Homeschooling & ADHD/Other Special Needs : What Type of Homeschooling Works Best?

If you’re reading this you’re either curious about homeschooling because you think it will help your child, actively homeschooling and looking for tips, or Googling in desperation because you’re sick and tired of whatever rigmarole you are going through with your child’s school.

I have been in all 3 situations. And like I said in my last post about homeschooling a child with ADHD or other special needs, including neuro-behavioral disorders, cognitive delays, developmental delays, social skills problems, learning disabilities, or just plain old out-of-the-box thinking, I am pretty new to the whole homeschool thing. I’ve been homeschooling my 10-year old son exactly 1 year and 1 month, with a 6 month sabbatical (we sent him to a private special needs school) thrown in the middle. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that pulling our son, diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which includes elements ADHD, ODD, SPD, PDD, cognitive delay, and PBD out of school was one of the best treatment decisions we’ve made for him so far.

If you’ve done any reading on homeschooling so far you know that the approach to homeschooling is as diverse as the children and families who are doing it.  There is no one right way, and the beauty and benefit of homeschooling is being able to tailor what you do to meet your child’s needs.

Below you’ll find a basic list summarizing approaches to homeschooling. All of these approaches can be adapted to you and your child’s needs, many people start using one method then switch to another or mix them up, and if you are homeschooling for religious reasons (we are not, but this may be another valuable benefit of homeschooling for you) then you can adapt all of these to fit your needs as well. I’m NOT reviewing curricula, books, or online resources here, although feel free to put in your own $.02 in the comments field.

And just a note – what we do in our homeschool is fairly eclectic. A little of this, a little of that – and by a LITTLE I do mean a very little. The academic part of homeschooling never takes us longer than 2 hours/day. This is one of the basic wonderful things about homeschooling. In all but the extremely structured “school at home” approaches most homeschoolers spend way less actual time on the academic parts of their kids school than if they were in school – not because they are blowing it off, but because the kids, even kids with serious learning difficulties – can get through stuff so much faster. If you don’t have to waste time on attendance, bathrooms, discipline, transitions from one thing to the next, recess, lunch, moving through the hallways and all sorts of time-wasting necessities of traditional school then time on task is spend so much more expeditiously. Even if your child is like mine and fights you tooth and nail about doing much of anything.

That said, the enrichment/social/life skills part of homeschooling takes us days, weeks, and months! Example: Monday night I took J with me on a tour of an organic mushroom farm. That was social skills (listening in a crowd, navigating multiple adults who had to tell him how cute he was, keeping calm in an appropriate way during the thunderstorm that unexpectedly cropped up), science (mushroom substrate, mushroom spores, temperature, fall crops, chickens, time change/seasonal changes, experimentation, pasteurization, what is organic? Weather, including thunder, lightning, and rainbows!), social studies (what is a farm? Where do we get our food? Different jobs on a farm, grants for farm entrepreneurs, how do different people live? What’s an intentional community?), and P.E. (hiking).

So here’s my list of approaches to homeschooling. Disclaimer: this list is in no way complete! And I’ve tried to organize it from most structured to least structured, although that will depend a lot on you and your child’s needs. And finally, be sure you understand what your state’s legal requirements are for homeschoolers. This may also determine which of these approaches will work for you although even the least structured approaches can generally be made to work in even highly regulated states.

  1. School at home. Mom or dad is the teacher (or you can get a tutor or do this as part of a co-op) and kids sit in a room designated as the classroom and follow a routine similar to what they would in a traditional school.  Some people do school at home and use videotaped or on-line curricula, but basically it’s replicating the traditional classroom at home.  School at home requires the purchase of a packaged curriculum, including textbooks, worksheets, tests, etc. and is very structured. Included in this can be distance programs (classes through a private school or a public e-learning program). This also might include following your state’s Standard Course of Study or the Common Core Curriculum, something most states don’t require of homeschoolers but may be a choice you make should you want to put your child(ren) back in school in the future.
  2. Classical Education. This is a philosophy of homeschooling described in the book The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Basically, it lays out certain skill groups and subjects according to developmental levels determined by the author, and its focus is on the classics, Latin, reading, and writing. To follow this method children need to already be readers, so for kids who struggle with reading or who are more interested in math and the sciences this is probably not the best approach.
  3.  Waldorf. This description is from The Homeschool Diner and it pretty much sums it up: “Waldorf instruction relies on lecture-based experiential learning where a subject is introduced through direct experiences, then children are guided to explore the subject, then the concept is discussed as a group. Waldorf emphasizes arts and crafts, music and movement, natural science, spirituality, and group social skills.  Children routinely journal their experiences, thoughts, and conclusions, including daily drawing and painting.” The Waldorf method includes holding off on formal academics until children are 7.
  4. Charlotte Mason. Nature studies, drawing, painting, long walks, and journaling, as well as an emphasis on real books (instead of textbooks, primers, or worksheets), and history through historic fiction. If I were being homeschooled this is what *I* would like the best.
  5.  Self-directed learning. The child decides what he or she wants to learn about and the parent facilitates this. Could include taking teacher-led classes and on-line classes, but could also include independent studies in areas of interest, internships, and jobs.
  6. Unschooling. The child not only decides what he/she wants to learn about, but whether or not he/she wants to learn. The philosophy behind this is that all children are learning all the time.
  7. Deschooling. Basically, taking a break. Similar to unschooling but more for psychological reasons vs. any learning theory. Many people whose children have gone to school recommend this as a way to unlearn bad habits, bad feelings, or simply bad habits. Especially recommended for children who’ve had a hard time in school. When we first pulled J out of school we tried to get him to do some more formal school work but he was so burnt out that he – and we – needed a break for a while.
  8.  Eclectic. Picking and choosing based on you and your child’s needs. This is what we do. Some of J’s school tasks are more programmed – he does the basics using an online curriculum – and some are less so: we do field trips a lot, he goes to camps and takes classes here and there – and he follows his own interests in practically everything else. A lot of what we do each day depends on our schedule, our play opportunities (play dates with friends take precedence over practically anything else!), and his mood. Kids with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) have “good” brain days and “bad” brain days – if he’s having a “bad” brain day where he’s having trouble doing tasks that had been simple the day before, or he gets fatigued quickly, or he’s feeling angry and frustrated, it’s simple for us to switch tracks and do something else. His older brother, who is neurotypical, also follows an eclectic approach although since he’s nearing high school and he wants to go to college, we work on deciding his tasks based on what he might need to prepare for the future as well as basing it on what he’s most interested in.

For more approaches to homeschooling please check out The Homeschool Diner. And don’t be afraid to mix and match. That’s the beauty of homeschooling!

Please stay tuned for my next blog on ADHD and other special needs and homeschooling: structuring your day. (Hint: it’s whatever works for you!!)

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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adhd and homeschooling, adhd and school, adhd homeschooling, Adrienne Bashista, alternative treatment, FASD, fetal alcohol syndrome, high school, learning disabilities, learning styles and Adhd, our story, school behavior, school failure, school refusal ·

About the author

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

8 Comments

  1. S.H. McIntyre says:

    Great post! I homeschooled two ADHD kids with chronical asthma/allergy and perceptual motor learning disabilities. It was the best decision we ever made! With a bit of creativity, we can do wonders for our child’s education and keep their love of learning alive! My “high-risk” kids ended up to be Merit Scholar and Merit Scholar Finalist. We homeschooled for twelve years after experiencing a few years of traditional education. I wish you all the best, and if I can ever be of encouragement along the way – to you or to others – let me know. 

    Reply
  2. Adrienne — this was really thorough and well done. You are awesome !

    Reply
  3. I am currently homeschooling my 6 year old (first-grader) that is still undergoing additional neuropsych testing, but who has been diagnosed with ADHD and Sensory Integration Disorder. He has very little stress when it comes to school, which was a huge factor last year. He is also learning the material and retaining it far better than last year. He is undergoing additional testing as the specialists feel something else may be at play too, but so far we’ve found homeschooling to be a good solution for now. One thing I do find a tiny bit difficult for me personally, is that I’m a work-from-home mom and I have a younger son. It is worth it to me to homeschool my 6 year old on top of everything else, but it takes discipline and it can take its toll on some days. I’m glad we made this choice given his difficult year last year, but this choice does come with personal sacrifice–which I think is worth it for our family 🙂

    Reply
  4. Tracey A says:

    Not sure if this is still open, but my concerns are this, i have children with ADD and school is just getting to be too much. i brought up the idea of home school to the boys 12 and 14 yrs , and they werent too happy about it, and they thought they would lose out on the social aspect of school. Has this been a problem for anyone?

    Reply
  5. angies boys says:

    i’m having some thoughts about homeschooling my 9yr old son. as a single parent im not sure how to figure this out. i work 12hr shifts 3-4 days a week. plus i have another son to care for. dilemma indeed.

    Reply

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