Maintaining Attention During Remote Learning
By Kristi Knight, OTD/S
Kids Place Student Occupational Therapist

Online school can be hard for any child, especially if that child has a short attention span due to ADHD, developmental delay, or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Helping your child maintain focus on their schoolwork proves to be difficult for many different reasons. Whether they lack motivation or focus to finish assignments, or struggle to remain seated for more than a few minutes at a time, maintaining the level of focus needed to retain information can be challenging.

Finding a reward that motivates your child is key to helping them navigate remote learning successfully. Asking your child what makes them want to do well in school will help you understand what you can use as a reward at the end of every school day. Incorporating a large goal/dream (such as becoming a ballerina or firefighter) into the child’s reward tends to help the prize seem more important, and therefore worth putting greater effort into earning. Making the prize visual and achievable can also help children who have low motivation. One example is to draw a thermometer with stickers that stack up to the prize. This is a great way to let your child gauge how much effort they need to continue to put in to earn their reward.

Another idea is to have small motivators throughout the day that are presented when the child is unable to maintain motivation. Example: the child gets to use a scented marker to draw a picture after working for ten minutes or completing a work sheet. For children with poor impulse control and/or time management, this is a great strategy to work towards a very achievable goal that takes minimum effort.

Once you have found a motivating reward, ensuring your child has a predictable routine for their daily schedule ( meals, breaks, rewards and environment) will allow them to prioritize school over other distractions (such as what their next snack will be). Creating routines that become machine-like, and in turn require little thought, will assist both you and your child in dealing with other issues as they arise. The fewer things that your child has questions about, the fewer opportunities they have to become anxious and/or ask questions that avoid work.

Here are some ideas to create a calming and predictable school space:

  • A small space with minimal distractions
  • Seating options
    • Ball
    • Floor
    • Chair
  • A weighted stuffed animal or blanket
  • Calming music
  • A predictable environment that is used for school only (example: the chair in the living room is for school, the couch is for watching tv)
  • A simple, large, schedule with pictures
  • A large timer so the child knows how much time until the activity is over