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Tips to Help Students Stay Focused in Online Classes

Student doing homework on a CCA laptop

CCA families love the flexibility that comes with online learning. They appreciate the chance to make school fit their lifestyles and interests, unlike brick-and-mortar schools that make families adapt their calendar to the school’s schedule.

Still, taking online classes is no less rigorous than traditional schooling. Children maximize their academic benefits when they know how to stay focused on their studies. Even students who find that concentration comes easily are subject to moments of distraction that can affect their grades. A few learning tips to stay focused in online classes can benefit every child, striking that balance between concentrating on schoolwork and enjoying time to just be a kid.

Common Barriers to Staying Focused in Online Classes

In every child’s life, distractions abound. Chances are, forces outside your child’s control or even inside the head are conspiring to deprioritize schoolwork. Maybe you haven’t noticed them because they’re so commonplace, but a range of factors can interrupt your child’s concentration and disrupt learning.

Technology: Today’s children are digital natives whose lives can revolve around social media. Although technology has delivered wonders in education, medicine and wellness, it has also created time-sucking rabbit holes and constant streams of misinformation. Cyberschooling is a great thing, but the latest video from a favorite YouTube star is always beckoning.

Environmental distractions: A poorly organized workspace in the middle of family life presents too many distractions. Some elements might be beyond a family’s control, but it’s hard to concentrate in an atmosphere in which siblings are fighting, dogs are barking and televisions are blaring.

Differences in learning abilities: Every child has a unique learning style. Children may be visual learners, preferring to see and observe; auditory learners, listening closely and even using their own voices to reinforce new concepts; kinesthetic learners who learn from experience; or reading/writing learners who extract information from the written word. Children also learn at different paces and according to their unique abilities. CCA is devoted to teaching according to each child’s learning style and needs, because those who lack the stimulation that excites their curiosity are likelier to become frustrated or distracted from their lessons. 

Tips for Cyber Students to Stay Laser-Focused

Maybe you think your child is just, by nature, easily distracted. Or maybe you believe your child isn’t at all prone to distractions. Actually, it’s time to rethink both notions. Distractions can affect any student, but they can be controlled and diminished. These ideas for how to stay focused on online classes will help your child get the most out of every school day. 

1. Eat a Hearty Meal Before Class

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, good nutrition and physical activity keep children healthy and improve academic performance. Children who eat well show improved brain function, memory and concentration. Studies show that children who skip breakfast are less alert, and a lack of healthy foods and specific nutrients in the diet is associated with lower grades and absenteeism. And, of course, hunger pangs are sure to take a child’s mind off schoolwork.

Advice about nutrition can be confusing. Remember, first, that sugary and processed snacks, including soda and juice, provide empty calories that don’t contribute to your child’s health. Although an occasional treat is fine, make sure your child gets these healthy choices every day:

  • Water: Kids who are hydrated are more alert and focused.
  • Calcium: Most boys and girls do not get enough calcium. Milk, cheese and yogurt help provide the calcium that kids need for their growing bones and to boost cognitive development.
  • Carbohydrates: Children need the energy that comes from healthy carbs. Whole-grain cereals and breads, brown rice and potatoes keep hunger pangs away and fight the fatigue that distracts from lessons.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Vitamins, minerals and disease fighters, all in one package that keeps the brain and body in prime form.
  • Protein: Children who don’t get enough protein – about two servings of dairy a day, or a few servings of lean beef, pork, poultry or fish – can be lethargic and passive.

2. Remove Distractions From the Learning Environment

Children who’ve discovered the joy of learning know that school is fun. Sure, there’s hard work involved, but it leads to pride in accomplishment and a job well done.

Distractions that threaten to make learning jump off the tracks come in many forms. Some are unavoidable. For instance, there’s nothing you can do about a firetruck rumbling by the house with sirens blaring.

However, parents looking for tips to stay focused in online classes should remove distractions that are under their control. Consider these learning tips:

Create an in-home workspace that’s quiet. Even if it’s in a common part of the home, make it a distraction-free zone during the school day. Turn off the television, and put away the toys. You’ll need a phone there for emergencies or educational purposes, but establish strict rules that it’s not to be used for personal reasons, and choose settings that keep the phone from pinging to announce every text.

Tidy up: Clutter is distracting, and searching for that textbook or folder detracts from time designated for learning. An organized, distraction-free learning space keeps essentials close at hand and uses notebooks and color coding to separate materials by subject.

Establish household rules: Separate the school day from home time. Don’t allow siblings to interfere with schoolwork, unless they’re helping each other. Keep pets away from the learning space. Ask friends and family not to call during school hours unless there’s an emergency.

Consider your own habits, too. Are you clattering in the kitchen during math class or revving up the lawnmower during a test? Rework the household schedule to keep school-day noise to a minimum.

Limit time with video games: Set specific hours for video games and non-school computer time. Teach your child to focus and take responsibility for their own work by allowing game time only if assignments are done. 

3. Actively Participate in Discussions

Children vary in how much they participate in classroom discussions. Some are so quick to raise their hands that the teacher must ask them to give their classmates a chance. Others are shy, or they fear being laughed at or criticized for something they say.

Online teachers know that encouraging lively class participation is a learning booster and keeps kids focused. Students who participate in class learn to cooperate, get feedback promptly, and understand due dates and expectations for their assignments. Students who actively participate in discussions have more opportunities to reflect on what they’re learning and apply it. Through discussions, they recall information, put it into context and have the chance to ask questions, making sure they thoroughly understand the lesson. 

Your child’s teachers are trained in techniques to encourage classroom discussion, but parents can help, too. Explain to your child why participation is important and how it helps their learning. Help your child shape their thoughts and questions in advance. Before a lesson, review the previous day’s material, in case your child still has questions. After lessons, provide feedback – perhaps a word of praise for a good question or for helping a classmate understand a new concept. Teach your child to write down thoughts that might be a bit off-topic but are still worth pursuing later, either with the teacher or independently. 

4. Build Breaks Into Your Daily Schedule

No one can focus for hours on end. Kids, especially, are prone to distraction. They need breaks that allow them to rest, rejuvenate and turn their attention back to their schoolwork. Studies show that downtime decreases stress, increases productivity and improves brain function.

In fact, a groundbreaking 2012 study using brain scans on people taking a break found that the brain isn’t idling at all. While the part of the brain that works takes a rest, other parts remain active. This pattern helps the brain consolidate memories, reflect on experiences and plan for the future – all factors that promote learning and academic achievement.

Children who get breaks during the day also do better at reading comprehension and the ability to generate new ideas and make sense of them.  

For younger kids, short breaks that include physical activity, even there in the learning space, can improve behavior, inspire them to try harder and help them stay on task.

For all students, regular exercise breaks – 60 minutes total is recommended daily – boost brain health and promote learning.

The brain can take breaks, too. Fun “brain breaks” can decrease the stress known to detract from lessons. Try taking time for “funny talk,” with your child’s tongue touching the roof of the mouth; humming a game of “Name That Tune”; or having your child write his or her name with their nondominant hand, talking later about how it felt.  

5. Take Detailed Notes During Class

Taking notes is a time-honored classroom technique. We all remember sitting in a classroom and writing notes to review later, when it’s time to study and prepare for a test.

But did you know that note-taking has a powerful effect in the moment? When your child takes notes, distractions are held at bay. Taking notes:

  • Keeps your child alert: The body is active and avoiding drowsiness.
  • Engages the mind: Students who take notes are listening carefully and engaged with what they’re hearing, as they decide the points worth writing down.
  • Organizes information: The most important parts of the lesson rise to the surface, helping your child understand new concepts.
  • Promotes good study habits: Well-organized notes give your learner a chance to review the day’s and week’s lessons.

Parents and students have many choices in note-taking apps. Look for those that fit with your hardware, align with your child’s learning style, accommodate different subjects (such as those requiring a mix of text and images) and suit your budget.  

And for another jolt of energy that wards off distractions, let your child grab a pen or pencil and take notes by hand or even do old-fashioned doodling. Writing by hand increases focus, relieves stress, promotes creativity, deepens learning and activates the parts of the brain that support comprehension. 

6. Focus on Positive Goal-Setting

Sometimes, worry is simply a matter of not knowing what comes next or where you’re going from here. For kids, that manifests in a lack of focus and high levels of frustration. Distracted children find themselves in a vicious circle of academic problems exacerbated by their focus problems, while parents become increasingly frustrated. 

Psychologists say that distractibility in children can emerge from ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, major life changes such as divorce or relocation, and high levels of daily stress. Without intervention, these children can suffer from low self-esteem that further slows their academic progress.

Parents should view distractibility as a challenge to overcome and not a problem to be punished. Psychologists offer these tips for taking a positive approach:

  • Be understanding: Distracted children are less likely to grow angry or frustrated if they know their parent is attuned to their challenges.
  • Be calm, firm and non-controlling: To a distractible child, a parent who yells or tells them to “just focus” is simply creating more distractions. Keep cool and state clear expectations without issuing commands.
  • Get to the bottom of the problem: Your child isn’t lazy or purposely causing grief. Talk to your child and find out exactly what they’ve been able to learn and where they are challenged, so you can circle back to the teacher to review the material.
  • Break down big problems into small ones: Take a task calmly and one step at a time.
  • Use checklists: Your child gets satisfaction from crossing a task off a to-do list.
  • Keep in touch with teachers: Distracted children might disengage at the first tingle of an obstacle. Through CCA’s personalized approach to education, parents and teachers work together to address your child’s unique needs. 

CCA Helps Engage Online Learners

CCA makes learning fun and engaging, which keeps kids focused and on task. Sometimes, distraction comes from pure boredom or from the teacher’s inability to adapt to a child’s learning style. At CCA, we personalize learning for every student because we believe that’s how school should work. When the focus is on learning, your child achieves. Learn more about how online classes at Commonwealth Charter Academy keep your child engaged.


Commonwealth Charter Academy


October 9th, 2020


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