BY KATHY KUHL
More and more parents are choosing to homeschool. About 1.8 million students in the United States are homeschooled, according to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Leaders of state homeschool organizations report that more parents are asking for help to start homeschooling a struggling learner.
As homeschooling grows, it’s changing, and parents are using new resources to educate their children. Why is this trend on the upswing? How can parents homeschool children with ADHD? What can we learn from them—even if we don’t homeschool? After homeschooling my son with ADHD from grades four through twelve, and interviewing dozens of other parents doing the same, I have real insight into these changes.
Homeschool Co-ops, Umbrella Schools, and Classes
More co-ops and associations now offer homeschool classes. Some are provided by large, formal groups with online registrations, tuition, and high-school and even AP-level courses. Less formal groups form as parents swap lessons in their areas of expertise. In some states, “umbrella schools” serve families by functioning as liaisons between families and school districts, monitoring academic progress, providing classes, and sometimes providing special education consultants. Recreation departments and tutoring services also offer classes. Colleges offer dual enrollment courses.
Online, Virtual, or DVD Instruction
Homeschooling parents can outsource some subjects online. Students email assignments, participate in online discussions with teachers and classmates, and watch and listen to teachers over the Internet. Some companies provide individual tutoring online in many subjects; others offer automated programs for teaching math, available on the Internet or on CD. Parents recruit relatives to provide lessons in person or long distance: one woman used Skype to give long-distance recorder lessons to her grandchildren. Many courses are available on DVD, so learners can replay lessons.
Special Education Consultants
Some homeschoolers employ special education teachers as consultants for help in measuring progress, or for advice on instructional methods, accommodations, and curriculum.
Virtual Charter Schools
Virtual charter schools provide an alternative to public school classrooms through online instruction. State homeschool organizations point out that virtual charter schools don’t allow parents to customize or change curriculum or schedule, a flexibility that homeschoolers often rely on to help children with ADHD.
The latest U.S. DOE survey (August 2013) shows that almost half of parents say the most important reasons they homeschool are either concern about the school environment or dissatisfaction with academic instruction. Almost one in three said that they homeschooled because their child had a special need. (The survey did not ask parents if their children had ADHD.)
I asked twenty-six parents why they homeschooled their children with ADHD. Their top answers were:
At school, budget cuts and test preparation time continue to cut into teachers’ time to help struggling learners. A special education teacher who later homeschooled her own children observed:
In a special education classroom, there may be up to twelve students in one classroom with different strengths and weaknesses. What works for two might not work for all twelve. In a homeschool setting, that student is receiving one-on-one attention from a parent who knows his strengths and weaknesses and can give that child exactly what he needs.
Can parents homeschool legally?
Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, but requirements vary. Some states require that families notify the authorities annually of their intent to homeschool, and a few require families to set up as virtual private schools. Some states require that tests, evaluations, or portfolios be submitted annually. The Home School Legal Defense Fund (HSLDA.org) has a handy stateby- state guide, with links to, and summaries of, the current law for each state.
How can parents homeschool a child with ADHD?
With flexibility to adapt their program of instruction, parents report key differences between school and homeschool that help students thrive.
Some homeschoolers adopted a unit-study approach, building their entire month or quarter around a theme (ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, etc.). Others pursued “relaxed homeschooling,” developing curriculum around their student’s interests. I spoke with parents who’d built on curiosities in fashion design, music, and Japanese films. Our family let our young historian with ADHD take frequent field trips to historic sites, work as an apprentice reenactor, and read plenty of historical fiction and biography in his language arts program.
Several parents stated that it was easier to tutor their children in the morning, when everyone wasn’t exhausted, instead of addressing homework after school. Many reported great academic gains. Parents of students with co-existing conditions such as autism could spot oncoming meltdowns and immediately reduce sources of stress. Three parents asserted that homeschooling was less stressful than having the child in school.
Not for everyone
Parents must find the educational placement that works best for their family and their children. That can vary from child to child and year to year. Many parents of children with ADHD are satisfied with their local schools, and some parents seek alternatives. As homeschooling expands, it offers resources that can benefit any parent, including those raising kids with special needs. Teachers and families with no interest in home education have found help, encouragement, interesting educational resources, and a fresh view of education that can enrich children’s lives even when school is not in session.
Considering homeschooling? Study the resources in the Additional Reading sidebar and:
The author of Staying Sane as You Homeschool (Learn Differently, 2011), Encouraging Your Child (Learn Differently, 2015), and Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner (Learn Differently, 2009), Kathy Kuhl speaks and advises parents on homeschooling. Visit www.learndifferently.com for more.