Born to Explore!   The Other Side of ADD

What is ADD?
Discussion Board

About BTE

stars-5-0.gif (240 bytes)

Books I recommend:


The Edison Trait: Saving the Spirit of Your Nonconforming Child (Dynamos, Discoverers and Dreamers)


BEYOND.GIF (8227 bytes)

Beyond ADD: Hunting for Reasons in the Past & the Present by Thom Hartmann


The Minds of Boys:
Saving our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life

The ADD Nutrition Solution

More   books...



Alternatives in Education

The U.S. school system was modeled after German schools created in the 1800's for the express purpose of producing obedient soldiers and factory workers (This is true!  I've read it in many different good sources). The German system was extremely successful in achieving its goal in Germany and was therefore copied by other countries, including the U.S.   The great American tycoons and Robber Barons were big supporters of the German system in America since they wanted literate but obedient factory workers.  Our schools are operated pretty much the same way today in the 1990's as they were back when Thomas Edison was kicked out for being "addled." Creativity and independent thought and action were discouraged because such traits were problematic in a war or a factory.  Today these traits interfere with our cookie cutter, mass production educational system; a bureaucratic system which is unable to change itself.

"Somewhere between the ages of eleven and fifteen, the average child begins to suffer from an atrophy, the paralysis of curiosity and the suspension of the power to observe.  The trouble I should judge to lie with the schools." - Thomas Edison.

Obviously the brightest and most creative kids are going to have the biggest problem dealing with this restrictive environment.   I've had many people tell me they give their child Ritalin "only when they're in school" to prevent behavioral problems.  It would seem in those cases that the school is the real problem.  Traditional schools emphasize rote memorization and drill above everything else. A child's natural curiosity and willingness to learn are not harnessed, rather, they are ignored in order to make time for more drills.  Students take a passive role in learning, and class sizes are large and impersonal. The trend lately has been for more assigned homework and less time in recess or learning the arts.   In general, teaching and rules are the focus rather than real learning by the student. Creative and gifted kids often have independent and fickle learning styles which are completely incompatible with this traditional approach. And when they act out or space out, the ADD label is applied.

Why do parents settle for this?  I suspect one reason is that they don't know there are alternatives. Good alternatives, often inexpensive or even free.  My purpose for this page is to introduce my readers to these alternatives and to provide resources for additional information.

The Evergreen Sudbury School in Maine is an example of a democratic-style or "free" school in which creative and gifted kids often thrive.  Here's an excerpt from their web page:

What kinds of kids do well at Evergreen?

  • Bright, highly motivated kids who want to surge ahead and challenge themselves.
  • Kids with unique learning styles who want to move at their own pace.
  • Kids who are "different" in some way and want an atmosphere of tolerance and friendliness.
  • Social kids who want to be part of a democratic community - one person, one vote.
  • Little kids who are passionately engaged in exploring and creating.
  • High-energy, restless kids who want to be active.
  • Frustrated kids who are sick of schooling.
  • Shy, sensitive kids who want to pursue their own interests.
  • Self-directed kids who are ready for responsibility.

If you are the parent of an ADD or creative child, please don't underestimate how traumatic school can be for these kids. Large public school also foster large exclusionary social groups that can become predatory towards our more creative kids who tend to lack in social skills. Some ADD children actually develop school phobias so severe they experience panic attacks. It is a major source of anxiety, depression and even rage. Many adults have told me that school was the worst time of their entire life, and that things became much easier once they graduated and could make their own choices.  I believe it is therefore critical to get these kids out of large, rigid, dull, repetitive schools, and that includes most public schools and even many private schools.

Nearly all of the information on this page comes from a 1997 book called "The Parents' Guide to Alternatives in Education" by Ronald E. Koetzsch Ph.D.  Some of the school types listed are found not only in the U.S. but around the world.  Certain schools are expensive money making ventures, while others are a bargain and operated at cost by people with a deep conviction that schools should be better.  The annual tuition at one well-known "Free" school I called was only in the $3000 to $4000 range.  Some schools also have aid packages for those who cannot afford to pay.  Finally, some public schools have adopted alternative curricula, such as Essential Schools and those using the Foxfire approach.  These schools are free.

I have not included religious schools here because for most ADD children because they vary so much.  For some ADDers the smaller class size and discipline may be helpful.  On the other hand, such schools may be quite intolerant, judgemental and rigid.

Not all ADD children are the same, so what works for one child may not work for another. I cannot stress enough that every situation and child is unique.  For example, a bright, learning-oriented kid who requires independence may fluorish in a "free school."  Another child labeled ADD might find the environment in a free school far too chaotic.  There are no simple answers.  Parents should learn as much as they can about the alternatives and then use their judgement.

On This Page:
Self Schooling for Teenagers
Hunter School
Free (or Democratic) Schools
Essential Schools
Multiple Intelligence Education
Progressive Schools
Waldorf Education
Montessori Schools
The International Baccalaureate
Additional Resources and Contacts

Homeschooling is highly recommended for kids classified as ADHD!
I began homeschooling my son Ryan in 2000 when he would otherwise go into the 2nd grade.  My experience so far has been tremendous, and Ryan immediately began doing work on a 3rd grade level.  I was surprised to find the school year much less stressful and far more family-oriented since I have been homeschooling.  It feels like we are living the life we were meant to live, where before it felt like the school bureaucracy was intruding into every facet of our lives.  No more frantic morning rush or battles to get homework done.  No more teachers telling me exactly when and what to read to my son, or when to teach him to tie his shoes, or how often he should make his bed and clean his room (yes, these were all homework assignments in first grade).  No more of Ryan sitting around (wiggling around?) waiting for all the other students to catch up, long rides on the school bus, or complaining about being bored at school. Now he sets his own pace and spends most of his day playing like a 7 year old boy should.

I would advise against homeschooling if the stay-at-home parent and the child normally have trouble getting along.  Homeschooling would probably just make things worse.  However, if you love your child just the way he or she is, but school has become a problem, homeschooling is the perfect solution.  

Some homeschoolers of ADD/gifted children opt for a method called "unschooling."  This works particularly well for bright, independent kids who learn naturally on their own. In general, the student is allowed to set their own ciricullum and pace.  I am using many unschooling ideas, although I do require Ryan to work on certain subjects that I do not think he would naturally learn out of curiosity, like spelling and math facts.  Kids who are not so interested in learning things like math and reading may require a more traditional approach, using schedules and lessons.                                                                                                             Some kids may miss the social atmosphere of the public school, or want to be in a "normal" environment.    Depending on where you live, there may be many opportunities for your child to socialize.  I was able to sign Ryan up for Youth Soccer, classes at our local Community Center, swimming lessons, and the Boys and Girls Club.  He also made friends with local homeschoolers, in addition to his old friends from the public school.  All in all, he is socializing more than his friends who attend public and private schools.

ADHD kids with social difficulties may benefit from homeschooling.  Studies have shown that homeschooled children behave better around other children, significantly better.  Social contact is more often in controlled situations with a small number of children, rather than in near chaos on the school bus, recess or the lunch room.  When children are placed in large groups, like at most schools, they begin to adopt crowd or group behavior, establishing a pecking order just like in the story "Lord of the Flies."  This is just what ADHD kids DO NOT need!

There are many resources on the internet for homeschooling, and many support groups as well, so I'm not going to repeat their work. The best one I've found is at, which even lists all the state requirements in the U.S. If you're interested in more info, check out Jan's Positively ADD: Parenting and Unschooling.   Jan is Unschooling an active boy and she has many links on homeschooling.  Her approach is very similar to mine. Another website is offered by Carol, who is homeschooling an ADHD child using a very different approach than Jan, and who has a lot of tips for parents.

Self Schooling for Teenagers
Grace Llewellyn has written two books on this subject -- "The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Education" and "Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School."  

"Relax and let go of your anxieties about status -- your own and your child's -- and about your child's academic and vocational future.  The list of famous and successful people who did not complete a regular high-school program is long and impressive.  It includes Margaret Meade, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and Pearl Buck.  And the list of accomplished and famous people who went to school but wish they hadn't also is long and impressive, and includes Winston Churchill, Woody Allen, and Claude Monet.  It is not the end of the world if your child does not go to high school." - Grace Llewellyn

In the age of computers and the Internet it is easier for teenagers to continue their education out of the classroom.  Self schooling ( a version of homeschooling) is ideal for teenagers who are fed up with school and are at the brink of dropping out.  Such children CAN get into great colleges, by the way.

College Instead of High School
Simon's Rock College is for high school kids who are bored and ready for "real" school. It's a real college, and reportedly a pretty good one, so it's like these kids get to just skip the last year or two of high school and go straight to college.  The catch: To get in the student must be getting good grade in high school, so the underachieving gifted high school kids won't be able to go there. 

Hunter School
This is a new boarding school for ADHD boys located in Vermont.  Any fan of Thom Hartmann will know exactly what the school's slant is: ADDers are Hunters in a Farmer's world.  Here's their website.

Free or "Democratic" Schools
The Free School movement goes back to an experimental school called Summerhill founded in 1921 in England.  These school utilize a radical "unschooling" approach.  An example is Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Mass, opened in the 1960's, of which there are now many copies  scattered throughout the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

"The Sudbury Valley School is a place where children are free.  Their natural curiosity is the starting point for everything that happens at the school. Here, students initiate all their own activities.  The staff, the plant, the equipment are there to answer their needs.   Learning takes place in formal and informal settings, in large and small groups, or individually. All ages are free to mix at all times. The dynamics among students of different ages, helping each other learn about everything from human relations to math, is one of the greatest strengths of the school."

I believe many ADD children would do very well in this environment.  I asked about ADD in on a SVS mailgroup and got the following comment: "If a child is free to come and go whereever, whenever and doesn't have to pay attention to stuff he's not interested in, how could anyone say he has an attention problem?  The school environment creates these 'disabilities.' I'm totally convinced of this.  It's very sick and sad. We are killing generations of creativity and curiousity."  Several other mailgroup members agreed, leading me to believe that the ADD child's differences are far less likely to be perceived as negatives in this type of school.

This style of school may be too chaotic for some children, especially those who show no interest in learning basic subjects.  The creative/gifted child who, for example, enjoys doing higher level math for the fun of it but gets poor grades in school out of boredom is a good candidate for this type of school.

There  is a list of other Sudbury style schools as well as a discussion group at the Sudbury Valley School Website.

For more information:

The Sudbury Valley School Press
2 Winch Street
Framingham, MA 01701  
(508) 877-3030
And visit their website.

Essential Schools
These schools are the product of a reform movement within the public schools in the U.S. It was spawned in the early 1980's when Theodore Sizer, a former dean of Harvard's School of Education, directed a study of American high schools.  The typical school was found to be one in which there are as many as 5,000 students and 300 teachers, and teachers have little freedom in what or how they teach.  The curriculum is mandated by the state, and students memorize facts for standardized tests.  Many students lack motivation and are only "serving time" until they graduate.  There is a powerful bureaucracy and many special interest groups (teacher's unions, textbook publishers, vendors) who all have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. These observations were published in "Horace's Compromise," in which Sizer also proposed reform. 

Sizer then founded the Coalition of Essential Schools, an association of schools committed to reform. Some differences from mainstream schools:

  • Smaller classroom sizes.
  • Students are to be active learners rather than passive recipients of teacher lectures.
  • Long-term, in-depth projects are preferred.
  • Grouping is multi-aged and there is no tracking.
  • Cooperative and collaborative learning is emphasized.
  • Students are assessed on the basis of a portfolio of their work.
  • Thinking, evaluation and synthesis is favored over memorization.
  • The school should be democratic when possible.

As of 1995 there were 220 member schools, 263 planning to implement it, and 469  schools looking into the program.

For further information:

Coalition of Essential Schools (link broken)
1814 Franklin St. Suite 700
Oakland, CA 94612

The Foxfire approach to education started in 1966 when Elliot Wigginton decided to have his students create a magazine about Appalachian culture and history.  His goal was to use experiential, student-initiated learning in order to motivate his students.   "Foxfire" magazine was read around the nation, and the students who wrote it learned not only writing skills, but gained an in-depth knowledge about their local culture in the process.

The goal of the Foxfire method is for students to become thoughtful participants in their education, while developing independence, responsible behavior, and wisdom.  Some elements of the approach:

  • There is an audience for student work (besides the teacher)
  • Peer teaching, small group work and teamwork are stressed
  • Students learn actively, not passively
  • The teacher is not a boss, but a guide
  • Work flows from student desire and choice
  • Aesthetic experiences are valued
  • Time is set aside for reflection

The Foxfire Institute, through grants and by using money from the sale of its magazine, has worked to spread the Foxfire method throughout America.  This is done primarily by training teachers, of which there are now over 4,000 trained.  Many of these teachers use the Foxfire Method in standard public schools.  Others teach in schools which have converted over the Foxfire method. For more information:

Hilton Smith, Executive Director
P.O. Box 541
Mountain City , GA 30562


Multiple Intelligence Education
In 1983 Howard Gardner wrote a popular book called "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence."  In it, Gardner refuted the concept of a singular type of intelligence (IQ) and replaced it with seven types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Most teaching in schools focuses on linguistic and logical-mathematical skills, and almost ignores the remaining intelligences.   Children with natural spatial or musical talents but lacking in the more traditional intelligences are often denied a chance to develop their talents, and wind up feeling inferior because they are always struggling in school.

Some schools have begun to actively use a Multiple Intelligence (MI) approach to teaching.  These schools are naturally more experiential and hands-on than traditional schools.  Here is an example of a fifth grade class studying westward expansion of the U.S. in the 1800s and one of their lists of activities:

  • Math-Logical: measure distances; work with maps
  • Musical: study and play Indian music; make instruments
  • Spatial: make pictures of Indians; make models of wagons
  • Linguistics: read Indian tales; have a debate over land seizure: write a story about Indians
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: do an Indian rain dance; have a wagon race
  • Intrapersonal: keep a journal of myself as an Indian during this time
  • Interpersonal: go on a hike together; have a powwow
"This is a wonderful approach to learning.   Each child is stimulated and challenged in a variety of ways. And each has the opportunity to learn and to excel in his or her own way.  A child who is not so good at reading or math may shine in the music or in the handwork.  It's very good for their self-image and sense of worth. Besides, each child, regardless of their learning style, seems to grasp the material better if they have experienced it in a number of ways." - Cherylann Parker, a fifth grade MI teacher.

For a list of public and private schools using this approach, send your request and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

Project Zero
Harvard Graduate School of Education
321 Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138

Progressive Schools
Clearly, most of the schools listed on this page are progressive in a generic or descriptive sense, and may identify themselves as such.  This section has to do with other schools not falling into one of the described categories which follow a particular progressive ideology. "Progressive" schools got their start in the 1920s and were originally formed in response to ideas articulated by John Dewey.   There have been several movements in the public school system towards progressive ideas, and an equal number of reactionary back-lashes.  We are currently in a backlash phase as an increasing number of public schools are going so far as to eliminate recess for first graders and increasing the amount of homework young children bring home.  Many progressive programs therefore are not labeled "progressive" due to this reactionary climate.

Key components of Progressive schools and programs are:

  • Students play a significant role in determining the cirriculum
  • Learning is self-directed and experiential
  • Research and hands-on learning is favored over memorization
  • The teacher is a guide rather than an encyclopedia of information
  • Depth rather than breadth is emphasized
  • Democracy is used when possible (e.g., making rules)
  • There are fewer or no written tests and grades
  • A noncompetitive atmosphere is encouraged.
  • Arts, crafts, music and drama are important
  • Development of curiosity and critical thinking skills are stressed

The Common School in Amherst, Massachusetts is small private school which has operated as a Progressive school since 1967.  There are 120 children ranging from ages four to twelve.

"While the academic work seems rigorous and challenging, the school has a relaxed, noncompetitive atmosphere.  There are no tests at the Common School and no report cards with grades.  Parents receive regular narrative reports on their child and have a conference with the teacher twice a year.   Students call teachers by their first name.  The 'hub' of the school is a cozy, woodpaneled library where students come to read, curled up on oversized pillows strewn on the floor. They are encouraged to read books of their own choosing and to keep a reader's log." - Ronald E. Koetzsch, Ph.D.

Green Acres School in Rockville, Maryland is another example of a progressive school.

For more information:

Institute for Democracy in Education (IDE)
313 McCracken Hall
College of Education
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45710

Waldorf Education
In 1919  the Free Waldorf School opened in Germany as a radical alternative to the German school system.  Its purpose was to create free, creative, independent, moral, and happy human beings rather than good soldiers and factory workers (remember that the current public schools in the U.S. are modeled after the old German schools).   Waldorf Schools quickly sprung up around Europe and in 1928 the first American school was opened.  Today there are 600 Waldorf schools worldwide, 140 of them in the United States.  Most are private schools.

The system of education was designed by Rudolf Steiner, a well-known spiritual intellectual in Europe at the time.  Steiner believed that there are three major functions in life: willing, feeling, and thinking. Up to age 7, children are beings of will and movement.  They are exploratory and constantly in motion.   From ages 7 to 14, children are beings of feeling, aesthetic sensitivity, imagination, and artistic creativity.   Starting at age 14, they begin to think abstractly, analyze, conceptualize and become highly critical.  Waldorf schools are designed for children to learn in a way which is consistent with these three stages.

In Elementary schools, there is a primary teacher who follows the children up through the grades.  Art, music, handwork and crafts are important.  Steiner believed that when children make crafts or sing a song, their brains and nervous system are enhanced so that future learning is easier.    Modern brain research tends to affirm this theory.  Waldorf schools do not pressure children to learn to read or master other academic skills in the early grades.  Imagination is considered more important. 

Most Waldorf schools do not yet have a high school, although some are planning one.  The high school is similar to other small private schools, with some exceptions.  Steiner believed that teenagers were in a search for meaning and essentially idealistic. Therefore, the cirriculum stresses themes such as the "unity and harmony of nature; the dignity of the human being; the accomplishments and the interrelatedness of human culture; and the potential of the human being to make a difference in the world."  Arts and crafts are still considered to be important.   Analysis and critical thinking skills are the primary focus in highly school, however.

The Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts is an example of such a school. For further information on Waldorf Schools in North America:

The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
3911 Bannister Road
Fair Oaks, CA 95628

The International Baccalaureate
I've had one person tell me that they were diagnosed with ADD and doing poorly in school, but when they were put into a Baccalaureate programs they suddenly excelled.  This program may be especially good for those kids who are gifted but without serious learning disabilities. It is not recommended for all ADD children.

This is a program for students "who want more rigor, more academic challenge, more material to master, and more skill development.  They are tired of the smorgasbord of fluff courses designed to attract students rather than to challenge them as learners; they are tired of inflated grades; and they are tired of an environment  in which to be smart is to risk being socially ostracized.  They want to be challenged and measured."  -Ronald E. Koetzsch, Ph.D.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a liberal arts program in which high school students work at the college level for two years.  There are difficult exams which must be passed.  At the end of the program, the student receives a diploma which is recognized around the world as a measure of high achievement in high school.  There are about 180 schools in the U.S., mostly public, which have an IB program. For more information:

International Baccalaureate North America (IBNA)
200 Madison Avenue, Suite 2007
New York, NY 10016

Montessori Schools
There are several thousand Montessori schools in the United States, mostly private not-for-profit. Although the majority are for preschool or kindergarten children, others go up to the sixth grade. The Montessori movement started in the early 1900's by Maria Montessori, who founded a school in Rome for special needs and disadvantaged children.  Using her methods, these children learned rapidly.  By the age of five they could read, write and had learned the basics of arithmetic. The concept caught on quickly and spread around the world.

Montessori believed that young children are primarily focused on their senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, and must be able to use these senses in order to learn.   Montessori schools take advantage of this accordingly.

There are two types of Montessori Schools: those affiliated with the American Montessori Institute (AMI) and those in line with the American Montessori Society (AMS).  The former follows the ideology of Maria Montessori very closely, while the latter is willing to adapt the Montessori method to American culture and values.  For example, AMI-affiliated schools do not have toys, or value creative, spontaneous play, while AMS-affiliated schools often do.

"Yet even in the elementary grades, knowledge is presented in tangible form through time lines, scientific exhibits, and other objects and displays that are part of the classroom environment.  There is no required work, but the teacher helps each child to plan and record his or her learning activities. Art is integrated into the daily curriculum and music plays an important role.   In many Montessori elementary schools the students present a play, a musical, or an opera each year."

For further information:

American Montessori Society (AMS)
281 Park Avenue South, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010

Association Montessori Internationale - USA (AMI-USA)
170 West Schofield Road
Rochester, NY 14617

Additional Resources and Contacts:

1. The Parents' Guide to Alternatives in Education by Ronald E. Koetzsch Ph.D., 1997.  Most of the information on this site came from this book. 

2. National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools (NCACS)
    P.O. Box 15036
    Santa Fe, NM 87506
    (505) 474-4312

3. Peterson's Annual Guide to Independent Schools (609) 243-9111

4. Private Independent Schools: Bunting & Lyons (203) 269-3333

5. The Educational Register: Vincent Curtis, publisher (617) 536-0100

6. The Handbook of Private Schools: Porter Sargent Publishers (617) 523-1670


All BTE pages were written by Teresa Gallagher unless otherwise noted and may be photocopied (but not reprinted) without permission.  BTE Web Design now creates websites for small businesses. Perhap "BTE" really means "Born to Entrepreneur..."