Home' Island Sun : ISN 091115 Contents ISLAND SUN - SEPTEMBER 11, 2015
by Shelley M.
I am hav-
ing a difficult time
after the summer
break to get my
7- and 9-year-old
children to focus
and pay attention
to their homework.
What can I do to help them?
Kerri H., Sanibel
Going back to school after a long sum-
mer, with fewer requirements or the need
to focus and pay attention, is difficult. All
of us need to learn how to focus when
we learn new material or study something
Dr. Lori Desaultels, assistant profes-
sor in the School of Education at Marian
University, recommends that we teach
children to use “brain breaks” and
focused attention practices for learning.
She says that these techniques “refocus
our neural circuitry with either stimulat-
ing or quieting practices that generate
increased activity in the prefrontal cortex,
where problem solving and emotional
Dr. Desaultels describes a brain break
as a short period of time when we
change up the dull routine of incoming
information that arrives via predictable,
tedious, well-worn roadways. Our brains
are wired for novelty because we pay
attention to any and every stimulus in our
environment that feels threatening or out
of the ordinary.
When we take a brain break, it
refreshes our thinking and helps us dis-
cover another solution to a problem or
see a situation through a different lens.
Below are some ideas that will provide a
brain break and invigorate your children’s
• Pick any object out of your kitchen
junk drawer and ask your children to
come up with two ways to use this object
other than for it’s normal uses. They can
write or draw their responses and then
share their ideas.
• Movement is critical to learning.
Have your children stand and blink with
the right eye while snapping the fingers
of their left hand. Repeat this with the left
eye and right hand. This sounds simple,
but it isn’t.
• Taking turns, ask your children to
draw a picture in the air while their sibling
guesses what it is. You could give them
categories such as foods, places, or other
ways to narrow the guessing.
• This is one of my favorite techniques
and can be done anywhere. Have one of
your children begin to tell a story for one
minute. Make sure someone is timing the
speaker. Then have the next person add
on for one minute and then the have the
last person complete the story with a silly
ending. Kids love this activity.
Dr. Desaultels also says that brain
breaks need to be paired with focused
attentions practices for maximum learn-
ing. She describes this practice as brain
exercise for quieting the thousands of
thoughts that distract and frustrate us
each day. Research repeatedly shows that
quieting our minds awakens our parasym-
pathetic nervous system, reducing heart
rate and blood pressure while enhancing
our coping strategies to effectively handle
the frustrations. Our thinking improves
and our emotions begin to regulate so
that we can approach an experience
Below are some of her suggestions.
For the following practices, the goal is to
start with 60 to 90 seconds and build to
one to five minutes:
• Visualize colors while focusing on the
breath. Inhale a deep green, and exhale
a smoky gray. Have the children imagine
the colors as swirling and alive with each
inhale. If your child is de-escalating from
an angry moment, the color red is a great
color to exhale.
• For younger children, direct them
to stand and, as they inhale, lift an arm
or leg and wiggle it, exhaling it back to
its original position. For younger grades
beginning these focused-attention prac-
tices, it’s good to include an inhale and
exhale with any type of movement.
• Direct the children to inhale for four
counts, hold for four, and exhale slowly
for four counts. You can increase the
holding of breath by a few seconds once
the children find the rhythm of the exer-
These exercises may seem a bit unusu-
al initially but my experiences say they
will bring you the desired results of better
focus and attention for your children.
Shelley Greggs is adjunct faculty at
Florida SouthWestern State College,
where she teaches psychology and
education courses. She is also a nation-
ally certified school psychologist and
consultant for School Consultation
Services, a private educational consult-
ing company. Questions for publication
may be addressed to smgreggs@gmail.
com. Not all questions submitted can
be addressed through this publication.
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