Child 1: “Hey mom! Can you get the globe off the wall?”

Me: “Sure thing. Let me finish with brother first. It should be about two minutes.”

Child 2 (AKA brother I happen to be working with): “I’ll get it!” Jumps up and runs off ruining our chances of figuring out any long division for the next twenty minutes. Comes back with the globe and hands it off.

Child 1: “Thanks!” Then, runs off to do whatever it is he needed the globe to do.

Me: “Okay, now where were we? That’s right. How many times does 7 go into 20?”

Child 2: “2. Why did brother need a globe? He doesn’t have any geography today. It’s Wednesday.”

Me: “What do we do with the 2?”

Child 2: “What 2? Globes are cool. I like to see the different countries and how they relate to other places.” Looks out the window. “Hey mom! The leaves are turning yellow.”

Sound familiar? You may or may not have a child with an identified attention struggle but if you have taught anyone for any length of time, you’ve likely spent some time wondering what to do when focus just seems to have gone out the window. Here are 9 tried and true methods for overcoming focusing / distraction issues.

  1. Get outside. I don’t care if it is only 10 degrees out. Okay well, I do but I can put on more layers and make it work. When distraction hits full force, we stop it in it’s tracks by changing our scenery and getting off our rear ends. We’ll go do something active like running or biking or throwing snowballs at one another for 5 or 10 minutes and come back with clear heads.
  2. Chew gum. I’ve seen children who were medicated for ADHD get to stop taking their medication or significantly lower their doses by simply being allowed to chew gum while doing things that require focus. Something about the amount of brain power it takes to keep chewing helps keep our brains focus on the task at hand.
  3. Turn on the music. This is another one that is counter-intuitive. Music helps take up the space in our brain that isn’t being as heavily used for many focusing tasks. Reading, writing and math all require a good bit of the left side of our brains and less from the right side. Adding music in the background gives your right brain something to process at the same time which leaves less room for wandering thoughts and other distractions.
  4. Mark off small chunks of work. Have a math page with 15 problems? Have the child focus on three. Then do 5 jumping jacks. Focus on three more. Run a lap around the outside of the house. Focus on the next 3. Make their bed. By simply making the chunks of work smaller, you’ve provided a chance for success. As your child gains confidence in his or her ability to focus, make the chunks of work a little bit longer.
  5. Write down what’s in your head. Ever been working on something and have something else pop into your brain that you just can’t get rid of? Many of us will allow that thing that is interrupting our thought process to keep bothering us until we finish what we were initially doing. But a good friend of mine gave me an excellent strategy. Simply write it down. She and I were talking about reading our Bibles and I mentioned that for some reason things that need added to the grocery list like to jump into my brain every time I try to spend a good bit of time focused on Bible reading. Her solution, write it down and let it go. Since then, I’ve kept a small notepad near me when I’m reading my Bible, working on Smart Simple Homeschool, or working on a ministry task. The boys have also started keeping a pad of post-it notes near where they are working so that they can write down anything that jumps into their heads. This let’s us let it go and come back to it at a more appropriate time.
  6. Just answer the question. In the scenario at the top, I should have just stopped and let Child 2 figure out why Child 1 needed the globe. It would have taken 15 seconds tops. With the answer to the question, we would have gotten back on track quickly. Instead, I let my agenda get in the way of learning.
  7. Use sensory input objects. Weighted blankets, fidget snakes, clickers, stress balls, etc. can make a world of difference.
  8. Get a snack. Sometimes our lack of focus is our body screaming for nutrients. Get a healthy snack and get back at it. If your child can eat the snack while working, all the better, but even a short break is better than distracted answering [we can’t call it distracted learning because we all know you don’t really learn well when your focus is missing].
  9. Change your position. Sitting isn’t always the best way to think. Try standing, pacing or laying on the floor if the activity allows.
  10. Ask the obvious. Check in with your child. What seems to be pulling your attention away from your work right now? This is especially helpful for those time when the child doesn’t even realize that he or she isn’t focusing on the task ahead. Once the distraction is named, it can be mitigated. Maybe sitting by the window on a beautiful day isn’t the best idea because you wish you could be outside – get up, move school outside. Maybe trying to memorize your Bible verse of the week in the middle of the room where Mom and toddler brother are playing with cars and trucks isn’t working out well – can you move or ask them to move?

Getting rid of distractions and focusing are skills that must be taught. Strategies must be developed and nurtured. Take the time. Help your children know when they are distracted and then discover together what strategies work best for them. This is time well spent. This is becoming the best learner you can be. This is keeping things smart. This is keeping things simple.