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MEET JESSICA CHEESMAN, Educational Psychologist "So.... you are a home school teacher now!"

MEET: JESSICA

Jessica runs her private practice in the Table View area and also works at the Blaauwberg Therapy Centre. She runs a website and Facebook Page called ADHD Insight that provides families with information on available resources to support their  children with ADHD. She also runs a support group for families of children with ADHD, adults with ADHD or other individuals with a loved one with ADHD. She is committed to making others aware of the importance of the parental support for families of children with ADHD. She provides executive functioning skills support for children and young adults with ADHD and during the lockdown period, she will be providing online support for parents of children with ADHD and young adults with ADHD. If you are interested in scheduling a session or require more information, please contact Jessica directly at jess@jcep.co.za or info@adhdinsight.co.za 

So... you are a homeschool teacher now!

The new realities of the lockdown are emerging every day. No walking your dog, no quick jogs around the block and by this stage your favourite Merlot is running low. Then, we entered the second week of lockdown in South Africa, and guess what? You are now a homeschool teacher! Not only have you never had a specific yearning to teach, but you quite enjoyed those few hours when your "Bundle of Energy" was at school learning wonderful and exciting things. Oh, I forgot to add, not only are you now a brand spanking new teacher, but you also are a teacher of an eager/or not so eager learner with ADHD. You might even have your own small class of 2+ ADHD learners. You often struggle to get your child to focus on homework for an hour, and suddenly you're a one-on-one fulltime teacher (who has a second job too). Many parents are now entering this new phase of the lockdown and you may not be feeling fully "qualified" for your new teaching career. Let's unpack this together and see how we can bring some calm and coping techniques amongst the chaos. 

What kind of teacher are you?

All teachers are different. They have strengths in certain areas, specific interests or areas of expertise. For example, some teachers have excellent classroom management skills. Others have firm and effective discipline strategies. However, if you place a high school teacher with an energetic 8 year old with ADHD, I can assure you even she will experience some challenges. What's the one thing you always wish for your child when it's a new school year and you are waiting in anticipation to see whose class they are in? Most likely it is that your child will be placed with the teacher who you think will "get" your child the most. The one with whom your child will feel safe, accepted and heard. You might be surprised to hear this, but you are in fact all of those qualities just by being YOU! You know your child better than any other teacher, professional, or fellow parent (who enjoys dishing out unsolicited parenting advice). The reason for this is for the very fact that you are his/her parent. The very first key to effective learning is for the child to feel safe and accepted. Without this, anxiety can set in and learning will be a challenge for the child and teacher. So acknowledge and embrace your child's uniqueness, let them know you understand this is challenging and different for you both, but that you are a team.

You have a classroom now

Once your child feels safe with his/her "new teacher", you can try  and focus on some other practical elements to setting up your new school. The physical environment of a classroom can play a significant role in your child's learning. Teachers love to have colourful posters and interesting artefacts in their classroom. Your classroom may look a bit different ... some things to consider are:

  • Distractors: remove as many distractors from your classroom area (cell phone, tablet, pets, etc.)
  • The sensory needs of your child: auditory, tactile, oral, visual. If your child is sensory avoidant, we want to remove anything which may unsettle them (bright lights, noises, materials of seating). If they are sensory seeking you may want to consider fidget toys (pipecleaners, prestik).
  • Seating: Your classroom may not include a formal desk and chair. If your child needs to stand and work, allow them to do so. If they need to go over spelling words while lying upside down on the couch, trial it. Remember your classroom is an inclusive classroom. Also in your classroom, you pick your battles.

  

Setting up your "learner" for success

Do you remember being in school and having double periods of your least favourite subject? That's kind of how it is consistently for a child with ADHD. Therefore, it is important to set realistic expectations around periods of work and include many breaks. This is important because of their difficulty with sustaining focus. Some ideas to consider for breaks:

  • Brain Breaks boost learning capacity. (It's just like restarting your cell phone when you have been scrolling through Facebook for too long and it overheats.) Brain breaks should include something physical (jump on trampoline, collect all the empty mugs from around the house, etc.)
  • Use a timer: Children with ADHD need visual representations of the time so they can mentally prepare to transition into their next task.
  • Adapt the lengths of work to your child's needs
  • Food is an important part of your school. Make sure your child eats, drinks water and gets enough sleep. Try include learning into these tasks (your learners can learn valuable skills by making their new teacher sandwiches/milkshakes etc. and you can show them this article if they don't believe you).
  • Use creativity (Pinterest etc.). In your classroom you need to be the actor/actress to get your learner fully and actively engaged in the learning process.

 

This is uncharted territory for all teachers and especially all the newly "qualified" ADHD Homeschooling teachers. So be gentle and kind to yourself and your learners. Trust me, there are plenty of highly qualified teachers who also have bad days and end up putting on the Lion King for their class for the day (more often than they will be willing to admit)! Therefore, keep in mind, maybe you are in fact an excellent high school teacher ... you just happen to have a small class of primary school learners with ADHD and you are doing your best for your context!

There are many more elements and aspects to consider when homeschooling a child with ADHD. If you would like further support or guidance, especially as a single parent who is juggling many responsibilities, please do get in touch with me.    

 

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DR LESLEY CAREW

Dr Lesley Carew is a registered Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist practising at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town with a satellite sessional room on Thursday afternoons at the Akeso Milnerton.

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Email: admin@drlesleycarew.co.za