Girls focused on teacher with globe (iStock)

The minds of F-2 kids are constantly inundated with new numbers, new words and the minefield of new social interactions in the classroom. And while teaching younger kids to focus can be daunting, it is certainly still possible. Once kids learn how to tap into their own special ‘focus zone’, classroom and behaviour management is so much easier, Catherine Wills writes.

1. Mistakes are learning moments

What is it?
Learning is great because it is hidden in the nooks and crannies of everyday life. Children are learning all the time without even realising it. Unfortunately, mistakes often jump up and threaten to hit learning on the head. One mistake can really dint a kid’s self-confidence and positivity, as well as dragging them a long way out of the focus zone. But this should never be the case.

How do I use it?
Rather than letting a mistake throw a student’s focus off course, just turn it into a learning moment. This can be done in a funny, humorous, or celebratory way. As always with kids, the more exaggeration the better. So if they misspell a word, try to lighten the moment: “Okay, you didn’t spell ‘great’ the way it normally looks, but ‘gerate’ sounds like a cool word — it’s just not the one we need!”

2. ‘Pull and release’

What is it?
This tip is especially effective for kindergarten classrooms where getting littler kids in the focus zone and keeping them there doesn’t work for very long! ‘Pull and release’ involves capturing a child’s undivided attention for a shorter period of time, then releasing it by asking them to answer a question, or complete an activity.

How do I use it?
Story time is a great opportunity for pull and release. Start reading a story, then after about two pages you might notice their little eyes start to wander. It happens, they’re tiny humans constantly distracted by the world! So we read two pages, which pulls them into the focus zone. Then, we release the focus by doing an action. For instance, if the word on the page says something about hands, we clap together. If there is something about jumping, we jump up and down. Then after a bit of release, they are ready to be pulled back to their focus place.

Young students studying ground outside (iStock)

3. Make the focus zone cool

What is it?
Making sure kids know what a focus zone is and understand why they need to be there is super useful. If kids don’t see the purpose of focusing, they aren’t going to do it. The focus zone needs to give them personal reward, ideally intrinsic reward.

How do I use it?
One handy way to do this is to make the focus zone a real space in students’ minds. When I was teaching English in France, getting students to focus on grammar points was often difficult, especially when they could hardly understand the concepts in their native language.

I implemented a ‘focus board’ in my classroom. This was basically outlining the reasons why we concentrate and why learning English was important to them. Points such as “English is fun”, “My brain is learning new words” and “I understand this!” were on the focus board.

4. Focusing on self-awareness

What is it?
I’ve tutored a lot of children of varying primary school ages throughout my teaching career. They tell me one of their big problems is it’s so hard to stay focused at school and they feel constantly distracted with what’s going on around them.

How to do I use it?
To help them out, I worked through a series of steps with them to help find the way they focus. For instance, one girl with mild ADHD said the noise of the classroom kept distracting her. We decided that before she enters her ‘focus zone’, she should count to 20 ‘loudly’ in her mind to block out the other sounds. Another boy who had dyslexia was distracted in class because the letters seemed to jump off the page. After some trial and error, we found that his ‘focus zone’ needed a piece of blue cellophane.

After finding a strategy that worked for the individual child, I’d remind them at the beginning of a tutoring session about how they’re going to focus. Over time, we essentially built up a metaphorical ‘focus kit’ which helped them a lot.

5. Celebrate the focus!

What is it?
As always, kids love being celebrated. Learning is a huge achievement and should never be underestimated. It is really exciting when something new is discovered, whether it is about a word or a mathematical equation. So at home or in the classroom, celebrating how a child focused is really important.

How do I use it?
This can be done in ways like rewarding a classroom of students after 30 minutes of focused work with a five-minute game. At home, sticker charts are miraculous things to show all the days that a child has done their homework or reading.

Boys focused on drawing activity (iStock)