How do you get a fidgety or unfocused child to sit and do homework?
I have two grown girls and a 9 year old. Having been through it once and now a second time, I find that it is important to make sure you have an environment conducive to studying. I took tips from my daughter's preschool. It was hard to get my youngest to nap when at home, but when I picked her up from preschool right after nap-time, the environment was so great there, that even I wanted to lay down for a nap!
Each child is and was different so they needed different environments to feel successful - I tried to pay attention to that for each one and do what I could to create that for them.
For homework time, I make sure I'm not trying to make it too late in the evening but allowed them some fun time after school first so they could "refresh". I make sure they had food in their bellies and that they know that every day, this is what we do at this time (usually an hour before dinner or after extra-curricular activities). If the homework seems tough, I try to make a game of it - pull out M&M's for math, google pictures of geographic places, etc., so that learning is fun and engaging - even if the math is algebra:-)!
Like some of my friends below have said, be sure that your child has down time before jumping into homework. Also, break the homework into small chunks so that it isn't an overwhelming task. At school, we frequently take 'brain breaks' to get us moving and get the juices flowing. Have your child take mini brain breaks during homework time. You might say "Stop! 10 jumping jacks . . . ready? Go!" or maybe say "Freeze! Do the Twist! Ready, go!" You can use a song, activity, exercise. . .whatever!
Another great idea. . .have a special place for doing homework. A special desk with school supplies would make anyone want to do their homework! Who doesn't love school supplies???
We don't really have homework yet "per se," but we have learning-focused activity time. I sit my son down at the kitchen table with a snack and his activity while I prep dinner in the kitchen. I try to make it as fun as possible, helping him when he gets stuck, rewarding him with a healthy treat, and by throwing new challenges his way!
It never lasts for more than 20 minutes at a time, but that's what a three-year-old can manage! Every little bit helps and trains him for a longer spell of learning next time!
First of all, make sure the child understands the task. If the questions/problems are unclear, the mind will naturally have trouble engaging with it. Have your child try to teach you the task - this will quickly reveal whether he understands it.
Beyond that, it helps to know what your child's motivational focus is - is she motivated to move toward rewards, or is she motivated to avoid negative consequences? If you are trying to motivate your child to focus on homework using the wrong focus, your chances of success are lower.
I have found that active young children learn best when moving, so I try keep the desk-work sessions short and do some fun quick physical activities in between like ~
skip with a rope while calling out times tables, hopping on 1 leg down the passage and back on the other, let them do wheelbarrow races (walking in hands while someone holds their feet) across the room, bounce on a mini trampoline calling out spelling, do jumping jacks ... then quickly back to the table for the next work session.
Consider a gym ball instead of a chair. It requires those small wiggles to maintain balance and stimulates core muscle strength.
Use a timer to keep focus till the bell rings.
Start with the hard stuff first and do the fun stuff at the end.
Variety keeps their interest, so change things around a bit now and then.
Offer activities to keep busy hands while listening - play with play dough, colour in, build models with sticks, build puzzles.
My son is famous for doing this. I used to battle terribly with him. Then I found things he liked to have around him, how to get him focused. He couldn't concentrate with the tv, but music he liked and it helped calm him down. He needed a room of his own, a desk, pens and things close by otherwise he was always stopping and looking for things. I think you just have to play around see what works for your child. Also it's easy as parents to just say "Go get it done." but I always make my son take breaks every thirty minutes, get up and stretch, have a drink, relax, then get back to it. He's now 12 and getting straight B's in school. We are so proud. Another thing is to get done what he doesn't want to do first, get it out of the way and over with.
I am a homeschooling mom so this is a daily battle for me. Besides the obvious of frequent breaks- I make it fun for them! Why do they need to sit still the whole time? We take dance breaks inbetween subjects where we dance as fast as we can for the entire song! This usually gets their wiggles, and if all else fails I remove all distractions and sit with him.
I am a mom to three boys, so I can honestly say that I've had my share of fidgety. When we are doing schoolwork or having read-aloud time, I have a few tricks that help to keep my especially active boys focused on the task at hand.
First, if they can do their work neatly, I let them sit where they are comfortable sitting, such as the couch, their beds, the floor, on a pile of cushions, etc. If they choose where they want to sit, it seems to motivate them to get their work done. Also, this may seem insignificant to some, but I have a pack of those old-timey shiny star stickers, and if my kids do a neat job, put in a lot of effort, or meet a goal, I put a star on their paper. Everyone appreciates being noticed for a job well done. They really love this, and you can see their pride in their smiles.
For read-aloud time, I let my boys sit or lay where they want, and they can build with legos, play with an action figure, roll a toy car or motorcycle around, etc. as long as they are quiet and don't distract their brothers. When the weather is nice, we head outside for nature study or we brings books and clipboards out to the porch. Sometimes it helps to have a snack or drink alongside when we are sitting at the table for schoolwork, and cutting "sitting still" time down in 15 minute increments with short breaks in between helps, too.
I'm so happy to be able to accomodate my boys' needs to wiggle, squirm, and move while still getting some learning accomplished.
I have found that sometimes simply putting on some music, preferably light classical, like Mozart, helped with all of my four boys. It seemed to quiet their minds and their bodies.
Having finished raising three of our four boys so far, I also found out that my concept of my kiddos being fidgety and unfocused, wasn't always them truly being unfocused. Boys especially seem to have to move even when studying. When I relaxed and allowed them to study in positions that they were more comfortable in, their focus seemed to increase.
When all else failed, I closed the books and we went outside, which is always a great idea for boys and girls alike.
As a teacher , I know that movement is a great way to help children with focus. When your child gets home allow them some time to unwind. Have a snack & take a bike ride. Remember he or she as been sitting all day. Make a special place for your child to work. Add some fun pencils or manipulatives for he or she to work with. Add a timer and break the work load up into smaller chunks. Even highlighting the problems one at a time will help your child not to feel so overwhelmed. Check out my blog post about Laser Fingers. Adding those in as a reward for working can turn any homework into FUN work!
Another easy fix is to allow them to stand or sit on that exercise ball that is hiding in your house. Give your child frequent movement brakes like table top push ups or even jumping jacks. With all of that being said, don't do the work for them. It is so easy to help them along with the answers to get the assignment done. Teachers are not always looking for completion just practice of a specific skill. Ask your child's teacher to shorten the assignment a bit so that your child can have a feeling of success.
If all else fails...write a note on the assignment and let the teacher know the issues that you had. Communication is the key to success with homework.
My best advise is to make sure you're allowing some down time in between school and doing homework. After being cooped up all day it's important for children to have some play time. This play time should not consist of video games or television though because that is not going to help your child focus. Instead let him play outside or play with legos or other unstructured toys. Think about how you feel when you come home from work - do you really want to dive into the laundry or dishes or would you like a short break first?
Next, evaluate the homework and the amount of time it takes. Can you break it into smaller chunks - say ten minutes at a time for a very fidgetty/unfocused child. Homework should not take hours to do at home - if it is taking your child hours to complete their work, schedule a meeting with the teacher and see how much time she/he estimates it should take. It could be that your child is not understanding concepts or the teacher may be unaware that the homework is too burdensome.
Assess your homework area - although many children focus better in a quiet room, your child may prefer to have some music in the background. See if your child can focus better in a room by themselves or in the heart of activity.
Finally, offer a reward for completing homework is a timely manner without a lot of reminders. Choose something that is meaningful to your child and not an every day occurence. If your child already gets to watch tv at night then offering an extra half hour of tv is probably not going to be a great incentive.
I homeschool and my 9 year old is very high energy and would probably be given with some sort of ADD/ADHD label if he were in public school. That being said, we're not an "un-schooling family" - my son has regular school books and yes, he has "homework."
I let him take him plenty of breaks and give him incentive to work hard and focus. For example, he's not allowed to play with his neighbor friends until he finishes all his homework. This helps motivate him. If he's having a really hard time with a particular subject, I try to be realistic and sometimes we'll move onto something else or just take a break. He does still have to do it, but I remind him that it's okay to put it aside for a little while.
My best recommendation is to be patient with your child and set realistic expectations.
My kids are still too young for homework, but I can tell you the advice I've given countless clients along the way: Sitting still in school for six hours a day is HARD work! Give at least an hour of unstructured playtime after school. When it's homework time, factor in scheduled homework breaks. For every 20 minutes that a child attends to homework, give him 10 minutes to get up, move around, and decompress. Use timers to make sure that he stays on track. Be involved. When a parent is nearby asking a child to share what's he learning, the homework becomes more interesting to the child.
After spending most of their day sitting at a desk and thinking hard they probably need some good old fashioned play time. Let them play, offer a healthy snack and some water then revisit the homework.
In addition, not all subject matter will be interesting to a child just like it isn't to adults. Parents/caregivers should engage them in the subject matter by asking questions and showing genuine interest in what they learned that day and what their homework is. Ask them to show you how to do it, offer to help if they need it. If they don't like what they have to do try making it more interesting by adding a game to it. Work with them on the way they learn best as most children need to learn and work in ways other than just reading and writing. Movement like jumping rope to spell a word, making up a song to learn history facts; cater to their learning style a bit more and they will be more willing to sit back down and finish.
I've found that MOVEMENT is the key in our home when one of my boys gets fidgety or lacks focus. Since we homeschool, we have the flexibility to really limit seat-work, but when we need to get some done, I find that frequent breaks are so helpful.
Our brains receive much needed oxygen when we move, stretch and run around. Whenever my oldest son gets restless, I turn into 'drill-sargeant' mode and demand 10 push-ups. With glee, he drops the pencil and does 10 - bootcamp style. We proceed to race laps around the house, shake out the silly's and then sit down to tackle some more problems. We set a goal and then head out for a walk afterwards!
Is the question the right question? Or could the question be whether the homework is interesting or meaningful? Put another way, does your request make sense or does your homework make sense?
If most parents are honest about it, they find that a lot of school work is just not very good. It is why the 'smarter than a 5th grader' is funny. By 5th grade, kids have been forced to learn a lot of stuff they will never use and will forget. Can you make that meaningful so doing it does not make one fidgety and unfocused?
Any human forced to do a task they find pointless will be such.