If approached with flexibility, commitment and a moderate degree of structure, homeschooling is often the perfect solution for a child or teen with ADHD. Not only does it remove some of the elements that make school challenging for a right-brained child (like the perennial distractions created by the presence of other children), but it can offer the opportunity to pursue interests that traditional classrooms simply cannot accommodate.

One of the best descriptions of what I call “ADD’ishness” was developed by Thom Hartmann, who has written many books on the subject. After his own son was evaluated for academic problems and then told that he had “Minimal Brain Dysfunction” (yes, that’s what ADD was once called), Thom pondered an alternative way to describe his son’s weaknesses—and strengths—to him. He happened to read an article about the shift from hunters to farmers that took place thousands of years ago.

As he thought about the qualities that would make for a successful hunter, Thom realized that it would be beneficial if a hunter were easily distracted. This would enable him to notice a slight rustle in the bushes, or the darting of an animal in the distance that might otherwise be missed. In addition, a good hunter would need to be attracted to challenge, risk and novelty. He would need to prefer varied and potentially dangerous tasks over repetitive, predictable ones. Finally, impulsivity would be a vital component to his success. A hunter who spent a lot of time considering whether or not to chase after a wild boar that just broke into a clearing would stay hungry if he didn’t act quickly.

A farmer, on the other hand, would benefit from being content with routine activities, planting seeds in tidy rows, just the right depth and distance apart. He would need the patience to sit day after day, pulling worms off plants, or harvesting row after row (after row after row) without the boredom that would make this impossible for an active, restless hunter.

In considering how this applies in a traditional educational setting, Thom came up with the notion that ADD is, in essence, a matter of being a hunter in a farmer’s world. Chidren who line up in proper rows after recess, and who always put their name on the top right hand corner of the page are rewarded in traditional schools. Hunter children typically struggle with these sorts of things, regardless of how many times they are scolded or reminded to do things “right.” Their self-esteem often takes a beating, which over time can manifest as apathy towards learning in general.

While this theory be somewhat simplistic, I find the hunter/ farmer theory quite useful. It sounds much cooler to a child to be told he has a hunter brain than that there’s something wrong with him. Blame and shame are often constant companions for many ADD’ish people, who end up feeling stupid or inferior. A child who grows up understanding his brain is wired more for life out in the jungle than the classroom is given the chance to feel that he is okay just as he is, helping to create a willingness to develop the skills needed to succeed in a world that doesn’t always favor hunters.

Homeschooling can offer this hunter child a wonderful blend of structure and freedom. When an impulsive, easily distracted child is placed in a conventional classroom, she often staves off boredom either by creating ongoing disruptions (e.g. being the class clown) or by retreating into the fascinating world of her daydreams. When this kind of youngster is homeschooled, parents are able to modify the length or frequency of breaks so lessons don’t drag on beyond a child’s ability to stay focused or on task. The environment can be made more conducive to maintaining focus. And parents can help their child learn critical skills of organization, planning and strategies for memorization that are difficult to learn in the midst of a busy, hectic school experience.

Every one of the thousands of ADD’ish children I have worked with had highly creative tendencies. Homeschooling allows these right-brained children to incorporate creativity into the way they learn. Rather than reading a chapter and answering the five questions at the end, the homeschooled child can draw a comic strip depicting a scene from the chapter, record themselves being interviewed about it, or even branch off into researching a related topic that piques their interest. The sky is the limit for weaving more varied, multi-media learning into a child’s life when there aren’t thirty-five other kids to be managed.

However, one of the dangers of homeschooling a child with a rich imagination, restless nature and short attention span is that they often have parents who are very much like them. (I speak here from experience. When I was homeschooling my own son, long before I knew I had ADD’ishness, I would frequently give him an assignment and then wander off and start cleaning the garage. My son would end up outside playing basketball, the aforementioned assignment completely forgotten.) ADD’ish children may have parents who difficulty maintaining the necessary farmer aspects of schooling that ensure the child’s education doesn’t have significant gaps that might later prevent him from being able to transfer back into a traditional school, or qualify for advanced education and training.

The key to making homeschooling work for an ADD’ish child is to work within some degree of structure. I refer many children to Laurel Springs School, an outstanding distance learning program based out of Ojai, California which provides a highly organized curriculum that makes sure its students are meeting (actually surpassing) state standards, while allowing them the flexibility of adapting the material for their unique learning style. This kind of program creates a safety net for parents, providing the necessary materials and accountability that ensures the child is progressing properly.

Homeschooling an ADD’ish child can provide both parent and child with tremendous freedom to fully explore the youngster’s gifts, passions and talents, offering a wonderful option to those right-brained children (and their parents!) who simply aren’t wired to be good farmers. While no solution is perfect for every child, home schooling has certainly brought a huge sigh of relief to many of the families I have worked with. If done well, it can lead to igniting a child’s love for learning, or rekindling that fire when a traditional school setting has dimmed the flame.

Susan Stiffelman is a family therapist, credentialed teacher, and parenting coach based out of Malibu, California. She is the author of the upcoming book, Cool, Calm and Connected: Steering Clear of Arguments, Negotiations and Meltdowns with Your Kids and can be reached at osusannaji@gmail.com, or by visiting www.passionateparenting.net

Author's Bio: 

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed marriage and family therapist, educational consultant and parenting coach. Through her private practice, public presentations, workshops, teleclasses and website, she has become a source of advice and support for parents around the world. Her book, Cool, Calm and Connected: How to Avoid Negotiations, Arguments and Meltdowns With Your Kids, will be released soon. Susan can be reached at www.passionateparenting.net or osusannaji@gmail.com