Homeschool The Distracted Child

A friend from a local homeschool group recently asked this question on our group’s facebook page:

Those of you who have an easily distracted child, what do you do to help him/her? Looking for more ideas.

I happen to have two diagnosed inattentive children. But even my children that haven’t been diagnosed can be easily distracted in our large family. Here are some things that I have found to help.

1. Clear daily expectations and routine

Imagine going through your day wanting to do ___, you fill in the blank but Mom has a different idea. But, Mom never clued you in on her plan. You spend all day wanting to get to ____ and Mom keeps asking telling you to do one more thing. And each time you think that after you complete it you will get to do ____. A schedule and clear expectations can help with this matter. I have a child that just wants to play computer or watch tv all day. I have had to set clear times of when he can do that and how long it can last. When he asks at other times of the day to do those things I am able to say, “no, right now it is free play time or ____.” It has alleviated a lot of fighting.You can read more about our schedule here.

We use the workbox system for our schoolwork. The children can clearly see how much work I expect them to accomlish each day. I have some that are flexible and I can add new stuff to their boxes and they roll with it. I have another that freaks out and needs several days warning that I will be adding something to his box. You can read about how we use workboxes here. If my way doesn’t work for you google workboxes and you’ll keep yourself busy for days till you find just the right method for you.

2. Use short lessons and break work up throughout the day

I have found that it is more productive to use short lessons. I try to only keep each child at their workspace for about 20 minutes for independent work and no longer than 45 minutes for work with Mom. I have found that after 45 minutes with Mom most of them are in need of a change of pace. In 45 minutes I fit in their reading lesson, math lesson and language lesson. I split up math lessons into two parts, a review session to be done alone and a teaching session for new work with Mom. I am able to get in a 30-40 minute math lesson this way. None of my children retain anything after 30 minutes of math so I had to break it up.

I don’t try to accomplish two hours worth of work in two hours. It takes us all day for each child to get in their two hours. Part of that is due to the size of our family and part is due to attention spans. My most distracted workers day looks like this:

Breakfast – Mom reads Bible while children eat

Morning Chores

Computer Time – only way he will do chores if the reward is right away

School With Mom – Reading, math and language

Snack Time – Mom reads history lesson

Independent Work

Free play/outside play

Lunch – Mom reads science

Play a Board Game with sisters


Quiet Time

Afterschool Chores and check out of school

All of the school age children’s  schedule looks like this just in a different order. I work with each of the children in our school room one on one. During that time they are generally the only one in the school room. It happens that I work from youngest to oldest in our house.

Between work sessions allow a child a sensory break. Depending on the child and the time of day the sensory break could be various things. Sensory breaks can include climbing, jumping, running, walking, playing outdoors, time alone or interactive play with someone.

3. Create a “quiet” place.

Create a visually and audibly quiet place.

Remove visual distraction and clutter. A distractable child will easily find anything but their paper to look at. A visually stale area helps keep them focused on their work in front of them. I have found that clutter causes anxiety in my distracted children. This is the area that I have created for the Karate Kid to work. He sits in the small chair facing the back of the preschool cabinet. When I am working with him I sit on the side of the table facing the wall. The basket under the table is his sensory bucket. It is usually overflowing but is at the moment scattered around the house. We have also schooled in a “cave”. I used a room divider and sectioned off a corner of our room. We would both get in and school on the floor. If I need to create the “cave” I can easily do this around his new work space.

On the other side of the cabinet is our preschool area.

I’m still finishing up our redo of our room so it’s not perfect yet and this is at the end of our school day. I hung the boys alphabet paper the other day to dry and they asked me to hang all of them up. The alphabet crafts are from All About Reading Level Pre-1. Which we are having so much fun with, I’ll tell you soon all about it.

I have also found that a noisy school room is extremely hard to work in. The school room is in the middle of our house so it’s really hard to keep it quiet. I’ve worked really hard to create a quiet space for each child as they come to work with me. As I said before the kids come to work with me separately in the school room. They are normally the only ones in the room at the time, except the preschoolers. They come to the room together and usually my girls want to join in all the Ziggy fun. When the older kids are working with me the preschoolers are playing separately in different parts of the house. The smallest is assigned to play with an older kid to keep him out of trouble. Things that take a lot of focus are done during the little boys rest time. Even though the Curious Monkey doesn’t nap anymore he is required to play quietly in his room during the Sidekicks nap.

4. Allow fidgets and movement

As much as I would like all five of my under age 10 children to sit quietly while I read to them it doesn’t happen. I gave up that notion many years ago. One day while I was reading aloud the Gymnast was running laps on all fours around my living room. When I asked her questions about what I had just read she actually knew the answers. When I had previously made her sit still she had no clue of what I had just read. So after that day I let them keep their hands busy with quiet activities. Some of the popular activities here are include puzzles, coloring, building legos, zoobs, and bionicles, trains and eating.

Allow non-conventional ways of being still to complete work. We lay on the floor, sit on the back porch, sit on the sofa, crawl into a cave, sit on an inflatable snow tube (the Gymnasts friend’s favorite place to do her work). Allow them to sit where their body needs to be in order to focus and get the work done.

5. Invest in some sensory tools

There are several tools that help calm a child’s body. Children with sensory integration disorder need additional or less neuro-feedback to help keep them still and calm their overactive nerves.

When the kids have to do work that is done better when you are still like handwriting I allow them to sit on an exercise ball, rocking chair or “wiggle” seat. Our wiggle seat is an exercise balancing disc and looks like this:

A little guy at our co-op has a vibrating therapy pillow. Little Bit is in his class and has been begging for one.

Both of these are designed to give neuro-feedback while you are sitting. It helps calm the body and keep them still. A body sock is also a great tool for helping keep a child still. We call ours a huggy because it just gives a gentle hug. The Karate Kid uses it often to help calm himself or keep himself focused. He is much more capable of doing written work if he is in the huggy.

It is important to have several sensory tools. At times one works and then another works for a different time. There isn’t one that  works 100% of the time.

6. Consider rewarding focused work

It takes great concerted effort for these children to stay focused on their work and complete it. When you work hard at something you want someone to notice. A sticker for each subject completed on time and without complaining is a good way to recognize that hard work. It also keeps Mom accountable to remember to notice the hard work put forth. I found small sticker reward sheets from the dollar store that have a grid for 25 stickers. Once the child fills up one grid they get a small reward. The reward is different for each child. I have used free apps for their iPods, used books or small toys I got for pennies from ebay or the thrift store. You can reward with a certain number of minutes of screen time, game time or Mommy/Daddy time.

7. Diet and Supplements

Food can cause behavior problems and physical symptoms; I have seen it many times in my house. Consider keeping a food journal for your child. Record what time and what they eat, then record any less than desirable behaviors, night terrors, great moments or physical symptoms. Physical symptoms could include bowel problems loose or constipation, red cheeks, noses, ears, chins, patches of excema, or vomitting. After 2-4 weeks look back and try to find a pattern. Some known offenders for distractable kids are sugar, food dyes, preservatives, wheat, gluten, and casein (found in diary products). We have found that eggs and wheat cause anger issues in our house. I cook and bake with spelt, rice and quinoa.

A friend on facebook suggested Muscle Milk protein shake made with milk…and as much of a high protein/low carb diet as we can manage…with as much fresh/raw food…and as little processed food/sugar as possible.

Supplements that can be helpful include Fish Oil, magnesium (Natural Calm is a good effective product)

Bach’s flower Rescue Remedy helps calm anxiety and tension . This comes in many different forms we use the alcohol-free drops. This has helped Little Bit with her emotional state. Before taking this she would break out into rages which we called Llama Drama (after the book Llama Llama Red Pajama). After a couple of days of taking this she takes everything in stride. If we forget to give it to her for a couple of days she’s back to her Llama Drama, and oy it’s aweful. My sister’s ADHD son finds Bach’s Daydream Remedy
helps him focus. He requests Rescue Remedy and Daydream Remedy all the time. He is quite an insightful little guy and has asked his mom not to feed him fast food the day before a test. He said it makes him feel yucky and he has trouble focusing.

When it comes to supplements it’s a try and see approach. Not all supplements work for all. I’ve noticed that it takes awhile to see the effects of them. And I often notice how much they helped after I stop them thinking they didn’t help. I find that things generally get better a little at a time and sometimes we don’t notice till we stop the supplement and things come back that weren’t there for a week or two. So unless something causes your child to rage give it a good try before you think it’s not working. It’s all in finding the right diet and supplements for your child and they are all different.

To find encouragement and laughter and see that you aren’t alone I recommend joining Sizzle Bop.




6 thoughts on “Homeschool The Distracted Child

    • Many Adventures says:

      Aww. Thanks Laura. There’s never a dull moment, always an adventure and a lot of praying. And thanks to our great Monday Moms support group I get to refresh a couple times a week.

  1. Allison says:

    Just read your article and love the daily schedule idea. About what time do breakfast, school start, snack time occur, end time, occur? One of the luxuries of homeschooling is to not have a full 6+hour school day and I have a friend who schools her older children for two hours in the morning and then she’s done.

    • Many Adventures says:

      Hi Allison,
      I aim for an 8 am breakfast but sometimes the kids are starving and eat at 7:30. I do have a rule that chores have to be done by 9 am or they can’t have computer time. I am flexible if we are having a really lazy morning. In that case I tell them they have 30 minutes to complete chores and I start a timer. Snack time is generally about 10:30-11. That seems to be pretty constant no matter what else has happened that day. So if we get a late start we don’t get as much done in the morning hours. I have a very busy household and all of my students need my help and I have two preschoolers so I can’t get everything done in two hours. Each of my kids don’t spend more than two hours on school most days but I spend about four to six during the day. I have a rule that Mom doesn’t help with schoolwork after 3:30. And there may be no afternoon t.v. time if your schoolwork is not completed before 3:30. So I have a set routine with some clear markers but the in between times are flexible. And there are days that subjects get dropped because there just wasn’t enough time in the day.

      I have recently found it very helpful to hand my most distracted children a to do list for the day. They then see the work outlined for the day and can make decisions for themselves on when to do their independant work. It also helps them see that school will not go on forever.

  2. Great post! I just started homeschooling my 5yo this year and found alot of great tips for helping with her ‘distractability issues’. Thanks for the tips on the supplements too, we’ve found removing gluten to be a huge help for ours as well (she has hf autism, auditory processing/speech issues in addition to adhd behaviors) I thought it might benefit someone who might read the comments to note that the Coromega Kids (omega 3 supplement) has made a huge difference in our daughters behavior as well too. Thanks again for the great post 🙂

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