Everyone struggles to focus at some point. At the most recent back-to-school night, as I shuttled from 9th grade classroom to classroom, I was reminded of how much listening a student does in any given day. Because I’ve heard so many “back-to-school” speeches, I noticed that I was zoning out after the first few minutes, and suddenly I had renewed empathy for anyone diagnosed with ADHD.
While no one helpful hint is a cure-all or expected to work every time, it helps to have a ready arsenal of creative ideas to initiate or regain a child’s focus. Take a look and see what works for your student(s):
1. Use focusing techniques for an entire class. From time to time, all children need help paying attention. It could be a child had a rough morning, is excited about a birthday, is wearing painful shoes, or thinks the girl in the fourth row is cute. Using focusing hints for your entire class will benefit everyone. When our son was in the fourth grade, his teacher didn’t want to single him out with his accommodations, so she used them with the entire class. As a result, the other children learned to focus better, gained some organizational life skills, and got to use those cool study carrels.
2. Stop Talking! To keep kids from zoning out through verbal reminders to pay attention, flash the lights or ring a bell. This advice seems contradictory. Won’t you distract them? At a zoning out point, an ADHD child needs to be distracted back to reality and the task at hand.
3. Allow a child to stand up to do seat work. He may be fidgeting in an attempt to pay attention. When attention starts to wander, give him the option of pushing his chair away and standing up to do the rest of the work. Our youngest son stood to do his work for years – at home and at school. His teachers learned early on that he was much more productive – and still – when he was standing. Make sure that the desk or table is high enough that she can lean over it comfortably. Get a desk that has an adjustable height, or raise the desk with platforms that go under each leg.
4. Allow chewing gum. For some children, chewing gum helps them focus and not daydream. (Special thanks to Julie for sharing this one one!)
5. In the classroom, place a child where distractions are kept to a minimum. Each classroom has ‘hot spots’ – near the door, pencil sharpener, trash can, or next to the kid who talks incessantly. (That would be our son – sorry!) Help a child focus by moving them away from these areas. This might not always be at the front of the room. Sometimes kids do best at the back of the room with their back to the class. Just make sure that the child isn’t made to feel ashamed for being there.
6. Color code assignments. Write assignments on the board in different or alternating colors – especially homework. Put all math in green, reading in red, science in purple, social science in black, and so forth. Our son used to come home with the page numbers for reading written in the math section. When his teacher began using alternating colors, he was better able to copy.
If teachers use colors consistently, parents can have kids use the same color notebook/folders for each subject.
7. Use a child’s name. Everyone pays attention when their name is called. When a student begins to drift, use their name in your lesson. “Jamie, did you know that George Washington really didn’t have wooden false teeth?” “Amos, watch me drop the zero on this problem.” Notice that these aren’t reprimands.
8. Give a talking break. After fifteen minutes of study, let the kids talk to their neighbor for two minutes. Set a timer, and when it ‘dings’ that the two minutes are up, insist that the kids turn their talking off like you’ve flipped a switch.
9. Reward kids for staying on task. For children who have trouble staying on task, put a mark after every ten problems. As they finish the set of ten, have them visit the teacher’s desk and check in. Give a sticker – or just a big dot – for each set of ten completed. This encourages focus, but also helps the teacher to know when a student isn’t keeping up – whether for attention problems or because he is struggling.
The stickers or dots can be sent home and used as homework passes – each reward means one less problem for the child to do – in that subject. For example, if he has ten math questions, but earns five stickers in class, he only has five problems to do.
10. Give a stretch break. If kids look restless, ask them to stand up and stretch. (I might just do the same right now – will you join me?!)
Variety is the spice of life and keeps the classroom interesting. A colorful timer may work this week, and providing a special reading nook may be the breakthrough you need next week. Persevere! And tell us about your successes.
Don’t forget that we need your hints! What hints to you have to help your child focus?
Get more hints in Focus, Pocus – 100 Ways to Help Your Child Pay Attention.