How to Help Your Homeschooler Stay on Task- Really!

Inside: Do you have a child who can’t seem to focus?  Learn 30 simple tips to help your homeschooler stay on task.

If your child can’t sit still for more than three seconds, likes to hang upside down in his chair, or gets distracted by a stink bug climbing on the wall, you need these tips for helping him stay on task. I’ve put together 30 ideas that can help a distracted child focus.  Keep reading to find the one that works for your child.

Stay on Task

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Your Child’s Attention Span May Not Be the Problem

When your child isn’t paying attention, completing his work, or appears lazy, you may jump to the conclusion he has a short attention span and many times that’s not the case.

However, there could be something else going on. It could be his interests, learning style, atmosphere, or several other possibilities. Throughout this list of ways to help kids focus, you may discover an underlying reason your child has difficulty staying on task.

Figuring out what works best for your child involves observation and a little trial and error. But if you put in the time, it’s worth the effort

30 TIPS TO HELP YOUR HOMESCHOOLER STAY ON TASK

1. Let Them Have Some Say with Decisions

 By letting your kids have a say in some things they do, they will be more cooperative and invested in their learning. Some areas you can let them choose are

  • Curriculum for certain subjects
  • Interest led activities
  • Electives
  • Order of their schedule/subjects
  • Where they do their work

2. Noise Cancelling Headphones to Drown Out Noises

When your child loses all focus because he hears something three rooms away, he probably has an auditory learning style. One of the best solutions I’ve found is using noise cancelling headphones. My son used these, and it was very effective. To this day, (and he’s almost 21), I’ll see him with headphones on when he’s trying to concentrate.

Noise cancelling headphones to stay on task

3. Cardboard Separator to Block Distractions

Children who will follow every movement in the room are visual learners and need to block everyone out of their immediate and peripheral vision to stay on task. 

I bought a cardboard tri-fold presentation board (think science fair presentation) and set it up on the kitchen table to make a separator.

My kids who used this loved it. They felt like they were in their own little cubby and they focused for much longer periods of time.

Tip: These are pretty tall and you can cut them in half to make two for the price of one.

4. Set Up a Separate Study Area 

Sometimes just being able to go to another place other than the school area is motivating. You can use the back porch, a hanging pod, floor desk, or cozy corner. 

You can use this area at different times during the day and it provides a change in scenery and a small brain break while they walk to the new location.

5. Short Lessons to Help Stay on Task

The idea of short lessons stems from the Charlotte Mason philosophy. Your child can focus and learn more if you keep the lessons short and end them BEFORE he tires, even though he’s spending less time on his schoolwork. I have written a whole blog post about the benefits of short lessons and how long a lesson should be for different age groups. Check it out to see how to use this.

6. Use Games

This one is obvious but anytime you can incorporate games into your school, it will motivate your students.

Games are a fantastic way to teach skills and your kids won’t  know they’re learning. There are so many educational games available today you can find one on almost any topic.

Farkle game

7. Take Them Outdoors

Most children love to be outdoors. There’s something about the fresh air and sunshine (or even rain) that makes them alert and energized. You can use this to your advantage in the following ways.

  • Nature Walks/Science
  • Art
  • Writing on the sidewalk with chalk (math problems, writing sentences, grammar, etc.)
  • Measuring and other math skills
  • Read alouds under a tree or on the porch
  • Physical Education
  • Weather study
Nature Walks

Even if you only go out to take a walk, it’s a great way to help a child focus when he returns to his studies.

8. Stay on Task by Letting Them Be the Teacher

My youngest (who is not a fan of school) becomes serious about a subject when I turn the tables and let her be the teacher. It’s really a sneaky form of narration because she’s retelling everything she’s learned. 

Let your child teach you or your husband about something they’ve learned or are learning, and it’ll amaze you how attentive they are.

9. Let Older Siblings Teach

Another option is to let your older kids teach the younger ones for some things. The older ones love having the responsibility and the younger ones enjoy the sibling time. It changes things up and adds some fun. Now I’m going to be honest. This may not work for all kids. It’ll depend on personalities and age differences, but it’s worth a try.

10. Use the Workbox System

Children need structure. This doesn’t mean every second of their day needs to be planned out but having a routine to follow can make a difference.

One of my favorite homeschool tools that assists with that is homeschool workboxes. They teach kids organization and how to follow a routine that motivates them to finish their work

Each workbox contains one subject and mixed in every so often are “mystery boxes” with interesting activities your child likes to do.

Homeschool Workboxes

By putting the harder or least favorite subjects before the mystery boxes, your child will want to finish to get to the fun stuff. Also, as the boxes disappear, he’s visually motivated because he can see he’s making a dent in his workload.

In addition, your child will learn to work independently, which means he’s not sitting around waiting on you to come help him and, therefore; getting distracted and wandering off because he’s tired of waiting.

I’ve used these for most of our homeschooling journey and love them!

11. Get Physical

If you have a kinesthetic learner who NEEDS to move, it’s important to incorporate some physical activity as often as you can in order for him to focus. My son was this way and he learned much better when I figured out a way to have him take part in the lesson. 

Here are some examples:

  • Sitting and/or bouncing on a exercise ball instead of a chair
  • Using a basketball hoop on a door as a reward when he got answers correct
  • Stepping or jumping on Index cards on the floor with the correct word or number
  • Using a dial rod with a string and magnet on the end as a fishing rod to catch cardstock shaped fish with paper clips attached and answers written on them
  • Using a fly swatter to swat the correct answer from a group of index cards on the table
  • Attaching an exercise band around the legs of a chair and letting him bounce his legs
  • Do any sort of exercise like jogging in place, jumping jacks, etc. while reciting math facts, spelling words, etc.

12. Zoom or Meet with Other Homeschoolers

What kid doesn’t get more enthusiastic about learning when he’s doing it with other kids? 

If you’re able to get together with other homeschoolers once a week and do some subjects together, your child will love it! Not only that, he’ll do better work because he doesn’t want to look like a slacker.

You can do this by joining a co-op or get together with another homeschool family. If you can’t get together in person, try doing a Zoom call. The means your kids can do school with other homeschool families from anywhere!

13. Do Half the Problems

Nothing wipes out your child’s attention like the “kill and drill” method. There are certain curricula that have way too many problems and most kids don’t need to do all of them. 

If you find your child understands concepts pretty easily and is complaining because he has 50 problems to do each day, why not cut them in half? It’s hard to stay on task when you feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again. Do the odds one day and evens the next. 

Once you do that, he’ll perk up and feel like he’s getting a break.

Cutting work in half to stay on task

14. Make It Hands-On

Just listening to someone read or filling out answers on a sheet isn’t the same as doing something with your hands. Most adults will tell you they learn better by doing. Kids are no different.

If you search on the internet or Pinterest, you can find a hands-on activity to add to any lesson, which makes it more relevant and memorable. I also have a post on turning posters into a hands-on learning activity.

15. Play Soft Music 

This seems crazy to me, but my son studies better when he has some soft music playing in the background. For many people this is true and it’s worth a try if you have a child who has issues concentrating.

We enjoyed the instrumental soundtracks to movies (such as Star Wars), classical music, light jazz, and The Piano Guys.

You can also try this video.

This won’t be for everyone, but try it and see if it has a positive effect.

16. Use Guided Reading Strips

Children who have difficulty paying attention when they’re reading can benefit from guided reading strips. These are frames with a colored overlay you can place over the text in books or workbook pages and it helps their eyes focus.

Guided reading strips

They come in different colors and you may find that one color may help them stay on task better than another so experiment with them. They also sell different sized ones depending on whether you want to highlight a sentence, paragraph, or entire page.

17. Slow Down

Often a child loses his zeal for learning because we’re moving too fast. Maybe we’re trying to make sure we finish a curriculum by the end of the year (Guilty!) or we feel pressure because other homeschool kids are zipping through their work. Whatever the reason, slowing down and working at your child’s pace can be the solution.

Don’t compare your kids to others. Everyone gets there in their own time. I’ve experienced this firsthand. My oldest daughter was struggling with reading when she was little and I was to the point where I thought maybe she had an auditory learning problem. But instead of pushing her, I finished out the second half of the year by backing off, working on the basics, and give her the summer to mature.

We started back in the fall, and within a month, she took off reading and never looked back! Had I continued to bulldoze through the curriculum we had the year before, I guarantee it would have set her back and maybe even caused long term problems. I’m so grateful I forced myself not to worry about other kids her age who were reading and trust my instincts. She’s an excellent reader now and reads beyond her grade level.

I know there are cases where it is a reading problem, but often it’s just maturity.

18. Lay Off the Workbooks

Not every child loves workbooks (Gasp!) 

I’m a traditional learner and love to fill out a good workbook. However, God has a funny sense of humor and gave me two out of three children that hate them! 

I had to come to terms with this and limit the amount of school time spent using workbooks. Instead, using real life experiences like nature walks, field trips, coming along to appointments were far more effective and exciting and your child will be way more involved.

Field Trips

19. Change Your Homeschooling Style 

Sometimes the homeschooling style we’re using doesn’t work well for our kids. If you are using a traditional style and your child isn’t a traditional learner, he’s going to be bored or struggle, which will cause issues.

Discovering the various homeschooling styles can ensure you choose the right one for your family and change the atmosphere in your school

20. Exercise Increases Their Ability to Stay on Task

You might not think physical education is important, but when you realize the benefits and see the effect it has on your child’s ability to focus, you may reconsider.

When you think of phys ed, does the dreaded game of dodgeball come to mind? I’ve tried to erase that from my memory!

Dodgeball

It doesn’t have to be that!  It could be a walk on a trail, riding bikes, a “friendly” game of kickball, or jumping on the trampoline. Anything that’s going to get the blood flowing will have a positive affect on your child’s ability to focus in class.

21. Schedule Changes

This tip goes along with doing too much. It makes everyone tired and cranky when school goes on all day and no one can concentrate in that situation.

Instead, try a loop or block schedule and rotate through subjects like science and history, spelling and grammar, or electives. You can do this every other day or every 9 weeks.

22. Use the Pomodoro Technique to Stay on Task

Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? A lot of adults use it but it works well with kids too, especially the middle school and high school age.

The idea behind the Pomodora technique is that your brain focuses better when you work in small chunks of time with breaks in between.  

The steps are simple: Set a timer and work for 25 minutes. At the end of the session you set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break. You do this four times in a row and then take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.

Because your child has a set amount of time he has to focus, he’ll concentrate more. Also knowing there’s a break coming at the end is motivating.

The Tomato Timer site is for the Pomodoro technique and has preset timers for work and break sessions. All you or your child have to do is choose which timer you want and click start.

23. Give Their Hands Something to Do

Some children need to keep their hands busy in order for their brain to stay on task. Giving them fidgets can make a tremendous difference. Fidgets can range from spinners, cubes with different buttons, sliders, or balls on each side, squeeze balls, things to attach to the end of a pencil, etc. They are small, inexpensive, and pretty easy to find.

Fidgets to stay on task

25. Be Prepared

I used to create a lot of the attention problems in my homeschool by being unprepared. While I was running around looking for paper, pencils, or that scrap of paper I jotted down an idea on for science that day, my kids would lose interest or just disappear from the table altogether.

Once I realized the problem, I put a few things in place to prevent this from happening. If you could use a little assistance in this area, here are two things to try:

Use a Supply Caddy– Have a supply caddy in the middle of your table (or somewhere the kids can reach) with items they have to go look for. Things like pencils, crayons or markers, rulers, erasers, glue, and scissors. Then when they need an item, instead of leaving the table and going in search for it, it’s right there and they can grab it and keep working.

Organize School Supplies

Spend Some Time Preparing in the Evening– Spend ten minutes in the evening looking over what you’re doing the next day to gather your materials and make any copies necessary.

Doing these two simple things will create a much smoother day and help your kids stay on task.

26. Homeschool at a Different Time

Not everyone is a morning person and some people’s brains are more alert at a different time. Or maybe your morning is hectic because of your husband’s work schedule and it causes chaos trying to do school. 

Clock

Here’s something to keep in mind, there’s NO law saying school has to start at 8 am! In fact, there’s no law that says it has to be done Monday through Friday. I know a family whose father was off on Mondays so they took that day off and did school Tuesday through Saturday. This way the kids could spend time with their dad and they weren’t distracted with him being home.

Try letting your child do school in the afternoon or evening if he seems to be more alert and functions better. He may be a different student.

27. Consider Their Strengths and Weaknesses

Can your child tell a great story but hates to write? Why not let him give an oral response instead? 

If you need something recorded for a portfolio review, he can dictate to you and you write it down. Another option is to let him dictate into your phone where Siri will transcribe it and then print it out. Some kids love to video tape their responses.

Take your child’s strengths and weaknesses into consideration and make some adjustments where you can. As long as he’s still giving the answer, does it really matter what format it’s in?

Yes, sometimes he may need to write, but if those are the only times, he’s less likely to complain and get it done.

By the way, as kids mature, they usually grow out of this and can write more. I don’t consider this letting children get out of doing their work. I think it allows them to enjoy learning by moving at their speed and when they’re ready, they’ll catch up.

28. Create a Morning Basket 

A morning basket is an excellent way to bring everyone together for a few subjects in the morning (or any time of day).

There are great benefits to using a morning basket and you can read about all of them in the post I’ve linked above, but the three that affect your child’s ability to stay on task are shortening his day, working together with his siblings, and warming up his brain before the more difficult tasks of the day.

I wish I would have started one years earlier than I did.

Morning Basket

29. Use Technology

We live in a world of technology, and while I don’t recommend using it constantly, mixing it in once in a while can keep things interesting.

Using videos, audiobooks, iPads, and online curricula can make school more interesting and increase focus for kids, which can help stay on task longer.

30. Try Essential Oils to Increase Focus and Stay on Task

Essential oils can have a positive effect on your child’s ability to concentrate. They can be diffused, inhaled, or used as a room spray.

Essential oils to stay on task

Try out some different recipes while you do school and see if it makes a difference.

Benefits of Having Your Homeschooler Stay on Task

The main thing to keep in mind is that every child is different. Just because one can do workbooks for hours, doesn’t mean another one can.

One of the reasons many people homeschool is to cater to their child’s needs because the school system couldn’t.

If your child had difficulty focusing in the classroom, then don’t do school at home. Try some outside of the box ideas and in time, you’ll find what works to help him stay on task, even if it’s hanging upside down in his chair while reading.

As a result, he may start to enjoy school and you two will have a better relationship

Stay on Task

Hi I’m Heidi. I’m a former teacher turned homeschool mom of three. I’ve homeschooled from the beginning and my oldest is now graduated. I believe your home doesn’t have to be chaotic just because you homeschool. When you join The Unexpected Homeschooler’s community, you’ll learn how to have a more organized, efficient, and productive homeschool, and I’ll send you this Daily Assignment Sheet tool as a gift to teach your students to work independently and free up your time.

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