Maximizing online learning for distracted students

Photo by Preillumination SeTh on Unsplash

by Kathy Kuhl     If your child had trouble focusing in a classroom, how much more are they distracted with online learning? These days, everyone’s more distracted. Stress does that. And everyone is spending more time online, even homeschoolers. (We homeschoolers used to say, “The world is our classroom,” but we are constrained, too.)

I have tools and tricks to help. Though written for virtual schooling, these will help for any online class homeschoolers are taking, too. But first, I’m excited to recommend:

ADHD Virtual Conference January 28-29

The tips I’m sharing today come from a workshop I’m giving on this topic January 28-29, 2021, at the 13th Annual Southeast Regional ADHD Conference. If someone in your family has ADHD, this virtual event may help you. Ross Greene, Ph.D. and Chris Dendy are among the distinguished speakers. The schedule and workshop titles are here. 

Now on to some tips.

To maximize online learning for distractible students,

1. Environmental adaptations to lessen distractions

  1. Sound: Use headphones, earbuds to help your child turn out distracting sounds.
  2. Visual: Make sure the view from your child’s seat is not distracting. My first weeks homeschooling we had a view **I** didn’t think was distracting. But my son found it so. (“Squirrel!” Literally.)
    Practice the 20-20-20 rule to relieve eyestrain. Every 20 minutes, have your child look up for 20 seconds at something at least 20 feet away. Use a timer. This is a good rule for us, recommended by optometrists to let eye muscles rest.
  3. Seating: Set the tablet or computer so the screen is in a good position for the student’s vision and posture. child sitting on exercise ball
    When not typing, your students may try sitting on exercise ball, squishy cushion, or T-stool (see below). These wobbly seats may help your child get the wiggles out by providing core muscle exercise. Or students may lie on their stomachs on the floor. Some parents told me that the deep pressure soothed their distracted kids.If teacher permits, student may turn off screen and wander while watching. Teacher can require student to text in often to show they are still paying attention.*
  4. Location: Where in the home will your child take a virtual class? Consider foot traffic and WiFi signal. Is there a convenient power outlet? Also, your child may do better studying different subjects in different parts of your home.

3. Sensory practices that improve ability to focus

  • My rules for effective fidgets are here.
  • Brick Stick Chew Necklaces by Ark Therapeutic ProductsOral: chewing gum, chewable jewelry such as Chewelry or Chewigems, Chewsticks pencil toppers, and other chewable fidgets. I wrote about these and provide links here.
  • Movement breaks before, during, and after lessons. See for videos to move to between lessons.**

4. Tools for Parents

  • Use parental controls on laptop or tablet to limit student’s access to the app they are supposed to be using.*
  • Post weekly school schedule on whiteboard or paper, and make (or help older students make) checklists to prepare for the next day.
  • Meet weekly and nightly to briefly review the next week or next day, respectively. Nightly checks should include seeing that homework and supplies are ready, and that the computer or tablet is on the charger. It’s the virtual school equivalent of checking the backpack.
  • Help the kids get to bed on time consistently.
  • Set priorities: relationships, love of learning, core skills, exercise, mental health, your family values.

5. Stress reducers

More helpful posts:


(Click here to register or learn more about this virtual conference.)

*Special thanks to Shelby Peach of KIPP 3D Academy, Houston, for contributing her tips and those of her KIPP 3D colleagues.

**Thanks to Pandora King for suggesting this website.

For directions on how to build a one-legged stool, that is, a T-stool, see Carol Kranowitz’s The Out-of-Sync Child, or buy one from Therapy Shoppe or Amazon.


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