educating With Sensory Integration Issues can be found... here.


Monica said...

Your son sounds so much like mine. He will play with Lego's while listening to readings and he loves the History channel! Thank you for the encouragement. I don't home school but I do stay very involved and do a lot of educating at home. You give me hope that it will all work out. Because there are days when I wonder what he is going to do with his life...

Vee said...

Again, simply fascinating! So much to think about and consider. Now I'd like to think that some parents near and dear to my heart might, one day, consider homeschooling for the grand who needs a little extra.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your most inspirational story!! You obviously did well!! In a less than easy situation too!!

One thing we did with ours was I began a 4-H club (because the one already going with some at church was FULL UP...though it ended up being joined a year or so later). My girls especially were interested in animals!! They became champions at the fair (and NO I was not a "stage mom")...they did it on their own time!! We had rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens in town. One time raised a baby pidgeon that got separated from its mom and also raised gerbils for a time too (all except the chickens were to learn genetics...was interesting to us all). It about killed me during the time I led the club too...and taught some classes in home arts...but it was also pretty fun. I do not know if 4-H is even a good thing to do anymore...

You really should consider a small book on teaching ADHD, Brenda...I still think your ideas might not be out there that much yet!! (My oldest grandchild has mild asperger' the constant movement I do understand).

Blessings, Elizabeth in NC

freetobeme - Anita said...

This was so inspiring and interesting and fascinating and...
Thanks for sharing. God bless you and Christopher.

Lisa Z said...

Thank you so much for this. It's so nice to know how it all turned out, and so well. I'm homeschooling my son, who is on the autism spectrum, and at age 14 he's challenging me very much. We use the internet a lot, and part of me just hates to be so electronic. But you know what, that's where my son communicates best, with friends online where he can think out and then type responses and game plays and all kinds of great stuff he does on there. It's wonderful to read that this was a good thing for your son, too. My son is going through the most difficult of the puberty years (I think) and your story has helped me believe, today, that we'll make it through.


Carol said...

Brenda, I too think that you should write a book about homeschooling the ADHD child. I think that you would help alot of people. (in MD)

Audrey said...

I just found your blog this past two weeks and love it. I have three boys and I hope/plan to homeschool them. The oldest is now 4. I'm intimidated by the huge task but it's in my heart to teach them. They do not have ADHD but are full of energy. This was very helpful and encouraging. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, can I relate to sitting and crying on the other side of the door. My son was not ADD but we had our issues and he also liked to be "moving and doing." He chose to become an electrician's apprentice at age 18 and at 21 is well on his way to journeyman. I am as proud of him as I am of his college educated brothers. I home schooled for 15 years using the Charlotte Mason Method and really miss it! Dee

The Journey said...

Wonderful post. I think boys are harder to homeschool anyway. I think they need to come up with an action curriculum, learning to fix and repair around house- construction- there are many skills you learn through that. People need to realize boys and girls have different educational needs.

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

This doesn't describe my son as much as myself! I definitely stay more focused on what I am hearing if my hands are busy!

It is so wonderful that you gave Christopher this gift of one on one education....And that you shared this inspiring and practical story with us all. I have a grandson with lots of energy and I think there is not enough tolerance for this in schools today.