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July 30, 2014

Six Easy Ways to Help Young Children with ADHD Succeed in School

six easy ways ADHDsix easy ways ADHD

Six Easy Ways to Help Young Children with ADHD Succeed in School

In this post, I will share “Six Easy Ways to Help Young Children with ADHD Succeed in School!”  Whether or not an official ADHD diagnosis has been given, young children that have an extra healthy dose of the wiggles combined with a cupful of impulsivity will probably benefit from these techniques that I have developed over the years in my Kindergarten classroom.  I hope they are helpful!  And don’t miss our previous post about ADHD in which we talked about the importance of teachers and parents coming together to help a child with ADHD enjoy school success.

Six Easy Ways to Help Young Children with ADHD Succeed in School

When a teacher or caregiver changes the way things are usually done in order to help a child with special needs, these are known as “accommodations.”  The accommodations that we have listed below are simple changes that can benefit all students who have even just the symptoms of ADHD, not just those who have an official diagnosis and have been placed on a 504 plan.  Most children do not get a diagnosis of ADHD before starting Pre-K or Kindergarten, so any issues that come up during the school year may be a surprise to both parents and teachers.  This tends to make everything during this first school experience especially difficult for both the parents and the teacher, since finding out “what works” with this particular child will be a learning experience for all.

A natural time to ask critical thinking questions is before, during, and after reading books aloud to children.
A natural time to ask critical thinking questions is before, during, and after reading books aloud to children.

1.  Preferential Seating:  Front and Center!

There is usually a good reason why certain students are placed right smack in front of the teacher, although it is not always ADHD!  Placing children close to the teacher is often referred to as “preferential seating.”  Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and First Grade teachers often have children sit on the floor at their feet for their circle time, story time, or calendar time.  It’s usually easier to keep children focused when they are very close by the teacher during lessons.


2.  Develop Some Silent Signals

I like to work out some kind of silent signal as a way to remind children to refocus.  In my opinion, this is MUCH better than calling the whole class’ attention to the fact that the child is daydreaming and needs to “wake up.”

Young children with ADHD sometimes seem to be "off in their own world" and don't notice things such as the bell ringing and the entire playground clearing out! This is especially true when they are doing things they LOVE!
Young children with ADHD sometimes seem to be “off in their own world” and don’t notice events that are obvious to others… such as the bell ringing and the entire playground clearing out! This is especially true when they are doing things they LOVE!

Some examples of signals I have used with children include:
– A secret nudge with my toe
– An offhand type of “random” rub on their arm or shoulder
– A snap of my fingers
– A finger tap on the child’s shoulder, if I still can’t get the child’s attention

In short, I never discipline a child for losing focus or attention, because they usually can’t help it!  Daydreaming is rarely deliberate at the age of four, five, or six.  I prefer to try my best to refocus them as best I can in a positive way whenever possible.

Children with the symptoms of ADHD sometimes have trouble focusing long enough to complete written assignments. And yes, even in Kindergarten, children will sometimes try to find ways to get out of doing work that they dislike.  (They are only human!)  It’s tough to know if a child has developed “the stalling technique” at home or in a previous school situation, and so is continuing to do it, or if they are truly having trouble focusing and completing the task.  It’s your job as the teacher to figure out which it is and then adjust the child’s behavior management plan from there to help him or her succeed.


3.  Reduce the Amount of Work for Children with ADHD

To avoid disciplining a child for a behavior that is possibly beyond his or her control, I try to make sure that the task that I have given him is within his ability to complete within the given time.  I am fine with reducing the amount of work to accommodate the needs of certain children as necessary.  If children ask me why one child gets to do less work than they, I explain that I sometimes change the amount of work according to each child’s needs.  I tell them that if they need an assignment changed someday for some reason, I will do the same for them.  For example, if they broke their hand, I wouldn’t expect them to write as much as before, and I would change the assignment.  Young children seem to understand that, and I have found that they are very accepting of differences, if we give them the chance!


4.  Provide Extra Motivation to “Focus and Finish:”

– As you help the rest of the children, make it a point to keep circling back and encouraging the little ones that need the extra reminders to keep going.
– If you want the child to do the whole paper, fold or cut it in half and give the child only part of it at a time.
– If the paper has eight problems on it, give the child eight markers to put on top of each problem as he finishes.  When all of the markers are on the paper, he’s done!
– Let the child put a stamp on an index card or contract for each problem or word (or every few) written.
– Let the child choose a reward to work towards and have him work towards that.  Remember, the younger the child, the more frequent the little rewards must be.  They can even be something as simple as a high five after each problem!
– My students LOVED feeding pennies to “Mr. Ball” as a reward!  This is simple, cheap, and FUN!

Children get to feed Mr. Ball a penny each time the teacher catches them doing their best!
Children get to feed Mr. Ball a penny each time the teacher catches them doing their best!

– Let the child play with a wind up toy (just one “spin”) after a certain amount of work finished.  This is great for developing the pincer grasp, too, so it works on the fine motor skills as well!

Wind up toys can be a great motivator for active young children to finish their work!
Wind up toys can be a great motivator for active young children to finish their work!  I LOVE the look of glee on that little one’s face above!  He was so precious!

5.  Impulsivity and Seating Solutions

Children with ADHD are well known for acting first and thinking afterwards!  However, choosing seats for your students thoughtfully can go a LONG way towards proactively preventing difficulties in the classroom!  Naturally, if you put two very active, mischievous children right next to each other, you may wind up with many more problems than if you had separated them.  But besides splitting up children that don’t do well together, here are some other options to consider.
– Increase the space between desks to help students to keep their hands and feet to themselves and limit the temptation to engage with other students.
– For children that are seated on the floor, some can be given EXTRA space.  For example, they may need two colored carpet squares to sit in rather than one, so that there is a little space to move around, but within limits.
– Keep moving children around until you find the best seating spot for each one.  Some children do better in the back, some do better in the middle, and some do better on the sides.  I had one child that would roll all around the room when he was seated at the back, but who never did it at all when seated in the middle of the room because the other children formed a natural barrier and there was no room to roll.
– Keeping distractible children father away from windows and doors will help decrease the amount of stimuli that is pouring in for that child and may reduce daydreaming.
– Some children do well on Sit Disks!  A Sit Disk is like an exercise ball to sit on- but it’s only the top part of it, so it is easier to manage.  Several years ago, I received a grant from Donor’s Choose for six Disk-O-Sit Jr. “wiggle cushions” to help with a group of very active students that had the symptoms of ADHD, (but no diagnosis.)  I was VERY pleased with the results!

Disk-o-Sit Jr Wiggle Cushion for Active Children

I was able to get six of these little round cushions for four of my “extra” wiggly students to sit on, (because let’s face it, they’re ALL wiggly in K!) with two extra cushions for other students in my class to pass around and try out.  (And that’s good, because they ALL certainly WANTED those cushions!)  My intention was to try to avoid calling attention to the ones that really needed it by having a few extras for the other children to use.  I have to say that no one was more amazed that it worked than I WAS!!!!!

As soon as they sat down on them, their little bottoms just kept wiggling and wiggling throughout the entire lessons that I gave, while the other negative behaviors started to diminish!  Here are some of the behaviors that diminished with the use of the cushions:
– There was less of them trying to keep themselves stimulated by reaching out to touch (or annoy) the other children and sometimes pulling their hair or clothing.
– There were fewer times when a child who was tired of sitting would just randomly stand up right in front of me, blocking the view of the other children. (Yay!)
– There were fewer moments of kids getting way up on their knees, (rather than sitting flat on their bottoms,) and blocking the view of the rest of the class.
– There were fewer times when a child would just get up and randomly start walking around the room in the middle of the lesson, because he was tired of sitting.

After a while, some of the children got tired of sitting on the Disk-O-Sit Jr.  “Wiggle Cushions,” and asked me if they could just not sit on them anymore.  My answer was, “Show me you don’t need it, and you don’t have to sit on it.”  However, as soon the cushions were put away, many of those negative behaviors came back!

So, I told them that they would have to continue to sit on the cushions until they were able to follow the same rules as everyone else without them.  Wasn’t it much better to sit on the cushion and have a great day than to sit on the floor and get in trouble?  Their parents were in agreement with this plan, so all was well.  Basically, they just wanted the children to be successful in school, and they were more successful with the cushions than without them.


Children with ADHD are often very impulsive and don't stop to think before they act. They usually know what the rules are, but their bodies are working faster than their brains. So they are usually sorry when it's over, but that doesn't stop it from happening again due to the impulsivity. This is especially true with the very young children in PreK, K, and first grade.
David Shannon’s endearing character “David” seems to display most of the characteristics of ADHD.

6.  Plan Movement Breaks Into Your Lessons Regularly

Many teachers save music for separate time of the day from language arts, math, science, etc.  However, if music and movement is integrated into these content lessons during the day, then children will have both a reason and permission to move!  Each time I introduce a concept, I also look for a song that will go with it.  Most of the time, I have a song that will work from my own collection at HeidiSongs, and the movements are all on the DVD’s, so that makes it extra easy!

Here are some good titles to start with, if you don’t have any music with movements to fit into your lessons:

Musical Math

Sing and Spell the Sight Words (Six different volumes with 159 sight words total)

Sounds Fun Phonics

Music for Classroom Management

Here is what a lesson with the DVD Musical Math looks like!


Now it’s YOUR turn!  Have you tried any other accommodations for ADHD that you would like to share?  We’d love to hear them!


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