Teaching my “ADD” Son

strategies for teaching ADD


I love how homeschooling has allowed me to cater to the boys’ individual gifts. I want to share with you what we’re doing to meet each boys’ gifts and challenges, so today we will focus on Caleb.

I realize home schooling isn’t for everyone, it isn’t even possible for many, so maybe you can apply some of these tricks to your regular-school-kid too! 🙂

It never ceases to amaze me how completely different all four of our boys are! I’m still waiting to see how JD will turn out. For now, we just know that he is go-go-go and clingy-clingy-clingy. We also know that he has some sort of sleep disorder that is destroying my outlook on life, but we are not here to talk about that today…

Let’s just focus on school.

Caleb is your classic Billy from Family Circus ‘boy’. He does the stereotypical stuff. He begs us for a pet, he finds snails and brings them to me, he pretends to dislike girls, and he’s always wiggly. Oh, and he loves to take things apart. He can also fix things that I cannot. If I want a chore done quickly and effectively, I call upon Caleb.

Spelling, memorizing facts, and sitting still are his nemesis. His Sunday School teacher recently referred to Caleb as “quiet and shy.”


That’s right. My children have one personality at home and a totally different one at school or Sunday School. I was quiet at school when I was a child too, only I actually am shy, whereas Caleb is definitely NOT shy.

The hard thing about teaching Caleb in the school setting, is that it feels like he isn’t participating. He NEVER answers questions, in a large group, and he talks and sings so quietly that you can’t tell if he is doing so or not. It looks as though he is completely disengaged–not at all like any of the other kids in the class.

As a parent, this is frustrating to watch.

I would love to design a school that caters to little “ADD” kids like Caleb–and guess what! I am doing exactly that this year–here at our own little home school!!  I have TWO ADDish boys, though even the way that ADD is displayed is different in each of them!!

Here is what is helping with Caleb so far:

1. Fidgeting is 100% REQUIRED!!!

If I am going to be teaching something new, or going over memory work, Caleb absolutely HAS to have something in his hands to work on. For example, if Alan is teaching a Bible lesson to the boys, we say, “Caleb, go get your puzzle!!!” Caleb fetches his U.S. puzzle and works on it while Alan teaches. Suddenly he becomes interactive Caleb with questions.

How did I figure this out? Classical Conversations. After the agony of watching my smart little boy act as though he doesn’t know anything all morning, we went outside to paint. Thankfully, it was a laid back painting day. The kids were allowed to use whatever colors they wanted–kind of a big deal for Caleb.

Meanwhile, Caleb’s tutor opened up her science book and started teaching from it. Suddenly, Caleb became interactive Caleb, asking questions, and looking happy.

The key seems to be that Caleb has to be working on something with his hands to pay attention. I totally get this!!  When I was in school, my notebook was always FULL of doodles. I do the same thing in church. Normally, I dislike drawing, but I just have to have something to do with my hands when I am in the school setting.

And what do we typically tell small school children, during instructional time? Everyone clear off your desk, and no fidgeting. HA!!! Perhaps that is best for most kids, I don’t know. I don’t have ‘most kids,’ I just have these kids, and I want to do whatever works to make school easier and more fun for them.

2. Frequent breaks.

Caleb completes a subject, then he has a break–sometimes a drawing break, sometimes a full-jump-on the trampoline recess. With all the rain we are suddenly having, he plays in the garage a lot. I would much rather knock all that school work out at one time, but that leaves Caleb looking like a whiny lump in the floor, so I get about an hour of work out of him at a time.

Caleb’s Basic Day:

Math Worksheet (A Beka 2nd grade)  He is excellent at this–straight As, and he thinks it’s easy.


Notebooking: writing, copy work, etc.

BREAK–Full 20 minutes

Grammar/Phonics/Guided reading  We are really enjoying the A Beka readers now. They are full of sweet stories that almost all have wonderful life lessons. Love. Love. Love. Caleb also grasps grammar rules with swiftness. Phonics has been a struggle, and he’s still improving in reading. Thankfully, he loves Treasure Chest. He recently finished reading Pinnochio in that reader.

Review Memory Work (Science/History/math/grammar)

BREAK  a long one, while I work individually with Joshua

Math Speed Drills


Teacher Reading (where I read one nonfiction science or history story, followed by one fiction story or chapter or two)

Handwriting–Caleb’s favorite subject with Drawing (Most of the lessons in PreScripts include a drawing lesson.

Geography–We have now graduated to actually drawing the maps, rather than just tracing. I can’t tell you how challenging, but fun this is!

Go over whatever else we missed during the day, and then I NEVER let school run past 3pm. Usually we are done by 2:15.

Why does it take me so long, when I only have three students??  Well, let’s not forget this guy:


Our school comes with a TON of built in distractions, but that also makes it more fun.

I am fortunate. Even though we are always at home, the boys still have three friends to play with all the time:




That’s right. Sweet Dan can also do a mean scowl.

Joshua picked out his and J.D.’s clothes, and then they all decided to dress alike. They were a little disappointed that J.D. would not cooperate for group pictures.

When you have big brothers, you learn the back arch fit extra early.






3. Experience Learning: I think with anybody, ADD or no, actually going out and experiencing things is much better for learning than just reading about it.

What did I set out to teach the boys in these photos?

You might guess table manners or ocean life, but that wasn’t really what I was thinking. I set out to teach them about Black Friday. 🙂 Joshua, Caleb, Daniel, and I hit the mall and a restaurant in honor of America’s favorite day to shop. We scored an awesome deal on Daddy’s present.

We also got the bonus of getting to watch the ocean waves while we ate our lunch. Science. 🙂

experiencing the beauty of California at a local ranch

More science. These are harvester ants. They are all female. They only produce a male when they wish to reproduce. I guess they don’t realize how funny boys are to have around.

Proverbs 6:6-8 (KJV)

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

Did you catch that?? Don’t miss it! Solomon is known for the wisdom God gave him. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. They called EVERYTHING “he” or “him” back then.

What did they call the ant??  HER

Don’t miss that. The Bible is CHOCK-FULL of wisdom that is way before its time.

Isaiah also wrote a verse that showed inspired wisdom about “the circle of the earth”, back when we’re told they thought the earth was flat.

21Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.   Isaiah 40:21-22

4. Let’s talk about memorizing. 

Unfortunately, I have not unlocked that padlock for Caleb yet. He does well with the truly catchy songs, the Bible passage, and the things that I have managed to go over a gazillion times, but I want to find a way to make it easier. I have learned ALL of this stuff fairly quickly, without going over it a gazillion times, and I am old. Some of it was completely new to me too: like the Latin….and the specific Appalachian mountain ranges. I would love more memorization tips for my little guy who hates memorizing!!!

I think part of the problem is that he thinks it’s boring, so perhaps what I SHOULD be asking tips for is how to make it more interesting to a 7 year old.

5. Focusing on the GIFTS

In order to keep Caleb happy about school, I have to praise, praise, praise every thing he does well. He leaps up the stairs to come to Handwriting, Art, or Math Speed Drill time because those are things that he has received lots of praise for.  Caleb is so creative. It’s so easy to praise him for his arts and crafts achievements.

Obviously, I need to praise him more on memory work!! I was really impressed today with his excellent Latin translation skills. That was all thanks to how well he learned John 1:1. The boys are currently memorizing John 1:1-7 in Latin. Caleb has already done a pretty good job of memorizing it in English. Caleb was actually able to teach this week’s Latin to Joshua. Now THAT was exciting!

What helped him learn John 1:1-7 so well? I made him copy it during notebooking time. That lets me know that Caleb learns through writing things down, which makes a TON of sense, since he learns through fidgeting!!!

Hmmm…I need to employ more of that!

6. Trampoline Memory Work

This is my next idea!!! Maybe trampoline spelling and trampoline math drills too!!

7. It’s really all about the one-on-one.

ADD kids need one on one attention more than their wired-perfectly-regularly counterparts. That’s where home-schooling is paying off BIG TIME.

You may be tempted to think ADD is not a “real” thing. As a psychology grad-school drop-out, let me assure you that IT IS INDEED A REAL THING. In the old days, they may have just said, “That boy ain’t quite right.” Haaaa!  The thing is now we know why. Our brains don’t all work the same.

Aren’t you glad they don’t?  😉  I bet some of the greatest creatives of all time were ADD.

8. Teach to the level of the child. 

This is another benefit that I have. Even some public schools do this. Where my children went to school last year, they divided the whole 2nd grade up into spelling classes. Some kids in the second grade were spelling hop, shop, pop. Others were spelling shook, shake, shriek, or whatever. You get the idea.

At the beginning of the year, both boys almost cried while working on material that they were not ready for, and school felt like a battle. As soon as I switched the curriculum to their actual level, they began to learn without tears. This is the best thing I’ve done for them. In the long run, they will actually be better at these subjects, since they took their time, and learned it step by step, rather than feeling lost all year.

Teaching to their level made my life so much easier too. I don’t have to battle them on any of our subjects–other than just “Can we be done now?” Gone are those first few weeks of, “I can’t do this!! It’s just too hard!!!” Okay, occasionally they still say that, but only when they are lazy or in need of a quick break.

I always wondered why home schoolers got that deer in the headlights look when you asked them what grade their kid is in!! It’s because at any given time Child A may be in 4th grade spelling and reading, 5th grade history, geography, and science, mid-2nd grade math, and 3rd grade grammar and handwriting…..but yeah…he’s in 3rd grade.  LOL!!! That’s the awesomeness of the one-on-one.

Anyone else have any good ADD tips?? I know there are plenty of teachers out there that could help us!!!


  • Tip #1: Keep doing exactly what you are doing because you are awesome at it.
    Tip #2: Keep blogging about what you are doing because it helps all of us become more awesome, too.
    Tip #3: Read the book “Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head” by Carla Hannaford, not because you need the help, but because you are just that kind of thorough, over-achieving type and may want some science to back up what you’ve already figured out on your own 🙂

  • You sound like a pro at this homeschool thing. Keep it up Mama!!

  • April, this is AMAZING. I am blown away by your science display with harvester ants, and God’s Word refers to them as “her”. Never knew this.

    I am also a MAJOR doodler, have to be doing something, even when I myself dislike drawing. Thought this was very interesting what you shared.

    I learned a lot through this post. You are doing such a great job teaching in your home schooling, and also teaching us fellow bloggers. THANK YOU! 🙂

    Hope you and everyone in your family is feeling better! 🙂


    • Thank you so much, Carl! My husband made the “her” ant realization, and he pointed it out to me. WE both enjoyed the discovery, and went online to see if anyone else had thought about this and couldn’t find any commentary on it online, though I’m sure we are not the only ones to have noticed. Oh, the endless truths that God hides in nature!!! So fun.
      We are all doing much better now, thank you! 🙂

  • April, as a former (20+-years) elementary school teacher and someone with ADD, sounds like you’re doing a marvelous job. Two quick suggestions that may help: 1) My best friend homeschools her boys and one of them memorized while doing calisthenics – jumping jacks, push-ups, chin-ups, etc… Might work during the rainy season. 2) Sometimes, adding other sensory stimulus helps with memory work: using scented markers; playing soft, classical music; eating strawberries. Use the same stimulus whenever they work on the memory exercise. It should boost the memory pathways.

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