Does this sound familiar? The lesson starts and most of the children in your classroom are sitting attentively. There are a few wiggling in their seats and at least one just staring out the window. Now you have a choice. Continue to talk knowing that the distracted children are not learning or stop and redirect each child as needed. Teachers are faced with this every day and there is no way to totally avoid it. However, there are a few ways to create an environment that will keep kids like this attending longer.
1. One of the first and most important things you can do is to create a classroom environment that is less distracting. Many times teachers have the impulse to fill the walls with information and décor so that parents see the classroom as an enriched environment. For many young children this puts them on sensory overload - especially for children with sensitive sensory systems.
· When setting your classroom make sure you have clearly defined areas. A classroom seating rug with squares for each child to sit in is essential for younger elementary school children.
· Also, have the desks in identifiable rows to make the room easy to navigate. Finally, it is important that the walls are not decorated to fill every inch of wall space. If you need to have a lot of incidental learning displays try to have the front of the room where the children are directing their attention to you free of excess clutter.
2. I know many teachers change seating assignments once they get to know the kids in their classroom. Sometimes children who get the most distracted are seated in the back of the class because teachers think of their twitching and excessive hand-raising as distracting to others. It is a natural impulse to put them in the back of the room to decrease tension in the classroom. Unfortunately this is the worst place for them to be. From the back of the room they have a clear view of all the activity in the classroom making it even harder for them to concentrate. If you have a child like this in your classroom try putting them front and center. It will be a lot harder for them to stare out the window when they know you are right in front of them. They will also be less likely to get distracted by other kids or any activities going on outside. These small changes to your classroom procedures can really help you avoid difficulties for some of your students.
3. If a child has a more severe attention or sensory issues it is often helpful to provide some sensory stimulation for them before and during the lecture. First, if you know you have a long lesson play that will require a lot of attention try to do it after they have had activity. If there is no PE planned, or if you prefer to give these lessons first thing in the morning, take your students out for a walk around the track a few times before you have them take a seat. My daughter’s second grade teacher did this every morning before they entered the classroom and it really increased her attention. If this is not possible then have the kids stand up and get the wiggles out by stretching and moving their bodies.
4. We all know that for some kids this will not be enough to get them focused but these strategies will help minimize the issue.
· For additional support I have found a few sensory aids to be really helpful. For example, have a few Disco o Sit seat cushions handy so that kids can use them as needed. These cushions mimic the feeling of being on a therapy ball but they do not take up much room in the classroom. They provide a dynamic seating experience so that kids can wiggle just slightly to get the movement they need to stay focused.
· Seat cushions work for many kids but for others it is just not enough movement. If you find you have a child who needs more sensory stimulation having one ball chair available or a ball with feet (so it does not roll away) can be very helpful.
· Another useful tip is using a therapy band. If you tie a band around the front two legs of a child’s chair they can bounce their feet on it to get the movement they need without distracting their peers.
It is never too early or too late to make these changes in your classroom. Each child who comes in your class has their own unique set of learning challenges – some are just more apparent than others. These tips will help all the students in your care regardless of their ability to attend and stay focused.
By helping the students with the most needs you will be creating a caring environment that fosters a calm classroom where all children can learn to the best of their abilities.