Are you looking for ways to help children maintain focus on their schoolwork at home? That is completely understandable. Children are accustomed to the rituals and routines of school. In their school’s classrooms, they go to a specific environment that deliberately is structured for learning. Now for many children, those structures are different, and they are trying to understand what it means to learn more independently. Based on our research at Berry Street Education Model (BSEM), stress can negatively impact a child’s stamina to learn and their ability to focus. Managing this change as parents, carers and teachers can be overwhelming. Here are three strategies that we hope will help:
1. Your relationship with your children comes first. Practice compassion and kindness if they are struggling to sit in front of a screen or focus on worksheets or other tasks for even a short period of time. Practice kindness with yourself, too. Be aware if you need to step away for a minute so that you can stay in your calm rather than join into any chaos.
2. Set stamina goals for children learning. A simple strategy for independent reading or completing their learning packs is to take a sticky note or bookmark and have the child place it where they predict they will reach by the end of a timed session. If they reach the spot before the work session ends, congratulate them and set a new goal for the remainder of the session. If they do not reach the goal, have a chat with these prompts: Were there any distractions? Was there confusion about the work? Did they over-predict for the allotted time? Through reflection, children can set a more obtainable goal next time or can work to troubleshoot distractions or other issues.
3. Set timed work sessions. For older kids try the Pomodoro Technique, designed by Francesco Cirillo. It is a simple way to balance deliberate focus with scheduled breaks.
- Step 1: Have the child decide on the task to be done
- Step 2: Set a timer, making sure your child can always see how much time remains. (25 minutes is a good amount to build up to)
- Step 3: Work on the task until the timer rings
- Step 4: Take a 5 minute break
- Step 5: Take a 15-30 minute break once they’ve completed 3-4 pomodoro cycles
For younger children try five minutes on-task then five minutes break time. This is useful if your child is struggling to focus for an extended period of time as five minutes feels much more achievable. If you have two children who you are supporting with schoolwork at the same time, while one is working, the other can have a break.
This is a new situation for everyone, so leading with compassion and understanding builds relationships for everyone. By trying strategies such as setting small stamina goals, giving frequent breaks, and providing continuous encouragement , we hope that you see which work best for you or adapt them so they become your own!
Brunzell, T., Norrish, J., Ralston, S., Abbott, L., Witter, M., Joyce, T., & Larkin, J. (2019). Berry Street Education Model: Curriculum and Classroom Strategies. Melbourne, VIC: Berry Street Victoria.
Cirillo, F. (2006). The pomodoro technique. Agile Processes in Software Engineering, 54(2), 35.
Witter, M. (2013). Reading without Limits. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jo Olsen, Senior Trainer, Berry Street Education Model