Managing ADHD in the Classroom

These children typically experience too many moments of perceived failure and shame, let’s help them to succeed.

We all know a child who has an amazing amount of energy, and although we may wish we could have just a fraction of their enviable energy, it can be challenging to help them stay on task and to focus long enough to learn.

But what if we changed our mindset and considered their energy an asset to the class? This child may be the answer to your tired prayers! Give them the job of wiping the white board, carrying books or stacking chairs. These jobs will not only help them get the heavy work they need to regulate their energy levels, but it also gives them a valued role and helps them contribute to the classroom in a meaningful way.

I get that 9am – 3pm is a long time and there are only so many books to be carried and chairs to be stacked. So, here are some other tools that can help you harness the energy of high energy children in the classroom.

Create an ADHD-friendly classroom.

  • Seat children with ADHD toward the front of the classroom. This helps minimise visual distractions
  • Seat children with ADHD close to you so you can easily give a visual, verbal or physical prompt to help them stay on task
  • Provide noise cancelling headphones during individual work times
  • Consider using fidgets but remember they need to be used as listening tools rather than toys in order to be effective
  • Keep decorations in the room to a minimum. Busy classroom walls can be really overstimulating. A less cluttered environment can help children feel calm and more focussed
  • Where possible, use natural light instead of fluorescent lighting
  • Consider playing instrumental music in the background during individual work time.

Flexible Seating.

Flexible seating options are a very powerful tool that allow children to move while working. Movement helps children to regulate their energy levels and also helps with focus and attention. Some ideas for flexible seating options, include:

  • Keep their study group small, as this is less stimulating and distracting
  • Some alternatives to a regular desk and chair include:
    • Hoki stools
    • Fit balls
    • Therabands around legs of chairs
    • Move n sit cushion placed on the chair
    • Allow them to stand and work at a bench.
  • Floor work options include:
    • Lying on their tummy and weight bearing on the forearms
    • Sitting with back against the wall using a lap trays
    • Sitting with back against the wall, knees bent and feet flat on the floor with work resting on thighs
    • Scoop rocker chair.
  • Individual reading options include:
    • A teepee (or sheet over a table) with weighted blanket
    • Sitting in an armchair/couch
    • Bean bags.

Provide Clear Instructions.

Although we want children to become independent, remember that busy children have busy brains. The clearer we can be with instructions, rules and expectations, the more likely they will be to succeed. Consider:

  • Checklists with small and manageable tasks
  • Visual cues about the daily routine
  • Notice and praise positive behaviours (even for seemingly simple actions such as putting up their hand before speaking)
  • Ensure the child clearly understands what is expected. Have them repeat the instructions back to you before starting the task.

Explicitly Teach Organisation Skills.

Accept that it may take longer for children with ADHD to develop organisational skills than their peers. They are, more than likely, equally frustrated that they have forgotten their pencil case, hat or book AGAIN. To help with organisation, consider:

  • A see through pencil case so that it is easy to find equipment
  • A pencil case that stays at school
  • Provide a checklist for what needs to come to school each day
  • Work with them to create a checklist for steps needed for an assignment
  • Work with them to create a calendar for the weeks or months events
  • Provide a visual cue for your expectations of a tidy desk. Take a photo of their desk and note things like – nothing on the floor, name tag on top of the desk, where pencils and books should be etc.

Enable Outdoor Sensory Breaks.

Regular movement breaks are really important to help brains to take a break and reset. This helps bodies to get their sensory fix, and return to class calmer, more alert, and with improved attention. Whole class movement breaks are great but for some children they will need tailored sensory breaks that meet their individual sensory needs.

  • For movement input, take a quick trip to the flying fox, swings or roll down the hill
  • For heavy work input, swing on monkey bars, climb up the slide or up a tree
  • Sensory seekers may like a dig in the sand pit or dirt
  • Overwhelmed students may like to find dandelions to blow (incidental mindful breathing) or to just sit under a tree
  • Anxious children may like to take off their shoes and rub their feet in the sand pit, for grounding.

ADHD is not the parent’s, teacher’s, medical professional’s, or child’s fault. It is a neurological condition, not a disease or something that needs fixing. People with ADHD can have an enviable amount of energy, be spontaneous, the life of the party, creative, and intensely dedicated to their chosen interest. In today’s fast past ‘standardised’ world, these qualities are often not valued and seen as a nuisance. If parents, teachers, medical professionals and the child work together, with a positive attitude, to understand their strengths and areas that need support, we can help children with ADHD feel successful and to thrive.


Written by: Bron Lucey. Mother to 3 children who share her love of the finer things in life like mud, the outdoors and general mess. Occupational therapist in her spare time.

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