Monday, July 25, 2022

Habit training for Direction-Following with a child with ADHD

 A popular phrase in Charlotte Mason homeschooling circles is 'habit training'. It is true that habit guides a lot of our day, and building our own habits and those of our children pays off in many ways through life. Quotes from Charlotte Mason such as The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.” emphasize the importance of habits, but honestly can be a bit discouraging when your child continually forgets 'the basics' like wearing shoes to the car or putting the toothbrush back to the right place long after an age you feel like they 'should know by now'.

A few dozen times I've responded online in homeschooling groups to questions such as these:

  • My child ignores directions because she's so focused on the activity she's doing and doesn't even turn or respond. Tell me how to habit train for listening to directions and obedience.
  • I'm reminding my child all day for years of the same things like closing the door or putting their dishes away. Am I doing habit training wrong?

Obviously I can't diagnose or treat ADHD; when these people give more details the way they describe things sends up a lot of flags for ADHD or other types of executive dysfunction. Many people say 'well I know it can't be ADHD because he can focus and sit still for a movie or other preferred activity.' This reflects a common misunderstanding about ADHD. The reason ADHD causes both 'lack' of focus and hyperfocus I think has a root in difficulty sorting and prioritizing information, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

For people who know or suspect or wonder if their child has ADHD and are wondering if Charlotte Mason type habit training can still help them, these are the types of answers I usually give. I hope some of them are helpful even to families that do not have an ADHD diagnosis.

  1.  You cannot habit train away an executive function problem. Figure out if diet, exercise, vitamins, supplements, sleep interventions and/or meds will get the brain in a better place to remember and notice what needs to be done.

  2. Pass off responsibility for 'noticing' and 'remembering' in increments. Though the example of 'Johnny learning to shut the door' included in Charlotte Mason's writings was and is exceedingly eye-rolling to me. The kid learns to shut the door after 20 or so times? He hears his mom calling his name (pleasantly?) and is 'stirred by curiosity' and comes back? Yeah, right. But there are some good gems hidden in this completely-unrealistic-for-kids-with-ADHD scenario.
    The mom doesn't say 'Shut the door!', instead she gives some of the remembering work to the kid, by looking at the door and saying 'I said I would remind you.' It says 'the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him'...that's where parental creativity and adapting to the needs of your child comes in.

    One example from our house is that we spent time trying to remember the habit of putting your bowl away after eating oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast (we don't all eat/finish breakfast at the same time, so the 'clue' that happened at other meals of seeing other people clearing their dishes, wasn't in play at breakfast). We spent several weeks pretending that the last bite of yogurt was a speaking entity that reminded the breakfaster to put the bowl away, as the 'last words'. Silly voices and all the drama of the last words of the yogurt. I then told the kids that I wouldn't be reminding them anymore, because the last bite of yogurt would be doing it for me. Of course, there was still forgetting, at which point, if I was on the ball and watching closely, I could voice the ghost of yogurt past as the child left the table....'ahhh, you ate me but you did not heed my last words....'.

  3. Habit train *yourself* too.  Being frustrated that a child 'doesn't listen' can often be helped a lot by training the parent or the one giving the instructions. Don't expect the kid to be able to constantly be listening for your voice saying 'hey we're leaving for church in 10 minutes' or 'whose coat is this' or 'pick up your shoes'. We worked super hard on a routine for giving directions, and it included specific roles for the parent and the child.

    Parent: [Name...] (touch arm if they don't hear you...wait for them to turn their head)
    Child: We require them to turn their head towards the speaker and say 'What'.
    Parent: Gives single step instruction such as 'Please eat the chocolate chip on the table.'
    Child: We require them to respond and say 'Got it' or something like that.

    We practiced this dozens of times in made up no-pressure situations and then moved on to simple real-life situations. Multi-step directions ('go the garage and get 3 frozen water bottles for the sure to shut the freezer well') came next and sometimes we'd have him repeat the steps back before doing them.

I hope these examples of real life habit training are helpful for your child without ADHD, or with suspected or diagnosed ADHD.

Saturday, March 13, 2021


A frequent discussion in Charlotte Mason or literature-based homeschooling circles revolves around twaddle. Twaddle is a word used to describe books that are dumbed-down, formulaic, tend to be boring to the adults reading it to children, or be the type of thing you don't want to read multiple times.

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

C.S. Lewis 


Books for children or adults can be twaddle. Most people that are trying to avoid 'feeding' twaddle to their kids are rejecting the idea that 'as long as they are reading, that's good' and aiming for something different, to grow the taste for stories that are not simply clean and appropriate, but nourishing by means of the ideas they contain.

Many online discussions on this topic contain comments like 'well, you can't read just the old classics all the time', 'we need light-hearted fun books too', 'well, what appeals to one person may not appeal to another', 'we all need a little dessert' etc. There are also a lot of posts: 'Is _____ twaddle' (especially for things like graphic novels, books that are silly). This misses the point to me: twaddle isn't about classic vs. newer, lighthearted vs. serious, or foregoing enjoyment. It's also not an either-or question like the Eggdicator which sends Veruca Salt down the chute as a 'bad egg'.

But neither do I consider it completely subjective. Let me introduce the twaddle-o-meter.

At the zero point of complete twaddle, I would put a Finding Nemo book someone picked up at the library once and asked me to read to them. The plot was so oversimplified that without having seen the movie, it wouldn't have made much sense. I was annoyed about .75 pages in. This is in the don't bother category for me, because we have such such better options available. It's so twaddly it doesn't even feel like a nice easy treat/break/dessert.

In the middle 50s I'd put Magic Treehouse, Geronimo Stilton. A little formulaic and not likely to stand the test of time, not as annoying as the 'zero' books, shallowly educational. I don't ban these books, but I don't buy them and I rarely use my time to read them aloud. They can be good learn-to-read tools.

At the 90-100 end I'd put books that stick with you, that make you think, that you can recognize as beautifully written. I wish there was a word for THIS end of the spectrum so that we could talk positively about what we are aiming for rather than the twaddle we avoid. Something that communicated that a book is nourishing and idea-ful.
After we finished 'Where the Mountain Meets the Moon', one of my kids said 'the thing I like about that book is that all the parts fit together' (and indeed there are a lot of plot elements that weave together cleverly and beautifully, some of them you don't understand until the end). This is a recently published book. Older books that I think would fit this category include 'Heidi' or 'Understood Betsy.'

What books would you place at 0, 50 and 100? Which range do you not bother reading yourself, and which range do you try to steer your kids away from?

Do you need to experience the zeros, the 10s, the 20s in order to learn discernment, have a richer and broader life experience, etc? Probably not very much. This summer we got books with our school sack lunches once. No choices asked they just handed us 3 books with the 3 lunches. We never read of the titles had slime in it? My boys love slime, silliness and all that, they are reluctant to part with anything, and the libraries had been closed for months on end. However, they still put the books straight in the thrift store pile with polite but disappointed comments like 'well, maybe someone else can use it.' Maybe I'm raising snobs; they ate the lunches too but were confused why the school would give out so many [un]Lucky Charms during a pandemic when everyone is supposedly trying to stay healthy. I think a strong parallel can be made; Lucky Charms are better than nothing to eat, but we don't eat them 5 mornings a week and say 'at least they are eating' when we have the ability to enjoy something that is healthier AND more enjoyable.

Is it a privilege to have a choice at all? Yes, and we try to use our book budget dollars and those library check-out 'votes' to encourage a menu and a palate that focuses on things that are worthwhile, satisfying, appealing.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Oatmeal Cake This Way

I have a tendency to change recipes, and it doesn't always turn out great. Sometimes it does. I've had a long term goal to try to write down what I do so I can remember what does turn out well.

Today was the second time I made this oatmeal cake. I think the first time I made it I was looking for recipes that didn't use white flour because I only had a little in the house and needed it for pizza. Priorities.

The first time we added nuts to the topping, this time I did not.

Visit for the original recipe.


Modifications I used:

1/2 c. coconut sugar instead of 1 cup brown sugar in the cake

1/2 c. white sugar reduced from 1 cup white sugar

whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour

added a teaspoon of vanilla to the cake part of the recipe

1 cup coconut: I used sweetened coconut because that's what Walmart substitutions gave me, but normally I would use unsweetened from Azure Standard where I also got the pastry flour and oatmeal.

It did NOT need the full 35 minutes to bake.

Linen towel from Hammer and Thread on Etsy.

Monday, August 10, 2020

'Day in the Life' of our Homeschool

 8:20- All the kids are at the breakfast table finishing up so I bring over my laptop and we watch

8:30- Folk Song (Follow the Drinking Gourd) at the organ 

8:40- I read Our Island Story Chapter 3 with Avery, who is doing Y1, with a side of helping Malachi with a copywork/grammar worksheet. Avery narrates the chapter as we go, we stop every few paragraphs or so for him to narrate. Then I get Avery started doing a handwriting book, lowercase letters c and o. When he's done with that I log him into his free trial of Explode the Code for some reading and spelling practice. Not sure exactly what the other kids did during this time...math and reading practice maybe.

9:17 - I'm reading the Bible with Malachi and he narrates it to me (everything but poetry gets narrated so I'll stop listing the narration each time), and then a poem with Avery.

9:38 - 'This Country of Ours' (American history) with Malachi, Tobias is working on a grammar worksheet and needs a little help.

9:50- Tobias is practicing piano, Malachi is listening to Children of the New Forest (historical fiction about the English Civil War) on Librivox audiobook.

10:34 - I read 'Kim' to Tobias (it's part of last year's readings and we're finishing it up slowly); then he does Duolingo Spanish.

10:44 - Malachi is on the piano. Tobias has read a chapter from 'Story of the World', some of Luke in the New Testament, and part of The Chestry Oak (historical fiction that goes with his WW2 studies in history).

10:51 - Finish up the 'This Country of Ours' chapter with Malachi

11:04- Read 'Ninja Chicks' for fun with Malachi and Avery

11:10- Read a William Blake poem, Eternity, with Malachi.

11:15- Tobias reads me a poem (Rainsongs by Dunbar). This is technically not the right poet for this year but we're finishing up one from last year and I'm not sure I've downloaded this year's poet to the Kindle yet. There's a snack in there somewhere.

11:18 - Tobias reads Genesis 11

We all drive to pick up school lunches and do curbside document signing for a mortgage refinance. I forget my ID (Nate was driving). The kids watch Peep and the Big Wide World in Spanish (.75 speed for better understanding!) while I run back to the title company with my ID.

Did some things happen for a shorter time than they should have? Yes. We're easing in and building independence. Looks like we'll have to get to Nature Study later this week or afternoon.

Bedtime reading will be from Farmer Boy.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Our Homeschool Day Using Ambleside Online

In my last post I talked about the planning I do for our school year. How does that actually become a week or day of school?

Each weekend I take a look at the week ahead and place activities in our weekly schedule. Some weeks if we are traveling or busy, I just check things off our main pdf schedule in the binder, but most weeks I create a schedule. I copy my own spreadsheet from last week, delete the things that we did, and fill it in for the week. This allows me to work around other activities; for example if we have co-op classes Friday morning I don't schedule anything for that day except maybe a drawing lesson in the afternoon. This year we don't have any outside activities on the horizon so it doesn't matter so much which day is which, though I'll probably keep Fridays a little lighter.

In the schedule picture below, at the end of the week I'd go into that spreadsheet and delete all the 'AO Read' lines (unless there was something unfinished I'd leave that in) and replace it with the next week's stuff. All the stuff like Nature Study, Typing etc. remains the same.

There's no set or right way to do this, everyone's schedules that I've looked at look different. Since these schedules are for our family, they may contain all sorts of crazy abbreviations like 'CoNewF' is for the book Children of the New Forest.

While we almost always start our day singing at the organ (or now we've also started to incorporate a current events video and I'm not certain if that will end up being a lunch activity or a start the day activity), the order of the activities for the day is flexible from there and not specifically bound to how it is listed in the schedule.

On each day I set out a colored marker. In the pictured schedule I must have put blue out on Monday. Either the kids or I check things off as we do them. It looks like we sneaked in a handicrafts on Monday, but didn't get a Nature Study done. But at least those handrails are clean!

After we start the day together, I work with youngest kid one and one first and the other two are supposed to work on anything they can achieve by themselves. For example, in the schedule above Malachi could be working on his math, copywork, reading, piano practice, or chores while I was not available to help him. He could also possibly read or listen to Exodus 12, and then 'narrate' (tell it back, talk to me about it) as soon as I was available. When it's his turn for my help, I would read Bard of Avon with him. Similarly, Tobias (6th grade) works on math, free reading, Duolingo Spanish, typing practice, chores, copywork independently and reading some of his other books.

While the plan is to work with youngest, middle, then oldest, the reality is that I keep an eye on all of them and they can politely interrupt their brothers' time with me in order to quickly ask a question or do a narration. I love that they do their math on the computer because I can hear the little noises in the background when they get a question right or wrong so I know without stopping my other work that they're at least still doing something.

We are only a few weeks into this school year, and that included a road trip already, so I'm not sure yet how all the timing will go! So far we've been able to get everyone finished with their main items before lunch, though sometimes there is a chore or instrument practice or Nature Study or handicraft left for an afternoon activity.

How I Plan our Ambleside Online Homeschool Year

Ambleside Online is a free curriculum that has plans available online. The work is not done online unless you choose to use online resources like a computerized math curriculum or audiobooks.

We have been using it for 5+ years and really love it, however I know that the website was overwhelming to me at first, so I wanted to give a quick explanation of how our family uses it to plan our year.

1. The 'grade levels' of Ambleside are written as 'Year 1', 'Year 2' etc. Year 1 is great for 6-7 year olds. People jumping in at an older grade sometimes go down a 'year' or two, that's OK because you don't need to do all 12 years to be able to graduate or be college ready. My kids are in Year 1, 3, and 6. I go to each of those parts of the website (for example, and print off the pdf schedule of the year ( There are 3 'terms' of 12 weeks each, which end up on 6 papers for each kid/grade. These charts contain the specific readings from each book to do in a week (they can be spread or scheduled over the week however it works), as well as a list of other subjects to do daily and weekly. I hole punch these and put them in a separate binder for each kid; I splurge on the nice binders with the flexible rings that can be laid open nicely.

2. Buy a new or used copy, borrow, library, Kindle (lots are free!) or find audiobooks of the listed books. Some books are used over multiple years so are definitely worth buying. I have found our total expenses for books are pretty reasonable. is the first place I look for used books. Library sales or garage sales are another great place to find books from the earlier grades. Living Book Press is another great resource, they reprint older books, and their editions are very nice, often they're even customized for Ambleside Online by putting the stories in the order of the AO schedule.

3. Then I prepare things that I need for other subjects.
  • Each kid gets a math curriculum. We're currently using Miquon Math workbooks and Khan Academy (online and free), though I've also used online Beast Academy in the past, which is online but not free.
  • For copywork, we just use notebooks for the older kids, Avery is using Handwriting without Tears 'Letters and Numbers for Me' book. 
  • Reading/Phonics for Y1 we've used 'Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons' as well as, which is a free online resource with printable booklets.
  • For Picture/Artist Study I usually download 3 packets (1 per term of the school year) from A Humble Place blog and get them printed at Office Depot. You can also purchase packets already printed from Simply Charlotte Mason or Riverbend Press. Ambleside provides a list or rotation of who to study each term: but we have made substitutions based on what is available, aka borrowing ones from friends that they've used in the past. I just keep a list on my computer of who we have studied which year so I can look back on it later.
  • We learn a folk song and a hymn for each month. Sometimes we follow the ones suggested by Ambleside ( and sometimes we make substitutions.
4. I buy normal school supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, erasers, highlighters. I also make sure everyone has a nice watercolor set for nature study and/or colored pencils or watercolor colored pencils, and a good notebook for nature study, we like the Canson Mix Media spiral bound books. Sticky Post-it flags are my other must-have school supply, sometimes I use them for bookmarks (carefully, do not use on fragile paper or very special books).

If you are thinking of doing Ambleside Online and this looks overwhelming, you do NOT have to start doing all those things at once. We usually don't. You could start with just half a week's readings spread over one week, daily math, and learning a folk song. Then the next week you could do the other half of the readings and you could add in your copywork every day. Then the next week you could add in a picture study (takes 10 minutes once you're prepped with either printed or computer art to look at). That gives you time to figure out the lingo and your kids time to adjust. But hopefully I'll cover more of the how-to-do-it in a later post!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sugarless Snow Ice Cream

We don't normally get a lot of snow, so when we do, it is a celebration. Some of the rules get stretched (starting school at 8:30 for example, is suddenly flexible).

There is only so much we can break the 'limited sugar' rule (especially with the snow going on for days!), so this recipe has allowed us to party with snow ice cream several times a day without eating tons of sugar. Until we ran out of milk.

1 heaping cup snow
1/2 cup whole milk
3-5 drops vanilla stevia

Mix and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Creamy Coconut Milk

My newest experiment in the kitchen is making coconut milk. I used the recipe from the Wellness Mama blog, and coconut I ordered from Azure Standard. I used a loosely woven kitchen towel to strain out the pulp. It drips through pretty slowly so some squeezing with my hands or pressing with a spoon was needed. The recipe makes a quart.

Don't throw away the pulp, it can be eaten or used in baking! I have been making it into makeshift muffins with mini chocolate chips, but there's no official recipe to post yet.

The homemade coconut milk was very sweet and great for making hot chocolate. 

The cream will rise to the top, and in the fridge it hardens to a solid. The cream can be eaten by the spoonful, melted back into the coconut milk if you heat it when you use it, or just chopped into small pieces that will end up in your glass of milk or bowl of cereal.

A 32 oz. carton of So Delicious brand coconut milk costs a little over $2 at Walmart or Winco, so I estimate that homemade costs less than half of purchasing, plus you get the leftover pulp to use.