Finding ways to homeschool a distracted child can be a challenge, no matter their age! Do you have an easily distracted homeschooler? The truth is that I believe to some extent, all children are easily distractable in childhood and into their teens. Even normal children deal with distraction. Today we’re going to discuss how to deal with normal (sometimes called ‘neurotypical’) kids who are struggling to stay on task.
We have a culture that likes to distract through constant cell phone dings, flashy signs, playthings and the like. Other times, the child doesn’t find the curriculum interesting, or the lessons are too long. Trying to teach something a child finds boring means the child isn’t going to retain information well. Between distractions and a lack of interest in the subject, children have a hard time staying on task to get their work finished.
With normal children, distraction can happen while schooling at home from toys, games, pets, cell phones, and online access. While I have homeschooled my children through high school, I found five strategies that worked well to help us homeschool a distracted child.
For some children, the spinners are a further distraction. But when we tried it with one of my teens as a child, they became more focused and learned the material more readily.
Try this method with your child and see if it helps them become more focused. I expected both my children to be distracted by it. I found that one was distracted. The other child became incredibly focused and could get work done smoothly so long as their hands were busy.
You don’t have to choose a fidget spinner. You can use soft and silent objects such as small dolls and toys, or a fidget cube. If an object is distracting to others in the room, try a different item until you find something that everyone can tolerate.
Another option to help homeschool a distracted child is binaural music. We like this option with our middle and high schoolers.
Binaural music is music that is wordless and structured. It helps encourage your child’s brain waves to go into a pattern of focus. You can also find binaural music that encourages the brain waves towards sleep, rest, relaxation and more.
The benefit to this method is that not only does it push their brainwaves into the right form to focus, it isn’t distracting because they’re not tempted to sing along as there are no words.Binaural music is music that is wordless and structured to help encourage your child's brain waves to go into a pattern of focus. The benefit to this method is that not only does it push their brainwaves into the right form to… Click To Tweet
The drawback to this method is that it requires headphones or earbuds, as the brain waves are encouraged by hearing different sounds in each ear. Of course, you can’t use headphones when you’re actively teaching, only during quiet work.
Work in Peace
The background of the music sounds somewhat like a quiet helicopter hovering in the distance. You need headphones which have good sound quality in specific tone ranges. We prefer SkullCandy as they are the least expensive ones we found with these ranges, and they are latex-free. So no itching, irritated ears.
Not only do my teens use this, I have found it is a fantastic help for me. I do a lot of work on the blog in a short space of time. It really does help me to focus and concentrate and stay so for about two hours before a break.
With an early middle schooler, I found this was effective for about 30-45 minutes. As they mature through high school, this can stretch to as long as two-hour blocks of focused, productive work.
Where to Find the Music
We use the Brain.fm app on my cell phone or tablet. I use a splitter so we can all plug into the same device while working quietly at the dining room table and listen to it in stereo. It’s $6.95 a month or less than $50 for the year.
You can also find binaural music on YouTube for free. Look for tracks marked as ‘focus.’
I’ve found many splitters do not allow for stereo listening, so it’s important to get one that will work correctly for this type of music. We really like this splitter from Amazon, pictured below with our bullet journals. It allows up to six people to listen at once with no loss of quality or volume. And it’s under $10.
We plug in and listen to the wide variety of focus music on Brain.fm. My daughter likes their ‘beach’ tracks, my son likes their ‘cinematic music’ tracks. I like the jazzy music of ‘grooves’ and their ‘study’ tracks. I also use their sleep tracks when taking an afternoon nap due to insomnia issues.
In the app, go to the three bars, pick ‘more music’ and you can choose the style instead of getting a random track when you pick ‘focus’ on the main page.
You remember those tri-fold, wide, stand-up display boards you put your science project on in school? Turns out, they make a good distraction blocker.
When my kids were at the stage they’d do anything to distract or annoy each other, I’d put them on opposite sides of the dining room table. Get them far enough apart they couldn’t touch. Then I’d put one of these boards in the middle of the table. It was a Godsend. They couldn’t see each other or breathe each other’s air.
Block it out
I also found it effective to help a child focus if something else was going on in another part of the room, such as a child at the dining room table working math problems distracted by me helping their sibling with reading on the couch.
The white space gives less visual distraction to the student. Reducing visual noise can help kids stay on task, even into their teens. While it’s hard to create a distraction-free, visual noise-free environment in a home, objects like these can help. And then you can fold them up and put them behind a piece of furniture, out of the way, when you’re done.
Display boards run $3-5 at big box stores.
Shut Down the Internet
Having control of the internet on devices that your children will be working on is critical to homeschool a distracted child. If I don’t lock it down, I eventually find someone watching ‘how to play guitar’ videos on YouTube. While guitar is one of their school subjects, we don’t need it to dominate their work time.
We use Disney Circle for devices that stay home and connect to our home Wifi. If they leave the house or connect to other Wifis or have cellular service, you’ll also need Circle Go.
Which to Pick
Disney Circle is a device that hooks to your home router to control what your kids can look at and when. It can give automatic bedtimes. It can block only certain sites of your choosing during allowed time, and you can set time limits. For example, I can have the devices stop all online activity at 9pm. They don’t wake up until 8am. My kids can never visit YouTube without my permission and it limits them to one hour of Fortnite a day.
Disney Go controls in the same way. It works when the devices connect to other Wifis or cellular service. The Go service is optional and involves a monthly subscription. I pay $4.99 to control up to ten devices while away from home.
This works wonderfully to keep the kids off of Youtube, Minecraft, and Fortnite during school hours because they still need internet access to do their online classes. And it keeps them off of the internet at night and always blocks porn.
On an iPhone, it will not block text messages or phone calls at any time, even when the internet is turned off of the device. If the internet is off, it will block immediate uploading and downloading photos. They will come through once the block lifts at wake up time.
You will still need to monitor usage if you allow your child to keep the phone with them at night. We collect the phones in the mornings and return them after school and chores in the afternoons. This prevents text messaging in the middle of the night.
Change the Environment and Order
No matter the age, if your child is easily distracted, change the environment. This means limiting or eliminating foods such as sugar or artificial colors if they cause attention problems to worsen. Take frequent breaks during school time, and having a predictable routine through the day. And taking their cell phones during school time so they’re not texting when they should be doing math!
If your child finds the curriculum boring, that can discourage their love for learning or even kill it if it becomes a battle. You want to avoid that at all costs for younger children. Children who resist learning will learn less, it will take longer, and they will retain less into adulthood.
If they find a curriculum borning and you hear repeated complaints, change curriculums. We had to go through multiple math curriculums to find something the kids were able to get through without feeling it was boring. That helped them stay motivated to get their work done.
Also, because your child can focus on something they love for an hour doesn’t mean that they can focus on something that doesn’t capture their imagination in their school work for an hour. One hour of multiplication tables is far more draining and less imaginative than an hour of Legos....Because your child can focus on something they love for an hour doesn't mean that they can focus on something that doesn't capture their imagination in their school work for an hour. One hour of multiplication tables is far more… Click To Tweet
When they are younger, you can do math with legos, but that doesn’t work once they’re teens. They have to learn how to focus when young so they can be self-directed learners in middle and high school.
Short Blocks of Time
For subjects that are difficult for my child or do not capture their imagination, keep it to twenty minutes at a time in elementary school. Stretch that to 30 minutes by late elementary. For the subjects that do capture their imagination, allow them to work as long as their focus will hold.
I often finding doing their hardest subject first is the best option. Twenty minutes with a timer that they can’t see worked well for our family. And make sure they’re well-fed, they’ve been to the bathroom and they’re comfortable when you start.
We would finish breakfast and I’d send everyone to the bathroom before we would begin. I would then set the timer on my phone so they could see the expected amount of work time. Then I’d turn the phone screen off and we would sit together while they worked their math. I would help as needed until the timer went off. They would get a ten-minute break, then we would move onto their favorite subject as a reward. We would then repeat it every morning.
As they got older, it became 30 minutes, then forty, and now an hour or more. Now as high schoolers, they can sit beside me or in the same room as me and get it done. But we still do math first every day.
I hope these ideas have helped you, whether you homeschool a distracted child, tween or teen. Now it’s your turn! How do you help your distracted homeschooler focus?
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