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If you homeschool, ADHD schedule planning might be one of your biggest headaches. Your little person rebels against structure so hard, even if it’s the best thing for them. But just like you taught them they need to get dressed before they can leave the house, you can teach this.
For a child who lacks organizational and time management skills to the degree your kid does, structure is KING. Once they’ve gotten into the groove of your routine, they no longer need to spend valuable energy stressing about what’s coming next. (Or stressing about how they forgot the thing that just happened.) The schedule just becomes your family’s way of life, and they can be more efficient in their learning and playing.
Of course, there might be some trial and error when making a schedule. Something you thought would be perfect might backfire for an unknown reason. But don’t throw in the towel after two days or even two weeks if things aren’t working. I’d give something at least a month (you know what they say about 30 days to make a new habit!)
Here’s how to hack the homeschool ADHD schedule and get your kiddo learning in no time.
The Homeschool ADHD Schedule Smorgasboard
Because every kid with ADHD is different (you know, like all kids), there is no one schedule that will work best for all. Even just executive dysfunction has eight different components, any of which might be more or less severe for your kid.
So enter the smorgasbord. I’ve compiled a list of 13 scheduling techniques that I’ve used with ADHD students or I know other parents have used with their kids. These are mom-tested, kid-approved hacks that really have the potential to streamline and smooth out your homeschool day. And they’re specifically tailored to your child’s hyperactive, attention-lacking, “hey-look-squirrel!” brain.
Start with a good morning routine
Before you even bust open the books, create a solid morning routine. Kids aren’t going to learn as well if they only ate half their breakfast or have dragon breath. (Ok, maybe they’d learn fine. But YOU will have a harder time teaching them when you have to stand across the room.)
Luckily, I’ve already covered all the tips and tricks to nailing down a good morning routine for kids with ADHD.
Your kid has trouble focusing for long periods of time. I get it. But it can still be so tempting to think “well, we can’t only spend 15 minutes a day doing math with my 7th grader. But that’s all they can stand!”
Instead, use brain breaks between subjects or chunks of subject time. Spend some time observing your kiddo for a while, and see if you can determine their max focus threshold. Then, schedule a brain break every time your kid hits one of those increments.
A brain break might include singing, dancing, eating a snack, running a lap, or something else. The key is to not have it last so long that your child gets reinvested in a new activity. It’s just meant to break up and wake up their brain, and maybe squeeze in some physical activity.
Time their hardest subject
You know your kiddo best. I know I had to tinker with schedules for individual ADHD students in my classroom. For some kids, if you have them do the thing they hate first, they’ll delay and avoid it all day long, never accomplishing anything. For others, their brains might be too tired by the end of the day to climb the mountain.
Schedule in exercise
Whether it’s organized sports or running around the backyard, kids with ADHD absolutely need scheduled exercise time. First thing in the morning is great if the weather allows for it. Otherwise, between subjects is great.
Allow for hyperfocus
Many children with ADHD can access “flow” states, where they could spend HOURS learning about Egypt, coding, or the Russian royal family. But if you plug that subject in the first slot, good luck pulling them away to do math!
Instead, consider putting the subjects they want to hyperfocus on at the end of the school day. Better yet, pick one entire day to be devoted to that subject. I’d suggest making it Friday so your kid has something to look forward to at the end of the week, but you do you.
Keep days short
Because kids with ADHD struggle so much with focusing, lean into their strengths and scale back the time you spend on school. But since you don’t want to sacrifice their education, remove the fluff! Twenty minutes of efficient, excellent learning beats an hour of busy work any day.
We all know transitions can be one of the most difficult parts of the day for ADHD kids. To soothe that stress, get in the habit of shifting subjects the same way, every day. You might use a timer (which goes off 5 mins before and again at shift time). Maybe you could get your phone to play a favorite song, or let your kid ring a physical bell.
You also could consider having the kitchen be a math space, the living room be for reading, and bedrooms for social studies, etc.
Schedule activities between academic blocks
If your kid does karate, see if the sensei offers mid-morning classes. You also can look at the library, local homeschool co-op, or animal shelter to see if they offer activities during the day. This way, you have a scheduled reason to put the books down and go somewhere new for a while. And speaking of leaving the house…
Learn on the road
This is a classic homeschooler’s “kill two birds with one stone” scheduling hack. You, the parent, probably have errands to run, groceries to pick up, and appointments to keep. Your kid with ADHD needs new stimulation and challenges.
So grab an audiobook, a clipboard, or a chapter book and hit the road! One option is to use the drive to your Monday library run to tackle the same subject every week. However, this modified “roadschooling” can also be a time to catch up on work or try a harder subject in a different environment.
Do unit studies
Unit studies are a scheduling technique where everyone in the family studies the same thing at once. A semester of quick units, each lasting only a week or two, can be great for a kid with ADHD who is constantly craving new stimulation. As long as you keep structures the same (math at this time, writing in this chair, or whatever you’ve decided on) this can be an excellent strategy.
(If you’d like to learn more, we have an ebook on unit studies!)
I don’t know about you, but my favorite days in school were when the teacher announced we’d be learning outside. It shakes things up, gets your kid exposed to sunlight (which helps regulate their circadian rhythms and therefore leads to better sleep), and is plain fun.
Youtube has documentaries and educational clips. Tablets and iPads have academic games in addition to the internet. There are plenty of online platforms and apps you can add to your homeschool schedule to help motivate your child and keep their attention.
Learn someplace different
Maybe in addition to a very set schedule, you plan for one block every day to learn someplace different. This might mean a study nook in the library, the coffee shop, a bench in the park, or even someplace totally off the wall like a cemetery. You can choose or your child can, or alternate who picks.
Pro-tip: you might not want to time your child’s most difficult subject for this block.
Sample Homeschool ADHD Schedule
Here’s a sample schedule if you’d like to see how one works.
- 7am- Morning routine: wake up, meditation, breakfast, hygine
- 8am- Recess time: play outside (even in the winter!), do jumping jacks, etc
- 8:30- Math block: Chunk 3 lessons into 15 minute increments with a quick 5 min brain break between each
- 9:30- Nature walk / science block
- 10:00- Reading time block: Chunk 3 lessons into 15 minute increments with a quick 5 min brain break between each
- 11:00- Hit the road: history-based audiobook
- 12:00 Lunch
- 1pm- Art, music, or other electives. Then done for the day!
For more reading on this topic:
- Accommodations for ADHD: 25+ Tips & Recommendations
- Executive Functioning Checklist: Where does your child fall?
- Your Guide to Homeschooling a Special Needs Child
…or browse all articles in our Special Needs category.
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.