School shutdowns because of COVID-19 have caused upheaval and distraction for all students. Some kids settle in to distance learning quickly and easily. Others take longer. But for kids and teens who struggle with focus, distance learning in the time of the coronavirus can be difficult.
Here are eight ways learning at home can make it harder to focus.
1. Lack of structure
At school, the day is totally planned out. There are schedules and routines. And there are rules to follow in class and out. From kindergarten to 12th grade, school means structure.
Learning from home often means making up your own routine. For some students, the flexibility is liberating. But kids and teens who struggle with focus tend to do better when they know exactly what to expect, and exactly what’s expected of them.
2. External distractions
A doorbell ringing, someone making lunch, people or pets moving around. There are sights, smells, and sounds that are part of daily living at home that make it especially hard to focus on schoolwork. That can be true whether there’s a lot of physical space at home, or very little.
3. Internal distractions
The pandemic has caused anxiety and sadness for many people. And those emotions and worries can be as distracting as a TV playing in the next room.
Many kids and teens have feelings of loss because of COVID-19. They may be missing out on big events like moving-up ceremonies, prom, and graduation. Some are also coping with the trauma of family members losing jobs, getting sick, or even dying. And social media exposes them to what other people are going through.
Dealing with loss can make it hard for anyone to focus. It’s even harder for people who already struggle with focus and coping with emotions.
4. Less support for time management
Even before the shutdowns, there were no set start and end times with homework. There were also no teachers standing there to keep students focused and on track. But with distance learning, that’s often the case with classwork, too.
Many students have trouble staying on top of their work when they’re learning at home. Without the natural supports that exist in class, they can easily drift off and lose track of time. They may also choose to use their time to do things they like more than schoolwork.
5. No in-person help with refocusing
At school, the teacher can refocus students with a hand on the shoulder or a quiet reminder. Classmates asking or answering a question can bring attention back to the lesson or activity. But those things don’t exist in the same way if students drift off at home.
At first, being home may feel like a vacation because there’s no school to race to every morning. Regular sleep routines can fall by the wayside. Kids and teens may also have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep with all the changes and uncertainty. All of these things can make it even more difficult to pay attention and focus.
7. Long, written communication
Many teachers are using email to reach students and present information. But a long email can be hard to focus on, just like a long oral lesson in the classroom can be. The same is true of written class materials. Often, the longer they are, the harder they are to stay focused on.
8. No change in scenery or built-in breaks
Staying in one place all day can make it hard to stay focused during distance learning. Students get built-in breaks in regular school. Recess, gym, music or art class, and even changing from room to room let students recharge. And for many kids and teens, these mini-breaks make it easier to focus when it’s time to sit back down and do academic work.