Many parents dread the worksheets and assignments which are a daily part of virtual schooling. For kiddos who struggle to tune out distractions and concentrate on the task at hand, sitting down to do school work doesn’t rank high on their list of priorities.
Experts agree: the ability to focus is crucial to achieving goals. How can you create a more calming work atmosphere that will enhance your child’s ability to concentrate and get the job done quickly - without the draining drama?
1. Work in short bursts. Kids get overwhelmed with long worksheets and multiple assignments. Break work into timed chunks. You can typically expect your youngsters to focus on a challenging task for one minute for each year of their age. That means a six-year-old should be given a two- or three-minute break every six minutes.
“Expecting 30 minutes of homework out of a first- grader isn’t realistic without breaks,” says Rachel Rudman, a pediatric occupational therapist.
The timed approach made a big difference for Meira Mednick’s daughter. “Previously, she would be discouraged even before picking up a pencil. By having a timed environment, she knew she could tackle one interval at a time,” says Mednick, whose daughter is now an honors student.
2. Create smart brain breaks. During the timed breaks, engage your child in short activities that help them reorganize and refocus their brain, like jumping jacks, playing with building bricks or play doh, or snacking on crunchy carrots or pretzel rods, or something chewy, such as fruit leather. Blowing up a balloon can also help ease frustrations. “Blowing forces the child to take deep breaths, which increases relaxation and focus,” says Rudman.
Avoid electronics, which can be harder to pull a child away from.
3. Strike a pose. Yoga stretches and breathing exercises can calm and re-energize a tired body. Balancing poses like bird or airplane and a full-body twist combines breathing and concentrated stretching movements. “Balancing poses require a level of concentration that are a great way to strengthen those ‘focus muscles’ and create a body and mind that is strong and relaxed,” says Mariam Gates, author of Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story.
4. Integrate natural elements. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found hat including ornamental plants in a learning area can further enhance a child’s ability to concentrate and learn. “And weirdly, the more involved the child is in the plant’s life or maintenance, the more learning goes on,” says Magalie Rene, a classroom design consultant, who works with parents and schools to create study spaces that foster learning. Place a plant in your home’s study area and have your child water it as a transitionary cue before beginning homework, suggests Rene.
5. Get organized. Make a schoolwork box either out of a large shoe box or plastic container. Have your child decorate it and store work supplies, like pens, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, paper, a glue stick, and anything else your student might need. “Having everything together creates an atmosphere of organization and success,” says Rodman.
If your youngster continues to struggle with focus and concentration, consult with your family’s pediatrician or a child psychologist.
As the mom of two active sons, freelance journalist Christa knows all too well the stress homework time can create in a family.
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