Have a distractible kiddo? Use easy sensory strategies to INCREASE FOCUS today without disrupting the teacher or missing class instruction.
Kids learn in all different ways. Some need to hear it. Others learn better by seeing it. While others learn from feeling and manipulating the objects.
The tricky part is that all kids do not learn at the same moment. That is why teachers teach something, practice it with the students, and then give kids time to practice it on their own.
So as kiddos are listening to their teacher, it can be really easy to become distracted. Especially if their preferred learning style is not being used at that time….. or if you are tired of sitting, see something cool, or hear an interesting sound.
As a school-based Occupational Therapist for 15+ years and a mom of 4 kids, I know how hard it can be for some kids to focus. Heck I know how hard it is for ME to focus sometimes!
BUT when given the right strategies, kiddos can increase their focus and not miss out on learning opportunities!
What Can Cause Distractibility?
Distractibility is when you are focused on something other than what you are supposed to be focused on. The focus can be fleeting or can last longer.
Kids who are easily distracted tend to have either high or low thresholds for sensory processing.
Those with low sensory processing thresholds reach their “fill” quickly and then may become over stimulated which leads to distractibility.
While kids with high sensory processing thresholds require greater amounts of input in order to have their thresholds met. This causes these kids to actively seek out the desired input.
And our threshold for a stimuli can change day to day as well as throughout a day.
It is complicated, BUT if you keep in mind that our sensory needs change, then you understand why one sensory strategy works one day and not the other.
How to Know Which Sensory Strategies Will Increase Focus for YOUR Kiddo
First observe, if possible, and ask your kiddo what is causing them to not focus. Often kids can tell you with some probing!
Some questions to ask:
- Are you tired? Hungry? Thirsty?
- Do you have to go to the bathroom?
- Is your chair uncomfortable?
- Are your hands having trouble staying quiet?
- Do you hear something that is bothering you?
- Are you having a hard time keeping your feet still?
- Are your eyes tired?
Their answers will then direct you to choosing which sensory strategy might help!
I wish I could tell you if you see “A” then do “B”. But unfortunately that does not work very well.
The Top Sensory Strategies used to Increase Focus During Direct Instruction
This list is a compilation of my go-to strategies that have helped kids increase their focus while not distracting their teacher or their peers!
# 1. Keep Fidgety Hands Busy With Purposeful Actions
Is your kiddo the type of kid that needs to touch everything that comes in sight? If this is the case, then give them a purposeful action to do while listening to direct instruction.
The key to making this strategy successful is knowing what kind of things your kiddo likes to touch. If the texture or object is appropriate, try to offer it in a way that it’s acceptable and not a distraction.
- doodle on a doodle pad
- move beads up and down a pipe cleaner
- Bend pipe cleaners to make different shapes
- Squeeze and pull a stress ball
- Roll and pinch play dough – Here is the BEST DIY recipe!
- Put clothespins on and off a piece of paper or a container
- Tie different types of strings together – rough, smooth, silky
# 2. Keep Fidgety feet distractions less by making them ……. well, “Busy”!
Some Kiddo’s feet are on the move all of the time! These are the kids that will take their shoes on and off multiple times in a short period of time. Or they will kick the leg of their chair or table consistently.
Try these quick and easy strategies!
- Wrap a Bungee Cord or Theraband around the bottom legs of a chair
- String a rope through a pool noodle. Tie the rope to each front leg of the chair so that the pool noodle rests under your feet. Roll it or push down on it!
- Make a stationary bike using training wheels! Put the training wheels into empty shoes. You can then pedal the bike without the bike moving!
- Roll a Squishy Ball around with your feet
- Alternate rolling a bean bag or hacky sack onto the top of each foot
# 3. Have Trouble Staying Seated?
Make sure your kiddo is sitting in a supported seat with their feet on the floor, their knees and hips bent at 90 degrees, and the table slightly higher than the crease of their elbow.
Kids generally can remain in a seat longer with a backrest. Chairs with arms offer more support that some kids really like!
If a standard chair is not working for your kiddo, consider flexible seating options.
The key to using flexible seating options is to have your kiddo’s feet to touch the ground completely. Doing this will give them a sense of being grounded to the floor. It will also let them control additional movement often used in flexible seating options
Flexible seating options are just that, flexible. Rather than giving a Kiddo one type of chair to sit in, give them at least one additional type to use depending on how they are focusing.
- Sit on a wiggle seat or a slightly inflated beach ball
- Cut open a tennis ball and place it on one foot of a chair to make it rock. Put another tennis ball on a different chair leg for a different motion
- Use a therapy ball or yoga ball as a chair – bounce, shift side to side or back and forth. I recommend the ones with a base and back support. I have found that kids that use just the ball have a hard time handling the amount of movement and lack of some support.
- Sit in a rocking chair
- Wiggle Stool
- Stand on a slightly inflated Wiggle Seat, foam Balance pad, or wobble board
- Designate a “Walking Line” where your Kiddo can pace back and forth as long as they are on the line
- Give themselves a hug – learn more Crossing Midline Activities that organize the body!
# 4. Trouble Focusing Because of Visual Distractions
Kiddos who tend to be visually distracted really benefit from having less to look at!
- Keep only needed materials on desk
- Change the distance that you need to focus at – if looking at something within an arm’s length away, try to search for something 20 feet away and then go back to looking at the closer item. Do the reverse when having to focus on something far.
- use a Tri-fold foam presentation board to complete independent work
- Do not allow toys at desk area
- Cover items with a plain cover or use a divider to block areas not being used
- Keep handouts turned over until ready to be completed
# 5. Difficulty focusing due to Orally Distracted
Some kids seek out oral input throughout the day. These are the kiddos who chew on their shirt, hair, nails, objects and/or suck their fingers.
Oral sensory input can be very organizing and calming.
- Prior to class, brush your teeth with a vibrating toothbrush
- Take a sip of water out of a straw – the thinner the straw, the harder you have to suck = more organizing
- Eat a crunchy or chewy snack
- Suck on a mint or tic tac
- Eat a citrus snack
- Chew gum if allowed
- Chewlry necklaces or pencil tops
# 6 . Decrease Auditory Distractions to Increase Focus
Some kids are more sensitive to auditory sounds.
These sounds can be things that we don’t think about hearing like the hum of the heater, air conditioner, or refrigerator.
Other kids are more distracted by more audible sounds like turning pages of a book, foot steps, the lawn mower, side conversations, or music
Regardless of how loud YOU think the sound is, if your kiddo is distracted by it then they are not focusing on what is being taught.
- Noise Cancellation Headphones- These should be worn for short periods of time or for specific loud situations. They should NOT be worn all day.
- Preferential sitting away from known auditory distractions
- If in a large group, sitting along the side or back of the group decreases possible distraction from all sides
How do I know if the Sensory Strategy is Working?
Once you teach your Kiddo the sensory strategy, let them try it out. If you see them getting distracted, encourage them to try the strategy.
At first it is expected for a student to be distracted by using a new strategy. However, they should be able to refocus back to the task or instruction.
Set the guidelines to how the sensory strategies should be used. Also make sure you are clear what happens if they don’t use them appropriately or if they become a distraction.
If a sensory strategy becomes a distraction, it is not the right strategy at that moment… or at all.
Your Kiddo should not only enjoy doing them, but also show increased focus.
You are Now Ready to Increase Your Kiddos Focus!
You’ve got this! Be patient with your kiddo and do not rush the process! It takes times to find what works for each person. We are all different and have different sensory needs.
Pin this to your “Sensory Activities for Kids” Board on Pinterest and reference it in the future!
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If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I am sure that you are not the only one with the same question! I read all comments and would love to hear from you!
Kelly is a licensed Occupational Therapist with 15 years of experience servicing school-aged children and Early Intervention. She is the founder of OT Perspective and a mom to 4 children. To learn more about her, check out her About Me page, here.