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According to the CDC, 11% of American kids aged 4-17 have ADHD – a condition that can impact their ability to focus and pay attention. However, even children and teens without an attention disorder don’t always focus the way they should. Deciding to homeschool a teenager who has difficulty focusing is hard. You can easily feel overwhelmed or like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
But, there are tips and tricks you can use to help your homeschooler focus. By creating the right environment and putting a few practical tips into place, you can improve your teen’s ability to pay attention during the school day, and set them up for long-term success by teaching them focusing skills they can take with them into adulthood.
Creating the Right Setting
Everyone’s homeschool setup is different. Maybe you have a dedicated office space for your teen’s studies, or maybe most of their homework is done at the kitchen table. But, if you find that your teenager has difficulty focusing, it could have to do with their surroundings – especially if they have ADHD or another attention disorder.
Although sensory overload can happen to anyone, it’s particularly associated with certain conditions like autism and OCD. Creating a neutral “sensory friendly” environment can make it easier for your teen to stay focused and get their work done. That starts by incorporating universal design principles into your home environment. Universal design practices are meant to encourage accessibility for everyone. Some of the benefits include
- Increased independence
- Greater satisfaction
For a homeschooling environment, some universal design practices might include simple, intuitive desks or chairs. Choose minimalist, lightweight furniture your teen can move around if they need a change of scenery. The design of your homeschooling space should be an environment that fosters focus, so keep it free from any distractions that deter from learning. Make sure things like furniture, decor, or even other people in the house aren’t making it harder for your student to pay attention.
Keep a Routine
Kids thrive on routine. It helps them to feel more confident and secure when they can predict what their day will look like. For teens on the spectrum, having a daily routine is even more important – especially when it comes to homeschooling.
It’s not uncommon for homeschool schedules to be a bit loose and flexible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and some children do well with it. Others need more structure, especially if they have trouble paying attention. A lack of structure can be overwhelming for some kids. A simple routine should include things like:
- Having a set time for bed/waking up
- Eating breakfast each morning
- Going through chores before school starts
- Ending school at the same time each day
- Dedicating time for homework
- Dedicating time for play or other activities
While you don’t need to do the exact same things every day, your children should know what to expect and there should be limited changes or surprises along the way. You could draw up a weekly schedule to hand them ahead of time or spend a few minutes each morning discussing what the day will look like. When your student knows what to expect, they’ll be more comfortable, calmer, and ready to learn without the distraction of wondering “what’s next?”.
While it might seem counterproductive, breaks are incredibly important for kids of all ages. Think about how you would feel if you didn’t get a lunch break at work, or didn’t have time to take a 15-minute walk or stretch throughout the day. Not only would you likely end up resenting your job, but it would be hard to remain productive and stay focused.
Even in the comfort of home, teens need to be allowed breaks throughout the day. If they aren’t offered both physical and mental opportunities to step back from their schoolwork, they’ll be more inclined to have difficulty focusing on what they’re supposed to be learning.
You can get creative with break time, and include different activities in their daily schedule that let them hit “pause” on schoolwork. Breaks should be used as a way to reduce stress, so your teen can refocus when it’s time to start learning again. If you want them to take a five-minute break, consider encouraging doodling at their desk. While doodling can get a bad reputation for being distracting, it’s a great stress-reliever that can boost your child’s memory and improve their focus.
It’s also important for your homeschooler to move their body. Take some longer breaks throughout the day that focus on stretching or exercising, and make sure to spend some time outside whenever the weather allows. Spending time in nature can improve your teen’s mood, reduce stress levels, and make it easier to focus when it’s time to get back to work.
Homeschooling a teenager who has difficulty focusing doesn’t have to be frustrating. By putting some of these tips into practice, you’ll create the best possible environment for learning, minimize distractions, and keep them prepared by providing structure and routine.