Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Edison have something in common besides being renowned for their genius: they all struggled in school. Their teachers thought them stupid, but most likely they were distracted by their own divergent thinking. Some of our students will also have a hard time focusing on their studies. What is a homeschool teacher to do?
- Limit seat work. I don’t know how young boys survive in a traditional school setting, required to sit quietly at a desk for hours. This isn’t how God designed boys. Their brains have legs and most of them learn best by moving them. Kids who have difficulty with focus should spend more time pursuing their passions and less time in front of a workbook. Use a timer for work that must be done while seated.
- Learn what they like to do. Observe what absorbs your child’s attention. Incorporate his interests into your studies. Your son likes video games? Find a library book on the subject, find educational video games, or help him learn how to create his own. Use his favorite activities as rewards for completing the less favorite.
- Let them sweat it out. When my kids are having a hard time paying attention, I will have them do jumping jacks, sit ups, or push ups. Lest you think I’m a drill sergeant, you should know that my kids love doing these exercises. I recently purchased some exercise DVDs for kids that I will use for this purpose, too.
- Lead them to a private place. Some children’s systems are so easily drawn in by other interesting things, that they need to be isolated for a while. Depending on how creative your child is in being distracted, you may need to sit near her until her work is done. Praise her when she is finished and admit that you also have a hard time staying focused sometimes.
- Lecture no more. I can’t tell you how many times I lose my focus while listening to someone lecture. Our children are even less able to focus when there is nothing offered to capture their imaginations. Today’s homeschool teacher has so many incredible mediums for teaching: field trips, videos, audio books, music, drama, crafts, experiments, group exercises, guest teachers, cooking, board and video games, puzzles, puppets and more! The Internet makes the “I’m not creative” excuse invalid. Check out my Pinterest boards for inspiration. When you do have to lecture, stop frequently to ask questions and get kids involved.
- Let it go. Strong-willed children can sense when something is overly important to us (like the language arts curriculum we just spent $200 on). They will experiment to see how we will respond if they insist they aren’t going to read that book or do their math lesson. Ever! While disobedience must be dealt with, your child won’t be harmed by taking a break from a subject or especially a curriculum. In the meantime, you may find a better solution that makes you both happy.
- Listen for wisdom. Talk to homeschooling friends, other educators, and especially to the Lord about your distracted pupil. No doubt you will get a fresh perspective and will be comforted by tales of kids who couldn’t pay attention, going on to be productive citizens. Often when it comes to what our kids are doing or not doing in school, we can be like Martha, “worried about many things.” I imagine the mothers of Einstein, Newton, and Edison worried about them, too! But when our focus is right, the fear disappears.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this (Psalm 37:5)