While I’m sure homeschool parents aren’t the only people who struggle to get kids to focus, we do run into the problem constantly. When you’re educating your kids, plus parenting them, there’s a lot of opportunity for their attention to wane. Here are 7 unconventional ways to get kids to focus that can drastically change your school (and parenting) experience.
7 Tips to Get Kids to Focus
Let Them Linger
Once kids exhaust their focus on whatever the distraction is, they’ll be more open to digging in. Even if you want to hurry up and finish a task, sometimes the distractions can instill an even more effective lesson than whatever you were hoping to teach.
This comes down to setting aside plenty of time for whatever we want to accomplish. That way, distractions aren’t distractions. They just become part of the routine, whether it’s picking up acorns on the walk to the car or building a tower out of the math manipulatives instead of, you know, really mathing with them.
Of course, depending on who you ask, building towers and counting acorns does, in fact, constitute a math lesson.
Get Them to Use Their Whole Body
Julie Bogart (of Brave Writer fame!) suggests this in her Jot It Down program for younger kids, but she advocates movement for all ages. She says that muscle memory (the act of preparing to jump and then jumping) helps kids remember rote facts. Worth a try, right?
Want more advice from Julie? Check out her book The Brave Learner on Amazon (I have it and have re-read it multiple times!). My favorite piece of advice from her is about keeping an art table available for kids at all times. There’s plenty more inspiration there, too.
When stuff is boring, kids’ minds will begin to wander. I’ve personally had much more success getting my kids’ attention to stick when I act goofy. Of course, it might just be my kids who find me entertaining, but that’s entirely the point.
If you approach “school” with a bland attitude, so will your kids. Keeping them engaged can take a lot of energy, but it’s one of the simplest, yet unconventional, ways to capture their attention.
Take Them Outside
It might seem counterintuitive, but that’s exactly why this tip on how to get kids to focus is so useful. Switching up your kids’ environment while they’re learning can enhance their responsiveness to the topic at hand.
Plus, if you’re exploring something science or nature-related, what better place to be than outdoors?
Research also suggests that nature can enhance our ability to focus. Pretty cool, right? And if you’re like me, you definitely want to take the advice of Dr. Scott the paleontologist (from Dinosaur Train!) and get outside more often anyway. See his book, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, on Amazon!
And if you’re local, field trips can be immensely educational and fun! Need inspiration? Check out 6 Amazing Things to Do with Kids in the Gold Country.
If the dietician in you is shaking her head, forgive me. But kids are seriously motivated by food! You don’t have to dangle Cheetos in their faces for increased attention spans, though.
Even healthy snacks can help tame rumbling tummies and get their attention back to the task at hand. Because aren’t children always hungry? Well, mine are, and I know I can’t focus when I’m feeling snack-y, so they probably can’t either.
You can even use food for their classwork if it fits. Counting grapes or using a sandwich to create fractions are simple real-world examples kids tend to enjoy.
Break It Up
I think this is the most unconventional of all tips on how to get kids to focus because it’s doing the opposite of what we hope to achieve. But I’ve noticed that when my kids’ attention spans completely collapse, there’s not always much point in continuing to drone on.
If your kiddo truly can’t sit tight and absorb the lesson, call it quits for the time being. Break up a larger task into smaller pieces and allow for breaks.
Sure, it feels frustrating to take three times as long to get something done. But if it’s done with a positive attitude in smaller pieces, that’s much more impactful (and enjoyable) than forcing a child who’s bored to carry on.
Give Them the Power
Kids don’t always get to be in charge, and that’s part of why they tend to resist absolute authority. And sure, most of us want to foster independence in our kids. But those of us who don’t fully subscribe to the unschooling mindset do want some structure.
The key is giving up a bit of power in order for a structure compromise. Let your kids know what you want them to achieve, and let them decide how and when.
The effectiveness of this strategy depends on your kids’ ages and maturity levels, of course. But it can be as simple as asking “would you rather read first or work on math together?” or “should we start with writing or science?”
The Bottom Line?
Getting kids to focus can require a whole lot of patience. Plus a bit of creativity. The bottom line is essentially not expecting too much from our kids, whether they’re five or fifteen, and meeting them where they’re at… Even if that’s under the school table with a fidget spinner and a pile of Lego.