More Tips for Helping Young Children with ADHD Succeed in School

If you work with young children, chances are very good that you will have a few that  have the SYMPTOMS of ADHD!  So whether or not the children have been diagnosed, you will need to figure out how to help them succeed.  Here are several more ways to make that happen!

1.  Reduce Classroom Stimuli- (AKA:  Keep the clutter under control, and don't over-do on decorations!)

When we decorate our classrooms for special events, sometimes the extra visual stimuli can affect special needs children negatively. But they sure are beautiful, aren't they?

Before the year begins think about the decorations and layout of your classroom. Chances are pretty good that there will be at least a handful of students who have symptoms of ADHD on your class list. Some children may not be able to focus in a highly decorated room, unfortunately!  If you wind up with a child that simply can't focus at all, it's worth considering how your room environment is affecting him or her.  You may want to run a little experiment to see if covering up a wall near the child with a sheet or a piece of butcher paper helps the child focus.

The larger the class size, the harder teachers work to get every child's artwork and work samples on display for both parents and administrators to see. BUT sometimes this is not the best thing for distractible children- even though the bulletin boards may be absolutely ADORABLE, as this one is!

If you can't bear the idea of a sparsely decorated room, but you have a child that needs less stimulation, another alternative is to provide an uncluttered, simple work area with no decorations for a child that needs that type of environment to help him or her concentrate.  As you make your way through the school year, you will likely have to experiment to find out what types of interventions and accommodations are helpful to each child, and which don't seem to matter.  It may be helpful to the next teacher if you make notes on what worked (and what didn't) and pass them along.

2.  Give Instructions in More Than One Way

One of the symptoms of ADHD is difficulty following directions. Many children with ADHD struggle with verbal directions.  So to save your own sanity, do your best to give directions in as many different ways as possible.  Picture icons for non-readers to refer to and written directions for those that can already read should help, as long as you show children how to use them when they don't know what to do!

One thing that made a HUGE difference in my classroom was having the children act out the procedures that I wanted them to follow.  This is beneficial for English Language Learners as well as students with ADHD, or anyone that learns better by moving or watching than by listening.

To have children act out or model the instructions or procedures, first give the directions as you normally would.  Tell the children to pay careful attention, because you will be choosing someone to help you show the class what you mean.

Then, I choose a child that may have trouble following my directions... and ask that child model how to do it the right way!  When I bring that one child up to the front- (the one that seems among the least likely to follow the directions) that child gets the opportunity to show the whole class that he or she really CAN do it RIGHT!  Then we all cheer for that student and I get to praise that student for following directions!

That child gets to feel what it is like to follow directions, get praise from everyone in the class, and we also establish that the child and I BOTH know that he really DOES understand those directions!  So after that, there is simply no excuse for not following directions, at least not for that child.

Older students will likely benefit from hearing the directions, and then being able to read them on their own. They should be encouraged to take notes on the directions on their own.

3.  Find Any Excuse You Can to Get Your Kids Up and Moving! 

Movement is a great way for all students to stay focused throughout the day and for students who have ADHD, movement is vital. Have you ever had to sit through a staff development day that stretched on and on, all day long without a break?  It's HARD to sit there all day!  So try singing and dancing during math or spelling practice, or try doing jumping jacks or deep knee bends while working on math facts, or even taking a break to run to the fence and back if students are showing signs of getting antsy.  Sometimes I tell children that we must stop and go pick up trash (inside or outside) for five minutes just to get them moving!

Below is a clip from Sing and Spell Vol. 6!  Sing and Spell the Sight Words is a great way to get kids up and moving while they are learning!

4. Put Up a Barrier

We used these home made privacy dividers whenever a child needed to be shielded from distractions while working.

Sometimes, a visual barrier can help children concentrate. Desk partitions (as shown above) are helpful for this. The ones in the picture above were home made out of some particle board and duct tape.  They aren't fancy, but they work!  They are VERY old- (they came with the classroom in 1992!)  Older children might find headphones helpful, which should reduce the distracting noises for that child while he or she works.  You would probably have to play some "white noise" types of sounds, or soft music etc.

5.  Remind Children To Keep Desks Organized

Help children stay organized and on task by limiting the number of pencils, crayons and other supplies they have access to. Keeping the clutter down on desks also helps limit the amount of time spent searching for supplies and helps keep children from getting distracted by all the goodies within their reach.  Personally, I NEVER start a kindergarten lesson when ANY children have items in their hands or within reach.  It just doesn't work!

6.  Find Something the Child is GOOD At!

Often students with ADHD have negative school experiences, which makes it difficult for them to see the point in trying hard in the classroom. So make it a point to notice things that children are doing well and praise them for them!  Set children up for success by saving tasks or jobs that will allow them an opportunity to excel. Is your student with ADHD really good at physical activities? Have them demonstrate the PE lesson for the class. Are they strong in a certain subject? Provide opportunities for them to help other students or be a leader in that area.

7.  Fold or Cut Worksheets to Keep Children From Becoming Overwhelmed

Try folding or cutting a worksheet that may seem too long or overwhelming to a child. This particular worksheet is from our Counting Creatures series.

If certain children cannot focus long enough to finish an entire worksheet, try folding a paper to show only part of it, or cutting a paper in half, etc.  Remember, a child doesn't REALLY have to do 20 math problems a day to practice them.  Five or ten might be enough, and it's okay to differentiate for the children, depending on their needs.  "Fair" doesn't always have to mean "exactly the same!"

8.  Give Positive Feedback as Much as Possible!

For some children, "being good" for means that they simply didn't do anything wrong for the last 15 minutes! But if reinforcing THAT helps you manage the classroom and helps the child have a good day,  JUST DO IT!

Don't forget to let your kids know when they are doing a great job!  I think that most primary teachers are natural encouragers, but sometimes we need to praise those children that struggle just for doing simple things like putting their names on their paper immediately when asked.  Little encouragements help set the tone of the day, and may take you far when you ask the child to do something they perceive as difficult.  They also may help the parents of the child see you in a positive light rather than in a negative one- and THAT's a good thing, too!


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