“Sit down please”. “No, put that down and look here”. “Are you listening?” “Did you hear what I just said?” “You’re not paying attention.” “Don’t play with that while we’re doing school”. “I need you to focus”. Sound like things that are ever said in your homeschool? Young children, as well as many special needs children, often struggle with keeping attention and focus during academics. Part 1 looked at some simple ways to help keep students engaged and interested in school work. Here are some additional tips for how you can help your child to stay on track and maintain his/her focus:
- Provide frequent breaks. Children who have trouble focusing can often pay better attention if they get breaks in between times of intense concentration or focus. This is especially effective if they follow a routine or schedule so that they know when the breaks will occur. A brief snack time, bathroom break, or even just a time of running around the house 3 times can do wonders to give kids the intellectual rest they need to come back and reengage.
- Play white noise or music. Many children, particularly those who have ADHD, are able to concentrate more effectively when there is another type of stimulus in their environment. Swedish researchers, for example, found that white noise in the background improved the memory for those students who were rated as inattentive by their teachers. Experiment with playing some soothing music in the background, and see if this helps your child focus.
- Make it fun. Intersperse some games or fun activities into book work. Put math facts on flash cards and place them face down on a tic tac toe board; children choose the card from the space where they wish to put their “X” or their “O, and get to put their mark on the board if they get the answer correct to the math fact. Or make a beanbag “board” on a large piece of paper with items written on 4 quadrants: cracker, raisin, apple, or M&M. Have children throw the beanbag on to the board. Then read out a fact they need to review; if the child gets the answer correct, he/she gets whichever item his beanbag landed on. Including some games into learning can make all the difference in not only keeping children engaged, but helping them love “doing school”!
- Break down assignments. Young children often struggle to stay focused when they face a large or complicated task, and can shut down due to feeling overwhelmed. Point to each problem as the child moves through the assignment in order to show the child where to work next. Simply by helping the student tackle a task one piece at a time, the child will often be more successful at understanding it, paying attention, and completing the assignment appropriately.
- Provide immediate feedback. This tip works well in conjunction with breaking down assignments into small parts; after each piece or problem the child completes, provide immediate feedback to him or her. This gives the student the input he/she needs to continue paying attention and to feel successful. It also provides the parent the opportunity to catch mistakes or things the child does not understand before he/she expends energy completing many parts of the assignment incorrectly, which saves the student’s attention span for other tasks. Finally, immediate feedback is a great way to provide positive attention to the child, which motivates him or her to stay engaged and learn more!
- Incorporate doing while listening. For children who struggle to pay attention, activity is often necessary for them to focus well. As mentioned in Part 1, have your child draw a picture of the information you read to him about History. Or give the student some play dough as you introduce a new concept. Even reading a story while a child plays in the sandbox, or climbs a tree, can improve his or her engagement and attention. Think "hands-on" to increase your child’s focus.
- Give your children plenty of exercise. This is a critical component to how well children are able to focus; consider this 2010 study presented at the American Heart Association’s Conference about the impact of physical fitness on academic performance. Many children cannot concentrate and pay attention simply because they have too much energy! This is especially an issue during the winter months, when kids tend to be inside more and less active. Schedule time each day for your child to run around outside, jump on a trampoline, ride bicycles, or swim at the local gym pool (one of the best forms of exercise for kids!). There is a noticeable decrease in my own daughter’s ability to engage in her academic work if we miss more than two days in a row of swimming at the pool.