Motivating Kids to Stay Focused on Remote Learning

Remote learning is new territory for parents, teachers, and kids. Remote learning brings new challenges like having to learn through a screen instead of being in a classroom with the in-person support of teachers and peers. Even with these new challenges, there are things that we can do to help kids stay focused on their activities.

Set up clear expectations for each day. It’s much easier for kids to focus on tasks and stay motivated when they know exactly what they should be working on and what’s coming next. Set up a simple checklist that visually shows kids what they have to work on each day.

    • Check out this template: My School Chart.
    • Have your child check, cross off, mark with a sticker or stamp, each activity they finish.
    • If an activity is longer or complicated, break it down into smaller steps with its own checklist.
    • Ask for your child’s input and offer choices whenever possible. This helps kids play an active role in their learning and get excited about what they will be doing.

Use an incentive system. Setting up an incentive system can help boost motivation when learning a new skill or trying something new that is difficult.

    • You can add a reward to your child’s daily checklist. When they complete their tasks for the day they earn the reward.
    • You could also use other types of charts, like a sticker or star chart to track progress on specific behaviors.
    • Check out the blog Make Home Schoolwork Easier with Incentive Charts for some great ideas on setting up an incentive system for remote learning.

Check-in with teachers about any individual and whole class incentives they use. Communicating with your child’s teacher about the incentives they use in class and what you are using at home can help you support each other and your child.

    • Teachers might have kids earn points towards a whole group reward or might be looking for “mystery kids” (kids to catch on task and reward). You can help motivate your child by reminding them of these rewards and how they can earn them.
    • Work together with your child’s teacher to set up incentives. Maybe your child would be motivated by earning a little one-on-one time with their teacher or another staff member over Zoom. Or maybe the class could earn some social time with peers after the Zoom meeting.

Use specific praise to motivate kids to keep up the good work. Praise can help motivate kids to keep trying even when something is hard. It also helps teach them the expectations.

    • Use specific verbal praise throughout the day for behaviors you want to see more of. For example: “Nice job! You worked so hard and finished the activity” or “Wow you are so focused with your eyes on the paper!”
    • Combine your specific praise with tangible praise like stickers and stamps. Before starting the day’s learning activities tell your child that you want to catch them focusing on their activity, or whatever behavior(s) you want to see more of. Whenever you catch them, give them a sticker or other reinforcer.
    • Focus on praising kids for their hard work and trying their best regardless of the outcome. This helps motivate kids to keep trying even when something is hard or doesn’t work out perfectly.
    • Check out this blog Building Self-Esteem How to Use Praise with Your Child for some more ideas on how to use praise.

Be flexible and creative with the learning environment. Paying attention and sitting for long periods is hard for kids. As long as they are staying on task, be flexible about how they can complete their activities.

    • If you notice sitting is challenging, let them stand up, lay down, and move around a little bit as long as they are staying on task.
    • Maybe you have an exercise ball they could try sitting on, special cushions they could use, a weighted blanket, special chair, or office chair.
    • Try using a variety of creative materials whenever possible. For example, gel pens, markers, crayons, white boards with dry erase markers, smelly markers, stickers, etc.
    • Try playing music in the background. Play calming music to help kids focus or play your child’s favorite songs while they are working to make it fun.

Have your child take frequent, short breaks. Build short breaks into your child’s learning routine. Use them as a tool to help your child reset when feeling frustrated, wiggly, cranky, or tired.

    • Start your at-home learning routine each day with some exercise, whether it’s running around, playing outside, dancing, taking a walk, etc.
    • Think of some gross motor activities with your child and write them on pieces of paper and put them in a bag. You can have your child pull however many out whenever they need a quick break. You could write things like: 10 wall push ups,15 jumping jacks, run in place while counting to 20, hop like a bunny, etc.
    • Sing a song, have a dance party, try Go-Noodle, or other gross motor activity videos.
    • Blow bubbles for a couple minutes.
    • Play with playdough, slime, oobleck, or other sensory materials.
    • Take a short break for some free-play with a toy, blocks, legos, drawing, outside play, etc.
    • Go for a short walk around the neighborhood.

Even though school looks different this year, there are still many things parents and educators can do to help motivate kids during remote learning. Check in with your child’s teacher if you’re having any challenges or concerns. Chances are, your child’s teacher has seen those challenges and will have some insight or ideas to support you.

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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020

Image: © Anchalee Yates |


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