One of the hardest things to deal with as a teacher (and as a parent) is keeping a child focused. 

Sometimes it’s a struggle to just complete one math problem or answer one question on a reading assignment.  And it can be so incredibly frustrating!  Can you relate?

As a teacher, when my students are off task, I go through a mental checklist… Does he understand the question?  Should I simplify the directions? Did he understand what he read?  Was he paying attention to what he read?  Does he remember what he just read?  Can I eliminate visual distractions?  Is the room quiet enough?  The list could go on and on, right?

So what do you do when you’ve tried everything and nothing is working? Let me tell you the story of Mikey…

Mikey was in my fourth grade class.  He was tiny for his age, quiet, shy and wore huge glasses. He was well-behaved and always tried to do his very best. But he COULD NOT stay on task. Every little noise distracted him! And if there was sufficient white noise in the room (to hide the smaller sounds such as the one a pencil makes as you’re writing), every MOVEMENT would distract him. He was constantly lifting his head, eyes darting to and fro.

After awhile, I figured out that he could focus on an assignment if I stood near his desk. Problem solved, right? WRONG! He was not the only student in the room. Many others also needed support. So, how do you be in two places at once? I found a body double!

Usually, when you hear this term, it refers to being in the same room with someone so that they can stay on task. You don’t have to actually be working on the same assignment, but the fact that you are nearby, helps the person to remain focused.   

However, in Mikey’s case, as soon as I stepped more than 2 feet away from his desk, he lost focus. So I employed a new kind of body double… Tiny the Tiger.

It turned out that Mikey really liked stuffed animals. So I brought in a small, stuffed tiger. Tiny the Tiger sat on the edge of Mikey’s desk and watched him work.  And Mikey was focused! I was able to step away for minutes at a time!

After a few rules (Tiny would leave if Mikey started playing with him) and a few more stuffed friends (sometimes other stuffed animals stepped in to help out), we found a system that was somewhat successful. Mikey was able to work on an assignment for 5-10 minutes at a time. And we celebrated! Because sometimes you need to celebrate the small steps toward success.

If you are struggling to keep someone focused on an assignment and are at your wit’s end… be creative! What are their interests? Who might you employ as a body double? Let me know in the comments below what has worked for you!