S7 E9 | ADHD and the Charlotte Mason Model (Jeannie Fulbright)
With two ADHD boys, my homeschool journey could be calm or chaotic depending on whether I was faithful to implement the Charlotte Mason model or strayed away from what I knew to be the best way to educate my children. The Charlotte Mason philosophy of education is the perfect fit for a child with ADHD. Using the Charlotte Mason method, especially the six essentials I mention in this podcast, you'll find homeschooling your ADHD both successful and rewarding.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show. A podcast that is all things Charlotte Mason and her tried and true philosophy of education, designed to help you homeschool with more confidence, joy, and success. It is our hope that you'll find golden nuggets that will transform the way you think and the way you homeschool. I'm your host, author of the bestselling Charlotte Mason science curriculum, Jeannie Fulbright, and I am so glad you joined me today.
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I am going to talk to you today about homeschooling children with ADHD, but more specifically homeschooling children using the Charlotte Mason model with ADHD. And I can tell you from experience that the Charlotte Mason model is truly the only model that you can use successfully to homeschool children with ADHD. I had two children that had ADHD, but it went undiagnosed until high school. And the reason that it went undiagnosed until high school is because, well, there are two reasons. One is because we started implementing the Charlotte Mason model from the very beginning, and also because I just thought that the way my children were, the way my boys were, was the way all boys were. Very rambunctious from morning, the moment they woke up, they're full of energy, and all the way until bedtime, they were full of energy. They were constantly, every single day coming up with ideas and crazy things that they wanted to do that literally always someone or something was injured.
This was just a regular part of my homeschool day. My children were ADHD, but I just thought, "Oh, I just have lively boys like everybody else does." There were days when some of the ideas and activities that they did really were a big problem for us. One time they decided to pull the mattress off the baby's crib and use it to sled down our staircase, and it would hit into the lead glass windows at the bottom of the staircase that went to my front door, and they shattered it. And actually, I haven't even fixed it today because it's too expensive to fix lead glass doors. And that was over 15 years ago.
And sometimes they would pee... They would pee outside. Yes, they peed outside. And the reason they did this is because they didn't want to leave the activity or the game or whatever they were doing outside to come in to use the restroom. And this was okay. I didn't have a problem with it unless there were children, other children over, especially little girls over which that was kind of devastating for them. I'm going to talk about the specific things that we did that really helped my children in within the Charlotte Mason methodology because whenever we strayed from the Charlotte Mason methodology, my children would become miserable and I would become miserable. And I'd think about, oh, maybe it's time to put them in school, even though they couldn't sit in a chair for more than 15 minutes without falling on the floor.
And one of them talked incessantly about every topic and wanted to have something to say about every single topic that came up, even if he had no knowledge of it. He talked about it very, very knowledgeably with high vocabulary. That was not going to be good in a public school sys system or even a private school system. But when I went back and implemented the Charlotte Mason model, again, they thrived. So I just want to talk specifically about the things within the Charlotte Mason methodology, which really helped my children.
The first thing is time out of doors. And I'm not talking about nature study. That's a fun and important thing too, to implement sometimes once a week. It's not that important to do it every week, but it's really great to do nature study. But I'm not talking about nature study and I'll talk about nature study and how we did that later. But right now I just want to explain what Charlotte Mason meant when she said children need to be outdoors. One of her quotes is, "In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps the mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time spent for the most part in the fresh air."
That's not nature study that is getting them outdoors. The claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child's right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation. Now, when I was a child, I spent so much time outdoors, and I think most people in my generation did. We were just kind of told to go outside and play and they didn't want us back into the house until the sun went down. And that's when dinner was on the table. And that's how we lived. That's how we did things. And we got dirty and we explored the neighborhood with all our friends. We were digging up things. We were catching snakes. We were doing so many fun things outdoors. It was part of our daily ritual and especially in the summertime.
But I feel like a lot of times, a lot of parents these days, and I found this a lot in my homeschooling, is that they didn't want their children to get dirty. And here's the thing is, when your children go outside to play, they need to have the right clothes. Clothes that even if they get in our county, in the Georgia red mud stained on their clothes, it didn't matter because those were their outdoor play clothes. And so we structured our lives and we structured our homeschooling around this idea of outdoor time. They could get as dirty as they want. They could get the hose and they can create mudslides. They could do whatever they want outdoors. And when we set up our backyard, it was designed for their exploration.
We had so many wonderful things that we had. We had a trampoline. We had a fort just digging materials. They could dig holes. They were constantly digging holes and doing all kinds of crazy things, but they got dirty, they got muddy. And I always had rain boots that they wore. The rain boots just sat right next to the back door, and they would wear their rain boots and just slip them on, come back in and slip them off so that I didn't track anything around the house. But they spent hours outdoors. And it was a constant thing in the morning, even before we started our devotions, they would be playing outdoors after breakfast. And while I was getting everything ready for the school day, it was a part of their lives. As soon as school was done, they went outside and spent hours and hours outdoors.
Well, it turns out that scientific studies show that time outdoors is essential for a child's mental, physical, and even their academic development. And time outdoors actually improves symptoms of ADHD in studies they've done. So this is really, I think, one of the main things that kept my children from exhibiting symptoms of ADHD until high school. There have been numerous studies, and on this website called childrenandnature.org, there is a bunch of research that you can actually look at the research that was done in what came out of that research. Time outdoor supports creativity and problem solving. It increases academic performance. Children do better academically if they spend a great deal of time outdoors, especially if you set up an outdoor classroom. Sometimes we did that on nice days. We would just take everything out and we would do school out on our little bench, our picnic table that we had out there. I mean that thing, we had paint all over it. It was where we did all our experiments. We had so much fun outdoors, doing school outdoors.
And they have shown that children have significant gains academically, and they have an ability to focus. They have a better ability to focus within the classroom if they spend time outdoors. And this has been shown across the board. And I believe this is truly the main reason my children just had the ability to do well in school within doors. And I'm not saying that it was perfect. Because again, they had ADHD. There were days when there was water spilling and there were holes in the home, then their paper that they were supposed to be doing, and they would be a dinosaur all drawn over their entire math worksheet when I came back to look at how well they were doing it was not perfect, but for the most part, they truly didn't seem to me like they had ADHD.
Now, I didn't spend a lot of time with other little boys, so maybe they were calmer in the classroom and didn't need to be outside climbing trees all day long. But my kids did and we allowed it. And Charlotte Mason advocates for this. She believes that children need to be outdoors and not just doing nature study, but just outdoors for their own exploration.
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The second thing that we implemented, and actually I didn't implement this until a few years into our homeschooling because I was using the Charlotte Mason model, but I really didn't understand all of what Charlotte Mason taught and what I should be implementing. I had gone to a Charlotte Mason and intensive. Charlotte Mason four day intensive where I learned the Charlotte Mason model. But this was one thing I didn't pick up on or I missed maybe in it and that is implementing short lessons. Short lessons are a life saver for the mother whose children have ADHD.
Scientific studies revealed that today a child's attention span is between eight to 10 minutes when learning new material that is across the board, not just children, humans, all humans attention span is eight to 10 minutes when learning new material. And so for a child with ADHD, as you know, it's so important to have short lessons implementing short lessons. And Charlotte Mason really truly believed this was so important. Charlotte Mason says the lessons are short, seldom more than 20 minutes in length for children under eight. And then she talks about all the subjects that you can get through in a day if you implement short lessons because you can cover a lot of subjects before noon if you're implementing short lessons.
And one of the great things about short lessons is it gives our children, even our ADHD children, practice in paying attention because they do have a short attention span. But if we're moving to different material we're moving along, they're willing to focus and learn because they love learning. They're brilliant. They like so much about what is going to be happening, what they're going to be learning about next. But if it goes too long, they begin to dislike school. They begin to have an antipathy towards learning rather than an excitement about learning. I guess apathy is another word for that.
But a child who is given too much material for too long of a period of time, even if they don't have ADHD, will begin to dislike school. They will begin to have an apathetic attitude towards learning because they're being trained in the habit of inattention. Charlotte Mesa talks about training the habit of attention. And one of the main ways we train the habit of attention is by implementing short lessons. Charlotte Mason says, "Attention is no more than this: the power of giving your mind to what you are about." The power of focusing, she calls it the bringing the whole mind to bear on the subject at hand. And this is what we want our children to be able to do, and they can do it if we implement this short lesson model.
And no wonder kids with ADHD are considered unintelligent in schools because they give the child an hour to be focused on one subject. Of course, new learning usually is only eight to 10 minutes, but there's just so many distractions for them all throughout the day, in every hour of classroom. And to sit still, to sit in their chair for an hour, I can't even imagine. I mean hour after hour after hour. No, this is just not going to happen. Really, they need to be...
Another wonderful, the third wonderful Charlotte Mason methodology that we've implemented and was so important is to be changing the part of the brain the child is using every time you're changing subjects. So if you're doing math and Charlotte Mason talks about alternating lessons to not weary the brain. So if you're doing math worksheet, which uses a certain part of the brain, then you switch to reading history, which actually uses the creative centers of the brain because their imagination is employed. And then you might do something that's more... Just changing around maybe having them do something, reading or creating something. There's just lots of different ways that we can alternate the lessons, lessons to keep them focused and keep their attention.
The fourth great Charlotte Mason suggestion that we used was being able to finish school, finish the academic schoolwork early in the day and leaving the afternoons free. Charlotte Mason says, "If the whole afternoon cannot be spared for out outdoor recreation, that is the time for mechanical tasks such as needlework, drawing, practicing, and of course our children have just a plethora of skills and things they can get involved in, play chess or whatever it is they're interested in they can focus on that in the afternoon. My boys mostly spent that time out of doors. So there were handycrafts and things like that going on. But what was really important about that, making sure they have leisure time, that the art of leisure and the art of free time is our children.
ADHD children have the ability to hyper focus. They have the ability to spend a lot of time on a task. And with my children having the afternoons free, they were able to spend time on the things that truly interested them. One of my sons loved animals. He especially loved reptiles and all kinds of herbs. And so he spent hours and hours pouring through encyclopedias and field guides. And by the end of one year, he had memorized every single country that every single different type of lizard lived in. I didn't even know this was happening. This was stuff he was doing on his own in his own free time. He was spending time focusing on that, and they were able to actually become semi experts in the areas of their interests because of implementing that free time.
And of course, we had to limit screen time, and that was during dinner when I was making dinner, they had their screen time, but really the free time that they spent, this is the time for you to build on the subjects that are most interesting to you. And sometimes we have to help them with that. We have to help them to find new things to focus on. And that is, that's just part of helping our children to discover their own personal interests, to discover their passions and their desires and things that light up their eyes. And that is part of homeschooling. That's part of the beauty of homeschooling, because kids who are in regular school don't get that opportunity. They have homework all afternoon when they come home from school. They don't have the opportunity to develop skills and talents and interests and pursue them.
And another thing that we implemented was narration. Narration is the, was our primary means for assimilating information. And this was a very much more important than ever doing a worksheet. We did not do worksheets if we could help it. And instead, narration. Narration is actually so much more powerful than worksheets. I had this one mom email me years ago and she said, "I just want to thank you for your astronomy curriculum because three years later, my daughter still remembers what she learned in that astronomy course that she just did." And I said, "Oh my gosh. I emailed her back. I said, what are all the things that you implemented? Did you do all the note booking? Did you do all the experiments? Did you do... What did you do?" And she said, "Actually, we just read the book. And she narrated. That's all we did. And we learned so much."
They didn't even do the experiments because guess what? Science, you don't have to be doing experiments. You really just need to be learning new material and having your child assimilate it by narrating back. And of course, we did note booking as well. That was another one of the Charlotte Mason aspects or methodologies that my children loved. My daughters spent more time on their notebooks. They were a lot more into spending time creating something very dramatic from what they've learned. But my boys didn't spend as much time on their note booking. They wanted to just put down what they've learned and maybe draw a picture and maybe write a things. I mean, there were some times they spent a long time on their note booking. They spent, when they were retelling the Odyssey. Oh my goodness. I think both of them created about 14 pages recreating the Odyssey in comic book form. So they were able to hyper focus on things that were super interesting to them. But typically they would just write down what they've learned. And guess what? They remembered it.
If they assimilated it further beyond narration by doing a notebook page, they remembered it so much more. They understood it, and it became a part of who they were, their knowledge base. So these are, I would say, the main things. I think I talked about six, the main things that really helped us to make ADHD a workable situation. And the reason that we realized by the time they were in high school, why they had ADHD is because they started taking outside classes in high school. And it just became very clear that they were not doing things the way the other boys and girls in the classroom were doing. They couldn't keep things organized. They couldn't remember to do the assignments. I realized, oh my goodness, they need to be tested. So they were, and they both had ADHD. But I'm telling you, they went to college. Both of them Dean's list graduated computer science degrees. Really, really, very successful in all they do. And I believe that it's because of our early use of the Charlotte Mason model.
And I want to say another thing about children with ADHD, even with the plethora of disasters and chaos and mess and the constant movement of their lives. My children with ADHD were so creative, they came up with such brilliant things and ideas and just things they created together or on their own. They were creative beyond belief. And in addition to that, they did have the ability to hyper focus and truly become wise in ways that they couldn't have if they didn't have ADHD. And beyond that, they were resilient and unstoppable. I can think of one time when they were in high school and they were driving... My son was driving his little brother, and they were both going to a friend's house, another homeschool family, their friend's house. They live kind of far away.
And so my son was driving his brother to their friend's house. They were going to spend the weekend there. And what happened was a car came by and swiped past them and basically caused their car to spin around in circles and then hit the embankment and roll down a hill, rubble down an embankment into a field. And the car was crushed. They rolled seven times. The car was crushed on every single side except for the bottom of it, but it landed on its wheels. But those windows were shattered. They were, it was kind of a crazy experience. But what I found is that my children were extremely resilient. I thought it was a little strange that when they... One of my sons climbed out the windows and called me, and he and I was only five minutes away. So I scooted over there real quickly.
The other one was climbing out the window and the ambulance was on the way. And it was just a lot of chaos. There were a lot of cars. People saw it. People who saw the accident were crying. The guy who caused the accident was crying. He thought that he killed my sons. He thought he killed the people in that truck. But no, my boys climbed out of the windows and the ambulance found they were just had a little bit of glass in their arms and they were fine. They didn't want to go to the hospital, they just didn't have time to go to the hospital because they were going to their friend's house. I'm like, what? You still want to go to your friend's house? But I don't know. It just seems like you should probably go home and rest, or I don't know, process what happened?
They're like, no, this was nothing. Their car was crushed. This was nothing. We want to go to our friend's houses. Please, please take us to the friend's house. So I drove them there to their friend's houses, and that, that is how resilient kids with ADHD are. So I hope you enjoyed listening to the benefits of using the Charlotte Mason model with children, with ADHD. And please reach out to me if you have any questions. I am absolutely filled with a lot of stories and have seen a lot of the benefits of using the Charlotte Mason model and really seeing my children succeed in life and do well, even with ADHD. So thank you so much. Talk to you next time.
Hey, a couple more things. Do you wish you had a Charlotte Mason mentor, someone to keep you focused on the things, things that matter, the Lord and his word, and prayer and habit training and living books, nature study, and of course, the most neglected thing of all self-care? Well, I have the perfect mentor for you, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner. It is much more than a planner. It's a guide and a mentor, and a place to chronicle your treasured moments and memories, all the things you want to remember and keep sacred and special from this homeschool journey. Check it out on my website at jeanniefulbright.com and learn about that. And so many of the other Charlotte Mason curriculum and tools that I've created to make your homeschool journey the richest and most fulfilling experience of your life. Thanks again for listening to the Charlotte Mason Show.
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