Dr. Carrie McMillin is a naturopathic physician that specializes in treating adults and children with ADHD and anxiety.
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My 4th grader really struggles with math. She has dyscalculia in addition to ADHD, and many tears have been shed over math worksheets. And while we limit the amount of workbook-type lessons she is doing in most subjects, for math they are somewhat unavoidable. So we needed to have a plan for how to make math time doable while she’s at home. Here are some tips that you may be able to apply to your homework/homeschool routine!
1. Be intentional about WHEN math time is
We broke math into two 30 minute blocks. One is in the morning at 10:00AM. My kiddo does pretty well at this time of day as far as mood and she has not yet drained her attention reserves for the day. This is also just shortly after breakfast, so she is not getting hungry yet. The second 30 minute block is at 1:00, after lunch and recess, when blood sugar is good and energy has been burned off!
2. Work for short chunks of time with mini breaks
For my kiddo, she needs a short brain break after 10 minutes of math. We set our timer for 10 minutes. When 10 minutes are up, we set the timer for a 5 minute break. Once that is up, it’s back to a 10 minute work chunk followed by a 5 minute break. That equals our 30 minute math block.
3. Use a visual timer
It can be tough for ADHD brains to get a good feel for how much time is left with a standard timer (one that just shows a number). Visual timers can be super helpful as an alternative, and usually don’t require a big investment. These timers have a block of color that shows the quantity of time remaining, in addition to a number. Search the term “visual timer” online for a physical option, or choose an app with the same set up.
4. Sit with your kid
You will soon get a feel for noticing when they are getting distracted or need support. I have found it’s incredibly effective if I ask her to explain how to do a problem--and I am being genuine. I honestly don’t often understand the methods she is currently being taught and when she explains them to me she has a sense of pride. She is also motivated to help me out because I want to understand and she wants to help me. Once she explains roughly what they are working on, we are able to work on the worksheets together.
5. THE BREAK JAR
This is the best part of our method. And we only use the break jar for math because it is the bane of our existence...at least it requires the most effort.
I have several slips of paper with ideas for things to do on the 5 minute breaks. These are simple things like “Dance!” (see full list below), and ONE of the slips is for a prize!
6. Give lots of positive feedback
High five, “Great job!”, “You are working hard!”, “You are a rockstar!”, fist bump, etc. Your kid is super amazing, so let her know!
If they are getting frustrated and struggling, let them know you can see they are working hard, how can you help? Offer support if they would like it.
So here’s a breakdown of how we use the timer:
10 minutes math
5 minute break (draw a slip from the break jar!)
10 minutes math
5 minute break (draw another slip from the break jar!)
Here are the things in our break jar:
Get a drink--this could even be something special like a cup of juice with an umbrella in it
Watch a funny animal video--I have a few compilations cued up on my phone to watch
Have a treat--we’ve done 2 of each color skittles or M&Ms;try something that’s special
Fresh air- maybe go outside and look at the clouds, run up and down the driveway, etc
Fidget--I will get our fidget basket out for her to choose one
Sing--we like to belt out David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” at the top of our lungs
Snack--usually less coveted than the “Treat”, but good to grab a fruit, trail mix, etc
Dance--I may or may not have put on “Despacito” for this one (don’t judge)
Dog snugs--we have a very squishy pug, and some cuddle time with him is a nice break
Jokes--I have a few pages of kid jokes bookmarked and we take turns telling them
Yoga--we do a few easy yoga poses
Short video--my daughter likes to watch trailers or previews from a cartoon she likes
Lotion--we will take time to put on some really yummy smelling lotion
PRIZE--these are just small things I have picked up for a few dollars here and there and set aside (ex. a squishy frog)
Note: We set aside a slip of paper once she’s picked it. That way all slips are used before they are all added back to the bowl to start over.
Feel free to add things that make sense for your kid, keeping in mind they are for a 5 minute break. (So nothing that they might start and want to continue instead of going back to their next work block.)
Hope this helps you and your kiddo. And hey, you are doing an awesome job! You’ve got this!
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