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Tips to Help Students Stay Focused in Online Classes

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    Tips to Help Students Stay Focused in Online Classes

    Student doing homework on a CCA laptop

    In this new world of online learning, all parents have discovered what CCA families already knew: Taking online classes offers new levels of flexibility. CCA parents know they can mold the online learning experience into one that suits their family interests and lifestyles.

    Still, cyberschool parents don’t expect any less rigor. They want their children to thrive and grow. Students who know how to stay focused in online classes have an edge, but kids are kids. There will be moments of distraction that can affect grades. A few learning tips to stay focused in online classes can help every child strike that balance between concentrating on schoolwork and just being a kid.

    Common Barriers to Staying Focused in Online Classes

    Did you notice? We live in the age of distraction. Social media, pop-up ads, constant texting and deliveries landing on the front porch intrude into every moment. Forces outside your child’s control or even inside the head conspire to make schoolwork second place. Help your child focus on online learning by watching for these distractions that can interrupt concentration.

    Technology: Today’s children are digital natives swimming in a pool of social media. Although technology has delivered wonders in education, it has also created time-sucking rabbit holes and constant streams of misinformation. No child is immune from the temptation to check out the latest YouTube sensation. Research shows that just the presence of a personal device in a classroom setting divides the learner’s attention and reduces long-term retention, for test results half a letter score lower than they could have been.

    Environmental distractions: Converting the kitchen island to a school desk doesn’t automatically promote learning. Open your eyes and ears. Listen for the fussing siblings, barking dogs and blaring televisions. Look for the clutter and the view of a playground out the window. You can’t control everything, but you can create an environment conducive to concentration.

    Differences in learning abilities: Children learn at different paces and in different ways – through reading or the spoken word, through hands-on activities or time to ponder. CCA teaches according to each child’s learning style, because those who aren’t excited and curious are likelier to unplug from their lessons. 

    Stress: Kids experience stress. They absorb tension in families enduring sickness or financial strain. One adolescent in four has an anxiety disorder. Worries on the brain crowd out the space meant for learning.

    Tips for Cyber Students to Stay Laser Focused

    Maybe you think your child is naturally distraction prone. Or maybe you believe your child is immune from distractions. It’s time to rethink both notions. Distractions can affect any student at any time – but they are not inevitable. These ideas for how to stay focused on online classes will help your child get the most of every school day.

    1. Eat a Hearty Meal Before Class

    Rumble, rumble. That’s your child’s empty stomach calling, taking their mind off schoolwork. 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.

    Good nutrition is about more than eating to stop the hunger pangs. Sugary and processed foods, including soda and juice, don’t contribute to your child’s health and can cause harm. An occasional treat is fine, but 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: Not all carbs are bad. 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

    Some distractions are unavoidable. For instance, there’s nothing you can do about the blare of a firetruck racing past.

    However, parents can remove the distractions they control. Consider these learning tips:

    Create a quiet workspace: Make a distraction-free zone during the school day, even if it’s in a common area of the home. Turn off the television, and put away the toys. Keep a phone there for emergencies or educational purposes, but zip it up in a bag and put it out of sight, because even having a smartphone within reach can diminish cognitive capacity. Establish strict rules that the phone cannot be used for personal reasons, and choose settings that prevent it from pinging to announce every text.

    Tidy up: Clutter is distracting, and searching for that misplaced folder steals time designated for learning. An organized learning space keeps essentials handy while it wards off distraction.

    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 attention-seeking pets away from the learning space. Ask friends and family not to call during school hours unless there’s an emergency.

    Change your habits: 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.

    Highly trained online teachers, like those at CCA, 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. Try these tips:

    • Explain to your child why participation is important and how it helps their learning.
    • Before a lesson, review the previous day’s materials, and help your child shape thoughts and questions in advance.
    • 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 worth pursuing later, either with the teacher or independently. 

    4. Build Breaks Into Your Daily Schedule

    No one can stay focused for hours on end. Kids, especially, are prone to distraction. One recent study found that elementary-aged children – especially the younger ones – spend one-quarter of class time distracted. Kids need breaks that allow them to rest, rejuvenate and turn their attention back to 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 perform 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 beside the desk, 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 fun breaks, too. Take time for “funny talk,” with your child’s tongue touching the roof of the mouth. Hum a game of “Name That Tune.” Have your child write his or her name with their nondominant hand, talking later about how it felt. Even an old-fashioned game of Simon Says keeps the brain engaged while kids are having fun. 

    5. Take Detailed Notes During Class

    We all remember taking notes in the classroom. We’d write down what the teacher was saying. Later, we’d go back to the notes to study and prepare for tests.

    But did you know that note-taking has a powerful effect in the moment? When your child takes notes, they hold distractions at bay. It’s a benefit because 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, because 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. It’s important to pick the right one. Look for those that fit with your hardware and align with your child’s learning style. They should accommodate different subjects – an art class, for instance, might have your child mixing text with 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. Even old-fashioned doodling has value. Writing by hand promotes literacy and reading comprehension, improves memory recall, cultivates critical thinking and encourages creativity to solve problems or create great works of art.

    6. Focus on Positive Goal-Setting

    Distracted children find themselves in a vicious circle. Academic problems cause worry. Then worry interferes with the ability to focus on academics, and the problem continues. While children fret and grades slide, parents become increasingly frustrated – adding another layer of household stress. 

    Psychologists say that distractibility in children can be a consequence of 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 hampers their academic progress.

    Distractibility is not a problem to be punished. It’s a challenge to overcome. Psychologists offer these tips for taking a positive approach toward staying focused on classes:

    • Be understanding: Distracted children are less likely to grow angry or frustrated if they know their parent is sympathetic to the challenges they face.
    • 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 accomplishing a task and crossing it off the 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 a child’s unique needs.

    CCA Helps Engage Online Learners

    CCA makes learning fun and engaging, which keeps kids focused and on task. Sometimes, distraction while taking online classes comes from pure boredom or from the inability of teachers to accommodate all the learning styles they face. At CCA, we personalize learning for your child 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


    December 15th, 2020


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