I think every family needs a highly distracted kid. Because if you don't have one, you're just missing out on life's best possible training ground for patience. And creativity. And endurance. And...
Well, anyway. Let's just say if you don't have one, you are not getting the full parenting and homeschooling experience. So go borrow someone else's for a while, and give some poor homeschooling mother somewhere her sanity for a couple of hours.
These are the kids to whom you can give a task, only to discover, 15 minutes later, that they went upstairs to do the task and got completely sidetracked by a doodad they saw sitting in the hallway, and are now sitting in the floor making something creative of that doodad. Or the children that, no matter how hard you try to get them to listen, can't seem to focus on what you are saying when you are trying to teach them a Math concept, but can't pull their focus away from a game on the computer, regardless of what you do. Or the students that you leave with an academic task, only to find, once you've returned from helping their siblings, that they have been doodling all over the paper but haven't completed a single problem.
Easily distracted kids can make you want to pull your hair out. And while there are many different ways to work with these students, many of whom are right-brain oriented, sometimes the best remedies are the simplest ones (See previous articles on Right-brain reading strategies and Right-brained Math). As a homeschooling mom of a focus-challenged child, I've tried it all. Shorter periods of work interspersed with breaks, kinesthetic learning-style curricula, hands-on experiments, adapting our work location for each subject, getting plenty of exercise…all of these have been helpful along our journey toward greater focus and attention. But if I had to give my #1 Insider Tip for how to keep kids focused, it would be...
Specifically, music through headphones.
I know, you were hoping for something more exciting. Maybe some special natural focus juice, or a new attention-challenged student neurological advance breakthrough. But, nope. Just music.
Music has a phenomenal affect on organizing a distracted child's mind. These children generally have too much sensory input coming into their brains, and so they are unable to concentrate on any one piece of information; hence the lack of focus. Music actually engages the areas of the brain involved with memory and attention, and can significantly increase kids' ability to focus on the task at hand.
With my own daughter, as soon as she is faced with a task, such as a page of Math problems, on which she needs to concentrate on her own, I have her put on her headphones, and she listens to music of her choice as she does her work. Without the music, she often gets off task, daydreams, doodles, or skips problems. With the music, she is generally able to complete the assignment on her own. In our household, we've found that music through headphones works more effectively than music simply placed in the room, because the concentrated sound blocks out other distractions. It may not be very fancy, but it works. In our household, the iPod is worth its weight in gold!
One of the many blessings of homeschooling is that you can use whatever techniques you need to use to help your child focus. So if your student is distracted, try my insider tip: Have her put on some headphones. It just might revolutionize your life.