I talked about Thom Hartmann’s hunters and farmers theory of ADD/ADHD in the last post I shared. You can purchase his book about the theory here. According to this theory, students identified as ADD/ADHD may be more genetically tied to the hunters of our distant past. These children don’t filter any stimuli in your classroom and focus on everything because that ability kept them alive and fed in prehistoric times. Something as simple as a rustle behind a hedge could be a predator or prey—noting the small details was a matter of life and death then. It makes life in school pretty difficult, though. Today, I want to give you some ideas that will help your ADD/ADHD students be more successful in all areas of their day with you.
Consistency Will Help Your ADD/ADHD Students
Children with ADD/ADHD perform better when they know what to expect. Post a schedule for the day, and stick to it. Note changes to the routine, such as picture day or other special event, first thing in the morning. Give students warnings a few minutes before an activity changes so they can prepare mentally for the transition. As we discussed in this article, warnings help all students know what’s coming and stay organized and ready for the next events.
Organization of School Supplies
Posting schedules and giving prompts before activity changes will help your students with ADD/ADHD. Labeling their school supplies like we discussed here will assist them as well. Color code folders and notebooks for each subject OR divide a binder into sections for each class. Have a specific take-home folder for homework and caregiver communication. Boldly label each item so the student will know what goes where. Give verbal prompts before activity changes each day so that students will know what supplies they need for each activity.
Keep Distractions to a Minimum
I love a bright colorful classroom with music playing in the background. This environment may work for some of your students. You may see others staring off into space or jamming out to your Kids Bop tunes in the background rather than doing their work. If you buy into the Hunters and Farmers Theory of ADD/ADHD, you realize that the hunter children (ADD/ADHD kids) cannot filter what they should and should not pay attention to. They look at and notice everything. If we think of these kids as the hunters of our past, this inability to filter stimulus kept them alive and well fed. A leaf moving could mean a predator was stalking them OR that prey was nearby. Those small details were critical for survival. In the classroom, an overabundance of visual or auditory stimuli can have a similar affect on your hunter students. Observe your kids to figure out which ones are struggling to filter in your classroom environment.
Offer Alternative Seating
I love to arrange my desks in groups for cooperative learning. Many times, thought, my ADD/ADHD friends have had difficulty with the arrangement. There are kids to talk to, other school supplies to see, work to check out, and other fun distractions. Every single one of my most extreme hunter kids did the best when they were seated on their own with the option to move during cooperative groups.
That said, when I seat a child away from the group, I usually pull them in close to me. I may push their desk right up to mine or I may put them in a special place right up where I am teaching, depending on where they need the most support. This is not done as a punishment, and I tell them so. It does help your ADD/ADHD students when you seat them away from doors and windows, even if they stay in a quiet group. Either way, I keep my hunter kids within reach so I can tap their desks when they need a cue to pay attention or drop a note of appreciation or praise on their desks when they are showing behaviors I want to see. You can grab some free notecards here–if you fill them out in advance, these “shout-outs” are ready for you to give to your kids whenever you need them!
Often, our hunter kids hear lots of stops and don’ts and cut it outs throughout their days. This makes sense, especially if you’re a mom trying to keep your active child who climbs the side of the stairs and hangs off the top railing alive. Any opportunity to praise positive behavior is a great motivator for these kids. When we teach our students what we want to see by praising them when they are doing good things rather than scolding them for their failures, we get further with them. Science tells us that ADD/ADHD students need dopamine. Praise provides that. I wrote about positive behavior incentives here. When students are older, though, you may want to keep your praise a little quieter so they can still maintain cred with their peers.
Our hunter kids need sensory breaks throughout the day. Sometimes, they just need to expend some energy. I’ve sent my active kids with a stack of books to a cooperating teacher down the hall. The teacher would thank the child and send them back with a stack of more books for me. This “heavy work” helps kids move when they’ve been sitting too long. That shot of endorphins from exercise leads to a little more dopamine as well.
If you don’t feel comfortable sending a kid with a heavy load, send them with a sealed envelope to the teacher down the hall. That teacher will know that the note is not real and may send them back with something for you. This sensory break will provide your student with some time to regroup, especially if he or she is having a rough day or the weather prohibits outside recess.
Hallway behavior can be a concern when you send an active kid down to another room unattended. Text your teacher buddy that your friend is on the way. Your colleague can do the same for you. That way you give your student parameters and can offer praise when the chore is done in a certain amount of time.
When administering consequences to your student, stick to the parameters of your district’s policies. Be extremely consistent so that your student will always know what to expect from you. Consistent boundaries lead to a feeling of predictability and safety for all kids.
That said, be cautious about taking recess. Your active kids need to move. Their bodies need the activity. If you could, offer lunch alone in the office, or “time out” in a quiet place as a consequence rather than taking recess.
If you want to really help your ADD/ADHD students in class, keep your teaching pace quick. Set goals for each lesson and clearly post objectives. Use visual aids and provide manipulatives for your kinesthetic learners. Change activities or “sections” of your lesson every few minutes. Summarize often, and refer back to your daily objectives frequently to remind kids of what they are learning and why. When you give directions to assignments, visit your ADD/ADHD students and have them quietly restate your directions. Have them restate homework instructions. If necessary, assign your student a buddy to help them stay organized and get that backpack packed each day.
We will revisit ideas to help your ADD/ADHD students often, particularly in my Instagram @connectionsinclassrooms and my Facebook page, Meaningful Connections in the Classroom.
Before You Go…
Are you ready to take these strategies to the next level and explore some mindfulness with your students?
Using these strategies may keep your classroom from resembling at category 5 hurricane, but late summer and early fall are prime times for a hurricane to head up the coast. Need to teach a weather unit? Need to prepare your students for some crazy weather? Here are a few products centering around my favorite twin characters, Tasha and Tio, that might help!
- Tasha and Tio Prepare for the Hurricane: A Reader’s Theater Script
- Tasha and Tio Prepare for the Hurricane: A Low-Prep Literacy Packet
- Tasha and Tio Prepare for the Hurricane: Literacy Packet and Script Bundle