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School Success Kit for Kids With ADHD

Tools and strategies to help manage time, stay focused, and handle homework

Rae Jacobson

For kids with ADHD, the right approach to school can mean the difference between good grades, and the confidence that comes with them, and another round of, “I lost my homework … again.” Here are a few suggestions for tools and strategies to help kids with ADHD get set for success.

  • New School Year, New Calendar(s): Others may think the new year begins in January, but you know that for kids with ADHD, this is when resolutions to be better organized are made. Your child should have a school calendar with enough space to allow her to write down and organize (by color-coding!) assignments. We recommend a separate calendar for social engagements and after-school activities. Additionally, it helps to add everything to a digital calendar with a reminder function that can push notifications to her phone. Another feature of online calendars is the sharing function. This allows her to share her calendar with parents and teachers and helps everyone stay on the same page.
  • Backup Items: Avoid morning (and afternoon, and evening) panic by having multiples of items that are easily lost. Think about the things that tend to go missing: If disappearing socks are slowing you down, buy more socks. If stealthy shoes (or keys, or gloves or hats or transit fares) are making her late, keeping backups on hand will help her get out the door on time.
  • Head of the Class: Literally. Sitting in the front of the room not only helps kids avoid the distractions (and temptations!) of back-row chatter and note-passing — it also promotes accountability. The harder it is for kids with ADHD to slip through the cracks, the better. When kids sit up front, it will be easier for the teacher to notice if they’re having a hard time and give you both a chance address the issue before it becomes a problem.
  • Set Up a Homework Routine: Having a structured, regular homework routine will help kids and parents get work done without running into squabbles when it’s time to hit the books. Designate a quiet, organized space where kids can work with minimal distractions. Schedule regular breaks for them to get up and move around — not screen breaks! — and don’t forget snacks to help keep blood sugar and focus going strong.
  • Prioritize: Kids with ADHD often have trouble knowing which assignments should take priority. Here is where color-coding can really come in handy. Arm her with highlighters (and backup highlighters!). Assign each color a “priority-level” for example pink would be “high,” blue, “medium,” and green, “low.” Having a pre-established system will help her build skills and get a sense of what to do when. You can also use apps like Remember The Milk, which allows users to add due dates, priority levels, and estimates of how much time each task will take.
  • Time Management: The eternal battle. Learning to effectively manage time is the grail for kids with ADHD. In addition to calendars, task timers like Focus Booster can help kids get better at judging how much time each task will take, and let them know when it’s time to move on to something new. Timers aren’t just helpful with homework and chores — he can also use one during longer tests to remind her him to switch sections and use her time efficiently.
  • Structured Play Dates: If your daughter with ADHD has trouble making and keeping friends, play dates with structured activity, where you can tell your her what’s expected of her, can ease her anxiety about fitting in socially.
  • Medication Check-in: Kids who have stopped taking meds during summer should begin taking them again before school starts so they have time to adjust. And when school starts it’s important to pay close attention to how it’s working over the full day (including mornings!) and adjust the schedule so kids aren’t crashing during the last few periods or having mid-math homework meltdowns after school.
  • Concentration Aids: White noise generators help block distractions and boost productivity. Try apps like Simply Noise that offer a few “types” of noise (pink or brown noise, rainstorms, calming music, etc) so kids can choose what works best for them. You can also use a white noise machine or run a loud fan at home to help kids during homework.
  • Recording Apps: No matter what accommodations kids have, paying attention to lectures and verbal instructions is a big part of doing well in school. Help kids stay on track by using recording apps with dictation functions. That way he can review any missed information later on.
  • Check the Policy: Assistive technology can be great for kids with ADHD, but a lot of it relies on smartphones. If your child uses apps to help him during school make sure you check his school’s cell phone policy. If it’s strict, you’ll need to address it during IEP meetings.
  • Save and Share: Sometimes it seems like ADHD and Murphy’s Law are one and the same. If homework can be lost, left behind or vanish, it’ll happen. If your child is working on an important paper or project encourage him to use programs like Google Docs that are set to save frequently and backup to online servers. This way, he’ll have access to documents wherever he goes and won’t run the risk of losing his work if the computer encounters a problem.
  • Get Moving: Studies show that exercise has a positive impact on focus and attention in children with ADHD. When you’re thinking about school schedules and after-school activities, include things that get kids get moving. Make sure you’re signing kids up for things they’ll actually like, whether that’s basketball, gymnastics, hiking or real-world Quidditch. What they’re doing isn’t important as long as they’re getting exercise and forming positive associations with physical activity.
  • Give the Teacher a Heads Up: If you’re not planning on having an IEP for your child, it’s still a good idea to let her teachers know he learns differently. A quick heads up gives teachers insight into potential behavioral issues and helps them understand how to support him throughout the semester.
  • Practice Advocating: Parents shouldn’t be the only ones talking with teachers. The best thing your child can do to ensure a bright future is learning to become his own advocate. Whenever possible, put him in charge of talking to teachers or peers about his ADHD. Practicing his advocacy skills now will help him gain the confidence he’ll need to succeed later in life.
  • A Clean Slate: For a lot of kids with ADHD, past difficulties can make it hard to have a positive outlook on the new school year. Fears of messing up socially, failing in school, and disappointing parents and teachers are very real for kids with ADHD. Let your child know that the past is something you can both learn from, but otherwise agree to work from a clean slate. Talk about any anxieties him may have around school, and work together to make a plan to support him emotionally throughout the year.