Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tip of the Day -- Teaching the Distractible Child

Today's tip is for a commenter on my blog, who asked for tips on how to teach the easily distracted child.  You know, the child who can make a single page of work last for HOURS.  The children who can turn their pencils into soldiers and dolls, or airplanes and trucks, and be distracted by anything, even their own hair.


I can totally relate to this problem, because I have dealt with it in my own children!  It's especially problematic in subjects they dislike, and it's incredibly frustrating. 

Here are several different things I've tried:

  • Set a timer for half an hour (or less) and urge them to race the timer.

  • Set a timer and assure them they only have to do as much work as they can complete in that time, if they're staying focused and working at it.

  • Stay by them.  Remind, redirect, shush the child as needed.  Calmly.  Carol Barnier (links to follow) says she just decided that since her son couldn't stay focused on his own, she would help him stay focused.  She decided not to get angry about it, but to do it very matter-of-factly as part of her job.

  • Shorten the lessons.  In our math books, we had soooooo many problems, that I would just cross half of them out and tell my daughter to do the rest.  It really helped.  She wasn't so overwhelmed with the amount of them, and it took less time so she began to learn to focus better.

  • Separate the children so they don't distract each other.  (Although that won't work with some kids, since even their pencil can become a distraction.  This, I understand!)

  • Find a different time and place for your distractible child to do his work, if it works better for him.

  • Set a timer, and put the workbook away when it goes off.  Finish the rest later, during free time, or even the next day.  For our family, we chose to go at our child's pace, and not worry about how many lessons we completed.

  • Eliminate distractions in the house.

  1. Use a trifold project display to set  up in front of the child to block out visual stimuli from around him.

  2. Have him wear a baseball cap to block out upwards visual stimuli.

  3. Don't run noisy appliances during school time.

  4. Put headphones on him playing medium music ... not lively enough to distract him, but not calm enough to put him to sleep, either.  Maybe some instrumental music, or classical music.

  5. Play classical music in the house itself to help block out other noises.

  6. Have some form of "white noise" in the room, like a fan blowing, to help block out other distractions.

  7. Discourage talking amongst the other children.

You can't get the house totally quiet in a homeschool setting (or a school setting).  It just isn't going to happen, especially if you have young non-school age children.  Our children just have to learn that.  I do encourage everyone to be respectful of others by trying to be quiet.  But the distracted child also has to learn to develop their own coping focus skills, and not expect everyone to cater to them.

I can encourage you that they do learn to focus.  My 11 yo daughter was the worst at this with her math books.  It was terrible.  She could make it take all day.  We tried many of the above ideas, and they often helped at first, but not for long.  For awhile, she did her math alone in her bedroom, but that had its own distractions, too.  Just keep trying new things.  Don't give up.

With time and maturity, she has mostly outgrown that.  Now, she actually chooses to get up early and rush out to the kitchen to do her math before all the other distractions begin.  She finishes her math fairly quickly, although with too many mistakes that come from not paying close enough attention to detail.  Carol Barnier also has suggestions for that in her book, and it's probably time 11 yo A and I work on that together.

I now have a different child who is dawdling during bookwork.  This is new for her, and it mostly stems from wanting to be playing instead.  For her, I just keep reminding her that she is wasting her own free time.  And if she chooses to sit working all day long, so be it.  WIth her, it is not so much distraction as it is laziness.  I have to watch for her escaping, and send her back to her work.

I highly recommend Carol Barnier's books and websites.  She is a gifted speaker and writer, who has dealt with two ADHD children, and her own distractibility, too. 

Teaching Your Highly Distractible Child
Carol Barnier's Sizzle-Bop Website and Email List
Carol's Open Gifts Website

April E. (ElCloud Homeschool) is a Homeschool Mom of 6.  She has homeschooled for over 7 years, and enjoys sharing the things she's learned in her homeschool journey with others.


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