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Paying attention in class is a challenge for many children. This is especially true late in the day when students have been sitting in class all day long and are ready for a break. It also relates to each student’s interest in the subject matter. Most students will describe themselves as a “math-science person” or perhaps “an artist,” and it can be difficult to focus in some classes more than others. For children who are diagnosed with attention issues such as ADHD, paying attention at any time is a challenge. There are strategies these children can learn, however, and they need to realize they should not use their diagnosis as an excuse for poor behavior.

Here are some strategies your child can manage for himself.

  • Sit close to the teacher. Sitting in the first row near the teacher helps him in several ways. First of all, there is less to distract him from the task at hand. Second, the teacher’s voice will be louder than other sounds in the room. Third, it will be easier to get his teacher’s attention if he does not know what he is supposed to be doing. If his teacher has a seating chart and assigns seats, your child can talk to her privately and ask for a seat near the front of the room.
  • Learn to watch other students. Your child may realize that she doesn’t know what to do next because she was not focused on her teacher’s directions. When she feels lost, she should look at what her neighbor is doing. Is he getting his computer out? Is he doing a worksheet? Is he turning in his homework? Chances are pretty good that doing the same thing is the right thing to do.
  • Wiggle quietly and constantly. It is a good idea to carry a stress ball to class. When he feels the need to be active, he can fiddle with it quietly under the desk where no one notices it. It is possible to wiggle your feet discreetly, as well. The trick with both of these is to make sure the fidgeting is not disruptive to others.
  • Ask the teacher for help. Your child can talk privately with her teacher to ask him to give her a signal when she is off task. The signal can be as simple as a quick tap on the desktop or making eye contact. Teachers appreciate a student who is proactive and willing to work to be successful.

Children with attention issues can learn to manage them better. Sitting in the right place, learning to watch others, wiggling without disturbing others, and partnering with the teacher can all help. If your child has a diagnosis of ADHD, find out whether she qualifies for an IEP or 504 Plan which outlines what classroom accommodations should be put in place. At the very least, meet with your child’s teacher and suggest ways he can help your child. You may want to read Are You ADHD Friendly? which suggests ways teachers can help.

Tagged in: ADHD Livia McCoy

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Recently, I wrote about some back-to-school organization tips to help students who are disorganized or have problems managing their time. A daily routine that includes time for getting ready for the next day is very helpful. Most students benefit from structure and planning ahead. Another important part of the day that proves to be difficult for many students (and consequently for their families) is homework time.

There is not one perfect time of day to do homework that works for every student. Your child may need to have some exercise time when he first gets home from school. If he has ADHD, he exerts a great deal of emotional and physical energy trying to remain seated and quiet in school. She, especially, needs to have very active time when she first gets home from school.

Perhaps right after dinner is a good time for your child to settle in to do homework. (If possible, homework time should be the same every day.) He needs a distraction-free, well-equipped place to work. His phone, television, and video games should be put in a place where he will not be tempted by them. Multitasking between homework and phone (or anything else) is a poor use of time. Human brains can only concentrate on one thing at a time. So if he is texting a friend in the middle of doing homework, he switches his thinking back and forth. Every time he switches, he loses his previous line of thought. He has to go back and reread the question or rethink what he was writing or doing. The end result of the multitasking is often poorly done work or only halfway completed assignments.

Your child should have a comfortable place to work with all the normal school supplies handy. She may work well at the dinner table where you can keep an eye on her. School supplies can be stored in a plastic shoebox and stored nearby. Many teachers post homework assignments online, so if she does not know what she needs to do, encourage her to look online. If she uses her computer to complete homework, make sure she has paper and ink for the printer. The most frequent reason my students give for not turning in homework is “my printer isn’t working.” The second most frequent excuse is, “I left it at home.” So, she needs to have a safe place to put her homework in her binders to make sure it gets to the teacher on time.

It is easy for me to say your child needs to have a set time each day that is devoted to homework completion. In reality, it can be very difficult. Many families have more than one child, and each has after school activities that pull the family in many directions. Homework completion, however, remains a major concern for many students. If this is true for your child, establishing a routine that includes when to do homework, and having a well-stocked, distraction-free place to work can be very helpful. If homework is a major challenge, ask to meet with your child’s teachers or the school counselor to try to figure out what is causing the problems.


> 7 Strategies for Successful Homework Routines

> Printable Daily Homework Tracker

Adolescents with ADHD or working memory problems often have trouble getting ready for school in the morning. They often forget to take important things to school like their book bag, homework, and clothes for gym. Mornings are chaotic and create stress for both parents and children. Morning and evening routines at home can help, and the beginning of the school year is a great time to establish those routines.

The goal is to have your child ready to leave for school with everything he needs when he gets there. The first step is to determine what he will need for school. This might be best accomplished the night before as part of his bedtime routine. Until he is able to do this for himself, you will need to help. Ask him about each of his classes to determine if there is homework or a project due. Discuss extracurricular activities such as sports to make sure he has completed everything he needs or has the appropriate supplies or equipment ready. Organize everything and place it beside the door or in the car, if appropriate. He should go to bed at the same time each night knowing he is ready for the next day.

Your child needs to wake up to get ready for school at the same time every day. The morning routine should stay the same to the extent possible, and she should be ready to leave for school with some time to spare. Since the evening routine included getting everything ready to take to school, the morning routine can focus on getting ready and eating a nutritious breakfast. Plans for lunch need to be settled before she leaves, as well.

Routines like this lead to forming habits that can last a lifetime. For children with attention or working memory problems, good habits are extremely important. They need to do these things by themselves without even thinking about it, but it will take a lot of help from you to get to that point. Each child is unique and the time it will take to change these evening and morning routines into habit will vary. You can begin by giving oral instructions (one at a time) each day and then later move to checklists that your child uses on his own. Much later, after a great deal of practice, he may be able to manage without help. Keep in mind that there are plenty of adults who rely on checklists, and there is nothing wrong with it!

Establishing routines that form into habits can lead to success in school. The morning and evening routines help students get to school on time with everything they need. I will write soon about homework completion, which is another important part of every teen’s day during the school year.

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Some of the schools near me start in two weeks! It is hard to believe the summer is almost over. If your child is disorganized and has trouble keeping up with everything and managing his time, you might be able to help. While shopping for school supplies, keep in mind that a strong organizational system is important. Tabbed dividers, labeled tabs, zippered pockets, and time management apps may help. Consider the following.

  • Students in middle and upper school are often told by each individual teacher how to organize for their class. These kids are trying to manage five or six different “systems,” and it is very hard for them to keep everything straight. You can help by looking for ways to create consistency across subjects. For example, each binder can have tabs or divider pages to mark specific places to put today’s homework, graded work that needs to be saved (including tests and quizzes), and a place to write notes. An earlier blog, A Notebook System That Aids With Organization, offers more information about coming up with a notebook system. If your child receives accommodations, this system can be included in his IEP or 504 Plan.
  • When I ask my students about how they use their locker, they frequently answer that they don’t use it at all. My students prefer to carry everything they need in their book bag. If your disorganized child does this, she may need assistance keeping the bag organized with necessary supplies handy for class. Depending on how much of a problem this is for her, you might need to set aside a daily time to reorganize the book bag. Her binders for every class must fit into the bag. She needs to have a specific place for her pencils, calculator, and whatever she uses every day. Some small zippered bags or plastic boxes can help with this.
  • Your child needs to know how to use an electronic calendar to help manage his time. This does not have to cost money if he already has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. He needs to record which classes will meet each day and whether there are special assignments due soon. This is another area where many disorganized kids need help. He can learn to use Google Calendar or try an app such as those described in A Free App To Help With Time Management. If a tablet or computer are not available, your child will need a planner where he can write upcoming assignments and events.

Keep time management and organization in mind as you and your child shop for school. Purchasing the right organizational supplies is important and can lead to success, but using these tools does not come naturally to many students. It takes some time to learn how to use them and a considerable amount of time before they become habit. For truly disorganized kids, a daily routine of going through the book bag, each binder, and checking the planner/calendar will likely be necessary. Parents should gradually turn over this responsibility to their child, but in the beginning will need to be very involved.

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Students who have trouble paying attention in school need help in order to be successful. When the teacher explains what today’s lesson is about or tells his students what to do, children who cannot pay attention get left behind. They have a choice to wait for their teacher to notice they need help or to get into mischief. Depending on their age, they often choose mischief since that is a lot more fun. These kids often have a reputation of being the “class clown” and are disciplined by their teachers. If this sounds like your child, there are some things you can try that might help.

  • Provide structure and predictability. Parents can explain this to their son’s teacher. If he can enter the classroom knowing that the first thing he needs to do every day is to get his homework out and begin doing the warm-up activity, he can get settled in more quickly. It takes time to establish this habit, but it can help all students to be more productive, not just those with attention problems.
  • Use color-coded binders for each class. It is easier for your child to remember to turn in homework and to get out what she needs if everything is organized the same way for each class. This can become part of the structure and predictability she needs. Once again, this takes time to learn, and she will need a lot of help in the beginning keeping everything in its place. The time will be well-spent, however, because the end result is fewer missing assignments.
  • Teach her to move constantly in ways that do not distract others. She can squeeze a small balloon filled with sand or use another type of soft rubber ball.  She can learn how to wiggle her foot or tap her fingers on her knees without making noise. A child with attention issues can sit still and be quiet, but there will be no energy left for anything else. Wiggling can often relieve the stress of sitting still and allow her to pay better attention.


Problems with attention are common, but they do not have to mean school failure. Providing structure and predictability, helping to create a consistent organization system, and teaching how to wiggle can all help with attention at school.

These same suggestions can help at home, too. Begin by establishing daily routines at home which help family life run more smoothly. Provide plenty of time for exercise and play. Wiggle-time at home does not have to be quiet! Finally, make sure to tell your child that you love him just the way he is. These kids often feel that no one likes them, because the adults in their life fuss at them a lot.

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There is a lot of talk about multitasking these days. Many claim they can do two things at once. However, if two tasks require conscious attention, we cannot do both of them at the same time and do both well. If we try to do two things at once, performance on both of them drops.

What does this mean in school or when doing homework? Students and parents need to understand:

  • When a task requires focused attention, students need to purposefully ignore anything else that distracts them. For example, if your son is working on his math homework, he should not be watching television, playing video games between problems, listening to loud music, answering his cell phone, or watching YouTube videos. In fact, it is a good idea to remove these distractions from his study area.
  • Students who bring a laptop or tablet to school must discipline themselves. When in class, your daughter should keep her computer open to the word processor to take notes and not flip back and forth between that and shopping online for new shoes.
  • When text messaging, pretty much all of one’s attention is absorbed. Text messaging while walking or jogging can be dangerous. Statistics are showing that texting while driving is causing a huge number of car accidents because it takes up too much of our attention. Similarly, in class, text messaging occupies attention and blocks learning.

None of this is new information, but it is important. Not very long ago, almost none of my students owned a smartphone. Today it is rare that they don’t have one within easy reach. I love that we can look up information almost instantly when someone asks a question. But, because the number of devices like smartphones is increasing, the potential for distraction in class is also increasing. This affects students’ ability to learn and produce quality work. This growing problem warrants examination.

I would love to have input from you. Do you talk to your children about responsible use of their electronic devices at home and in school? What should teachers do to help their students understand the effects of trying to multitask when learning something new? Do you believe we can multitask effectively or are we really allowing ourselves to be distracted when we should be working?

> Eliminate Distractions While Doing Homework

> Managing Technology Distractions on School Nights

Many children take medications to help them focus their attention in school. It is a difficult decision to put a child on medications, but it can be extremely helpful for some children. Sometimes students don’t take their attention meds before school. At other times, parents allow their child to take a day off from taking it. It might be tempting to do when school is not in session, or there is a special event going on like field day.

I am not a doctor. I do not pretend to offer medical advice regarding the risks of missing prescribed medications. But I have observed my students through the years when they skip their regular dosage, and there can be consequences of making that decision.

For example, a student who normally arrives to class with his book, homework, notebook, and pencil ready to go might arrive without anything at all. Or a student might distract others around him and ask questions that have obvious answers (“Can we go outside instead of having class?”). Not only does he miss out on most of class, but he also keeps others from learning.

Even more important is the fact that there can be safety issues involved. I have seen students step out in front of moving cars, drive too quickly in the parking lot, jump off a rock wall, and even fall in a goldfish pond, possibly because they do impulsive things when they don’t take their attention medications.

Talk to your child’s doctor about whether it is appropriate to skip a dose of medication. If the doctor says it is OK, make sure to choose a time to skip it when safety and learning aren’t compromised. Additionally, if your child frequently forgets to take her meds before school, she might need your help to remember them. Because mornings can be pretty hectic getting everyone ready for work and school, it might be helpful to have a spare bottle kept in the clinic at school.

For more information, “Help Your ADHD Teen With Routine, Behavior, School" offers some excellent suggestions for parents of ADHD children.

Tagged in: ADHD Livia McCoy

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Recently, I read Nelson Lauver’s book, Most Unlikely to Succeed. The first part of the book was difficult for me to read. When Nelson was a child, he was abused by his teachers because he couldn’t read and do math.

Mr. Lauver tells the story of how he would do almost anything to keep from being called on and embarrassed in front of his friends. For example, when he was asked to read aloud in class, he would misbehave badly enough to be sent to the principal’s office. This most often resulted in him receiving harsh physical punishment with a paddle, or even worse—being locked in a totally dark room (“the vault”) for the rest of the day. This abuse went on for years. In fact it continued almost daily until he grew big enough that his teachers were afraid of what he might do if they mistreated him.

When Nelson was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a specific language learning disability. For help understanding it, see my blog post How Do I Know if My Child is Dyslexic? Today, Mr. Lauver is a well-known “syndicated broadcaster, speaker, humorist, author, and master storyteller.”

The reason I bring up this story is to make the point that children with learning disabilities (LD) often misbehave in school. I have mentioned before that a child will tell me, “I failed because I didn’t study,” when he actually did study. This saves face because if he said, “I studied really hard but still failed,” he would be admitting he “is stupid.” These students really do feel stupid. They would much rather be, “the bad kid” than “the stupid kid.” So they act out and get themselves in trouble.

The truth is that learning-disabled students are bright! I have taught students whose measured IQs are a LOT higher than mine! Yet, they had been failing in school and needed specific strategies to help them learn in the school setting. Most of them, like Nelson Lauver, are talented and will do fine if they can just get through school.

If your child is frequently in trouble at school, consider the possibility that she has a learning disability. Ask the school psychologist for an evaluation and do it soon.


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 Many students have a hard time staying focused on a task. Much has been written about teenagers who are growing up in the media age. Most agree that they are very good at multitasking. In a report featured on NPR, the actions of a student named Zach, which were typical of many teens, were described as follows: “Within the span of seconds, Zach switches between e-mail, iTunes, Facebook, a computer word puzzle game, and messaging his buddy online. Somewhere amid the flurry, Zach manages to squeeze in some homework, too.”

 My concern is what this behavior is doing to teens and their ability to stay focused to finish a task. If Zach is only managing “to squeeze in some homework,” how good can that homework be? And, beyond that, what is happening to Zach’s ability to learn and think? Dr. Beth Hellerstein, a University Hospital pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said this is a recent interview with online magazine Your Teen, “When students are distracted while studying they may be learning facts but are not able to integrate them and apply them to a higher level of thinking. Doctors and educators worry about how this superficial learning will impact long term recall and application of the knowledge and skills.”

 How can students prevent themselves from getting distracted while doing their schoolwork? The first step is to identify what distracts them. In the example above, Zach is distracted by software running on his computer (email, Facebook, a word puzzle game, and instant messaging). He is also distracted by his iPod. Many teens have a cell phone, television, and snacks to the list of distractions.

 Once a student has identified the distractions, he needs to decide to eliminate them while doing homework. He needs to shut down all software except for what is needed to do the work. His iPod needs to be turned off and put out of sight. The television and cell phone also need to be off and out of sight.

 Other things that keep students from their work include clutter in the workspace, interruptions from siblings or friends, and looking for the necessary supplies such as paper, pencils, markers, glue, etc. Parents can assist by offering to help clear the workspace, keeping others from interrupting and making sure their child has the appropriate supplies.

 It takes organization and planning skills to take charge of the distractions. For help with ideas for organization, read A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. For more ideas about how you can help your child to learn more from homework, read How to Help Kids Get the Most Out of Their Homework Sessions.

You may also be interested in these related articles on SchoolFamily.com:

Summer is A Good Time to Learn to Type 

Voice-to-Text Software: Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing 

Middle Schoolers Still Benefit From Being Read To




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I have known many parents who pay their children for honor roll grades. In some cases, this is okay. But, if you are a learning disabled (LD) student, the quality of your work does not reflect how hard you worked on it. Sometimes, your assignment looks great and is complete. Other times, it is a mess and there are lots of questions with no answers. This inconsistency can be due to a number of factors. For more information on this, see “What Does it Really Mean When a Child is Learning Disabled?" for help understanding the problems.


Problems with working memory, attention, vocabulary, anxiety, fear, or difficulty with executive functioning can all affect how an LD student performs in school. None of these relate to motivation. And none can be overcome by bribes to perform better.


For these reasons, I am against parents paying for grades in school. This is especially true for struggling students. Imagine working very, very hard and still getting a “D” or “F” on the work! Someone else whips off the assignment in just a few minutes and gets an “A.” Does that child deserve a reward when they rushed through and perhaps did not even do their best work? The LD child who is trying her best feels completely defeated in this situation. She gets more and more discouraged. She already calls herself “stupid,” and this, to her, confirms that verdict.


If you pay for good grades, consider whether or not you are being fair to all your children. If you are not sure, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"


If that doesn’t convince you, read Nelson Lauver’s book Most Unlikely to Succeed. Lauver explains what happened to him in school when, no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t successful. After reading his book, it should be clear why no one should judge another person’s motivation to learn.


Making the decision to medicate your child for attention problems is extremely difficult. I encourage you to consider it, however, if your child is struggling in school, and those who work with him have mentioned possible attention issues. I have seen children who were helped tremendously by taking medication for their attention disorder (ADD or ADHD) .



I do not mean to make it seem like an easy decision to make, but I want parents to know that it might be the right thing to do. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether medication is appropriate for your child.


  • Teachers should not recommend medication. This is a decision that you and your child’s doctor make. Teachers can let you know if your child is having attention issues, but they should not go beyond recommending that you have your child evaluated by a doctor.


  • If your child’s teacher mentions attention issues, ask: “How does my child’s behavior compare to the other students in the class?” Children are active and teachers new to the classroom may not know what is normal and what is too active for learning. You might also ask whether your child can pay attention in some situations and not others. If so, find out when the attention issues appear. Perhaps she is bored; if the work is too easy or too hard, the result can be boredom.


  • There are multiple options for attention medications. If you have tried one and it did not help your child or it had unacceptable side effects, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all attention medications will do the same thing. Some attention medications do not help some children, while the same medication might work fine for another child.


  • Some children have a great deal of problems learning, and they really do have an attention deficit disorder. For these children, medication can make a world of difference. I have seen children turn from failure to success almost overnight once they had an attention evaluation and started taking medication.


Please don’t misunderstand. I know this is a difficult decision and parents want what is best for their child. Teachers want what is best for their students, too. If attention issues are keeping a child from benefitting from school, then attention medications might be what’s best for the child.


Memory is a complicated process. Most of us are familiar with short-term memory, the place where new information goes before it gets stored in long-term memory for later use. Most psychologists now agree that there is yet another component of memory called “working memory.”


When you need to actually manipulate facts in your brain, your brain must move that related information into working memory. For example, when you add several numbers together without writing them down, you must keep them in your working memory while you add them.


Many children with attention problems have problems with their working memory.  This is because the working memory is very limited in how much information it can hold and manipulate at one time.  If that memory space is being filled with extraneous information because of inability to focus on what is important, working memory cannot function properly.  In the example above, something in working memory (like the numbers you are adding) gets pushed out of memory and replaced with unimportant information (someone is using the microwave to cook popcorn).  This prevents finding the answer, because important information is no longer available to work the problem.


If this is a problem for your son or daughter, you may be able to help. Your child will benefit from having a quiet, distraction-free place to work on schoolwork.  For tips on how to do this see How Parents Can Help With Homework. Your child also needs to know basic facts and procedures on an automatic level because working memory space can get completely filled with basic information (add, subtract, multiply, divide, academic vocabulary, etc.), and there is no room left for solving the problems. 


I just read that it is possible to improve a child’s working memory. While I have not tried it with a student, it does make a lot of sense. I will tell you all about it soon!


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When you have a child with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you yearn for a way to help. Parents are confronted with offers for reading programs, diets, vitamin regimens, and medical doctors who promise a quick fix for the child’s problems. The truth is, there is no quick fix. It takes consistent effort using research-based programs to help children learn how cope with their learning differences.

The myth of a quick fix for learning disabilities provides a thorough discussion of how to be a good consumer when "shopping" for information and help for your child.

Do not fall for any of the following.

A promise of a cure. No one can cure a learning disability or attention deficit disorder. These are lifelong problems that children must learn to manage. Once out of school, certain disabilities can become advantages for them in their chosen career, or they are simply not an issue at all.

The promise of rapid improvement. Learning disabilities and attention issues do not improve overnight. It takes persistence, hard work, and caring adults who provide encouragement and help.

Failure to cite third party research. Many programs cite "research" to support them. When you actually read the research, though, it was conducted by the company trying to sell you the product. Research should be conducted by independent, third parties who do not have a financial stake in the outcome.

Use of the words scientific, research, or proven. People use these words without grounds because they think people pay attention when they hear them. As stated already, you should be able to find the research yourself. True scientists do not use the word "proven" because nothing can be proven true. It is easy to prove something is wrong, but you cannot ever claim with 100% certainty that something is true.

One final warning. Many quick fix programs make no guarantee that their product will work. In the end, if it does not work, they place the blame for that on the child. They claim the child did not do it correctly or follow the program for long enough. Children with learning issues already have enough to worry about. They struggle with self-esteem on a daily basis. Please do not place them in a situation where they think they are the cause of yet another problem in their life.

A reliable source of information for anything related to learning disabilities is LDOnline. For even more information on learning disabilities check out our learning disabilities archive of articles.

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After my posting on creating a friendly environment for ADHD children, I heard from several people about how much they like the stand-up desks. One felt it would be great for him rather than his children. Another says she plans to try it with the students she tutors in reading.

One of my tweeps (Twitter friends) sent me a picture of her home office. She built two stand-up desks and shared this picture of them. Notice the bottom shelf. She told me that having the books and supplies down low helps keep them out of sight where they are less distracting.

I especially like this study space because of its potential for organization. Many students who struggle in school have a hard time finding what they need in order to be productive during their homework time. The shelves provide room for the standard supplies they need. You could add some clear plastic storage boxes (like the ones they sell for shoes). They could be filled with pens, pencils, colored markers, rulers, tape, glue, and other standard supplies students need to have at their fingertips.

This study center is pretty much ideal for an ADHD, disorganized student. The student can stand while they work (wiggle, bounce, dance) and find anything they need within seconds.

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Girl on ballMany people need to wiggle while they learn. Because this can be a distraction to other students, students with ADHD need to learn how to move without disturbing others. I have taught students how to kick their foot so that it does not hit the table leg or other students. (This works at home at the dinner table, too.) That way they can wiggle away and no one even notices it. Other students do well with a squeeze ball hidden away under the desk so that others are not distracted by it. I also try to give active children a chance to get up out of their seat pretty often. They love to help clean the white-board, put away supplies, or if at home -- help you clear the table.

I recently came across several other innovative ways for parents or teachers to help their wiggle worms:

  • An active child-friendly reading circle -- A teacher in Cincinnati created a reading circle for ADHD kids. She has a kidney shaped table where she can sit in the center and have the students in a half-circle around her. The trick is that they sit on exercise balls instead of chairs! They can sit there and wiggle and bounce while they learn how to read. What a great idea for a study place at home!
  • Special desks -- Another excellent idea for children who need to move: instead of making them sit down to work they can stand up.


I am anxious to give these desks a try. If each classroom had two or three of them, students could take turns working there instead of sitting at their normal desks. At home, your child could be allowed to stand up at the kitchen counter to work instead of being asked to sit still at a table.

  • Kid’s Companions -- Chewable jewelry for children who need to fidget is also worth checking out. I have seen many students who would benefit from "chewelry" and there is an attractive line for both girls and boys.

Both parents and teachers can be "ADHD friendly." Understanding the ADHD child’s need for action can make life easier for both of you! And, they get a bonus -- it helps them learn.

If you wonder whether your child may be ADHD, read How do I know if my child is ADHD?

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Many students who struggle in school are called “lazy and dumb” by their peers and at some times even by a teacher or parent! This is extremely hurtful and unnecessary.

First of all, you cannot always tell whether a child is working really hard or not. Even if you ask a child whether they studied they will often tell you they didn’t. It is much easier for them to say, “I didn’t study, so I failed,” than to say, “I studied a long time, but I still failed.” There are children who have given up on themselves and quit trying, but be very careful about accusing any child of being lazy. You have no way of knowing for sure how hard they are working!

Secondly, these children are often smart. I have taught children whose measured intelligence was in the superior range (even at the 99th percentile) who failed in school! These brilliant children might not be able to read, spell or do math, yet their intelligence suggests that these things should be easy for them. Reading, spelling and doing math are acquired skills, not innate like intelligence. For one reason or another, they did not learn the skills they need to succeed.

As you can see, you can have a brilliant child who is failing in school because of poor skills. They might look “dumb,” but they are far from it. Skills and intelligence are not the same thing. I have a rule that I never, ever call a child lazy or unmotivated. I ask myself these questions—“Why is this child having such a hard time in school?” “What is holding this child back?” “What can I do to provide some success for this child to get them back on the right track?”

If you feel your child is misunderstood, it is important to get together with your child’s teacher. My next post will offer some help in deciding whether or not your child is working hard enough. Then after that, I will discuss how to plan ahead for meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss these issues.

Remember, when children struggle in school, they need both their parents and their teachers to work together to figure out why.

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Some students do well in school and others do not. Have you ever wondered why?

We are all different! When my husband and I travel in areas where we are not familiar (and when we do not have our GPS to guide us), it is better for me to drive and him to navigate. When I try to read a map, I cannot tell you whether we need to turn right or left at the next intersection. I cannot take a two-dimensional representation of real space (the map) and change it in my mind to represent three-dimensional space (the world).

Fortunately, in school it was a rare occasion when I needed to be able to read a map and tell someone which way to go. Map skills are not that valuable in school.

On the other hand, I can read piano music very well. I can take a sheet of music and turn it into a beautiful experience on the piano for both you (the listener) and me (the player).

Unfortunately, being able to do that was not that helpful in school either. No one really cared that I could do that.

What if the thing I cannot do is read, spell, or do basic math calculations? Then, I become a struggling student. These skills are really important school skills and students who struggle with them struggle generally in school. School becomes uncomfortable, unsuccessful, and no fun.

For these students, it is important to find the thing they can do exceptionally well (like playing the piano or building models) and give them plenty of time doing that. If they spend their entire life struggling, it is hard for them to feel good about themselves.

They need to know that school is not life. Eventually, they will be finished with school and they will get to spend time doing things they do well rather than focusing on their weaknesses.

For an interesting perspective, I recommend reading some of Dr. Mel Levine’s work about focusing on the positive in your child’s life.

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Livia McCoy has spent twenty-six years teaching science to students with language learning disabilities. In addition to teaching students daily, she trains teachers and runs workshops for teachers and parents who want to know more about how to help their struggling students.

Livia’s book, When Learning is Painful: How to Help Struggling Students -- A Resource for Parents and Teachers was published in 2009.

Children are active and energetic.  At times, it’s hard to tell whether a child’s behavior is normal for a child her age.  The diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) depends on knowing whether the behavior the child is exhibiting is beyond what other children do at that age.
The diagnosis of ADHD is determined by a trained medical professional.  According to LDOnline, “Child psychiatrists and psychologists, developmental/behavioral pediatricians, or behavioral neurologists are those most often trained in … diagnosis [of ADHD].” Your child’s teacher may be the first to mention that your child is beyond the average activity level and has difficulty settling down in school, but most teachers are not trained to make the diagnosis.
Because making the diagnosis is not simple, the professional gathers data from a variety of sources such as parents, teachers, coaches, baby-sitters and the child’s pediatrician.  Stressful events occurring in a child’s life can affect their behavior.  So things like the arrival of a new sibling, a recent death in the family or parents going through divorce must be ruled out.
Once the diagnosis is made, parents need to explore the options for treatment. These should include behavioral modifications and possibly medication.  See How to help my child focus his attention  for ideas for helping ADHD children function better at home and Are You ADHD Friendly? for ideas your child’s teacher should consider.
Do not rule out medications as a possible treatment.  Many students benefit from being able to pay better attention in school and along with the environmental modifications, medication can be quite effective in helping a child regain control of his life.

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I want to share a chance remark, at a recent doctor’s appointment, that got me really thinking about American children and ADD/ADHD. At a routine medical check-up my Vitamin D levels were checked, and they came up a little low. My doctor’s next comment really caught my attention. “You know,” he said “Vitamin D deficiency is almost an epidemic among American children.” “Why?” I asked. “Vitamin D is considered the ‘sunshine vitamin’ he said. Kids don’t play outside like they used to do, and even when they do they are covered in sunscreen. They’re not getting it in their diet either.” Out of curiosity I asked, “What are the symptoms?” “Some symptoms could be weak bones, fatigue, irritability, inattention …he explained” I had a “Light Bulb” moment! “Wow” I said. “Do you think that could explain why so many more children seem to have ADD/ADHD issues?” Not being his field of expertise, he was reluctant to comment.

I need to stress that I am not a physician, and would never give advice I was not qualified to give. However, based on the information I learned from that chance remark, if my child was experiencing the symptoms presented by ADD/ADHD as a parent the very first thing I would do, is have his or her pediatrician check Vitamin D levels!

This week we are pleased to have a guest blog co-authored by two professors who are specialists in the area of learning disabilities:

Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at the City University of New York. Howard is former editor of the Reading Instruction Journal and the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation; for almost two decades he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties.

Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Gary is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and a certified School Psychologist who specializes in parenting issues. He has worked with many children with learning, reading, and other disabilities and their families.

Howard Margolis and Gary Brannigan are co-authors of the book,  Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds


If your child has a reading disability, the school should monitor his progress frequently enough to:

  • prevent minor problems from becoming major ones
  • avoid him from getting frustrated with work that’s too difficult
  • prevent him from becoming bored with work he’s already mastered
  • accelerate instruction when the data shows he can handle it comfortably.

In 2006, the federally-funded National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD; Johnson et al.) recommended that schools assess the progress of students who need “extensive and intensive interventions” twice weekly. Children with reading disabilities are part of this group.

The NRCLD also recommended that schools systematically chart the progress of these students and formally analyze it every three to four weeks. The reasons are straightforward:

  • “To determine whether children are profiting appropriately from the instructional program
  • To estimate rates of student improvement.”

Schools that fail to frequently monitor progress, or use poorly validated measures, won’t know if the progress of children with reading disabilities is excellent, fair, or terrible. This lack of frequent, valid monitoring information will condemn many children with reading disabilities to the wrong program for months, even years. This is akin to giving them the wrong medicine; it’s likely to cause great harm.

Many schools complain that it’s unrealistic to assess progress twice, even once weekly, and to assess the suitability of instruction once monthly. It takes too much time.

Consider this: How much time is wasted if a child stays in the wrong program for months or years? What are the consequences, for the child, his family, his teachers, his school, and society, if he continues to suffer from instruction that fails to teach him to read?


Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?