Mar 23, 2014

Tips for Teaching a Distractible Child

 Meet my new Yoda, Carol Barnier!

Let me tell you how I quickly came to love Carol:

So, it's Day 2 at Teach Them Diligently in Nashville, and I have yet to go to my first session (click here for Day 1). That's right, haven't heard a single speaker, but I can tell you which booth has the best price on the My Body book that we'll use with Classical Conversations next year. 

Enter hubby.

He drops off the kids at his parents' and makes the two-hour drive to gently guide me out of the shiny Exhibit Hall before I spent all the girls' college money to spend some quality time with me. 

Awww... so sweet! 

He wants to hear the session on how to teach your distractable child. Hmm... well, okay. I've seen everything in the Exhibit Hall like a gazillion times, so sure, why not hear a speaker or two.

I wasn't too interested while waiting for Carol to begin. Mary's not really distractable (or so I thought). She has some discipline issues when we do school, like not listening, fidgeting sometimes, and moving around when I ask her to sit still. She just needs more discipline, right? Then, the second sentence that came out of Carol's mouth caught my attention big-time:

Raise your hand if your child falls out of her chair all the time.

Hands float up all across the big room. Lots of hands!

Wait a minute... Mary falls out of her chair constantly. She doesn't even realize she's doing it until she hits the floor. And she doesn't realize what's going on. . . because. . . 

she's distracted!

As Carol talked more about the crazy (and hilarious) things that distractable children tend to do, I realized that she was talking about Mary. I was hanging on her every word; I wanted to know how to better teach and relate to this different child (and 'different' does not mean 'bad,' it just means different. More on that in a minute.).

In Carol's amazingly awesome, encouraging, and practical book, How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On to Learning,

she describes the type of child this book is written to help. See if your kids look anything like mine:

"Which child is yours? The super-wiggly? The highly charged? The inattentive? The energetic? The impulsive? The daydreamer? The spirited? The distractible? The unbridled, intense, passionate child? Or all of them? No matter how you define the qualities in your special child, the common thread is how difficult it is to keep some children focused on a task until they complete it... This book is for anyone who teaches one of these challenging, highly distractible children." (p. 9)

Yes! That's my Mary all the way!

Help me, Carol!

(we had some fun at her booth later that day after she became my Yoda; I'm thinking now that I probably freaked her out a little... or a lot...)

Carol wrote her book after homeschooling a son with ADHD, but the ideas and tips laid out in this book (and her session) can be successful with any child who has trouble focusing. Click here to check out her blog, too.

Ready for some tips she shared during that first session?

Of course, right?!

Well, I'm going to share some of my favorite notes from her talk, but if you want the whole kit-n-caboodle, you'll have to just get her book. It really is inspiring with great practical tips; I know you'll love it if your kids are anything like mine.

Here's a shot of her slide showing some suggestions for quiet movement during school when you need your child to listen:

Things like silly putty (I picked up some Thinking Putty at one of the booths for this. It's similar to silly putty but never dries out, comes in fun colors, and it's made in America by people with disabilities. Sold!), Legos, sorting puff balls, basically anything that is mindless and repetitive. I've found that Mary does indeed listen better when she's in motion.

In her book, Carol also has suggestions for incorporating whole body movement and manipulatives into learning, as well as a bunch of other practical ideas and games.

Let me pause for a second and go back to the 'different' thing I mentioned above. My child IS different (well, actually both are - lucky me! Just kidding, just kidding!).

There are some children who don't struggle with distractions. I was that way. I can think of some of Mary's friends who don't seem to share these issues. I love what Carol says about this in her book:

"You must grow comfortable with the fact that this child is different. Others may not see it. you cannot depend upon their assessment of your child. They will try to convince you that it is a discipline problem or that there must be "trouble" at home or that you should eliminate wallpaper paste from his diet, etc. But I have learned time and time again that what works for most children often has little bearing on what will work with my child... If we expect our children to be like all other children at a time when they simply can't, we lead these precious kids to believe they're a disappointment." (pp. 16, 20, emphasis mine).

Do you see now why I love Carol?!

There are so many more things I could say, but I'm going to wrap it up with my favorite take-away - 

I am the Keeper of the Keys.

(that's not really me, just so you know... kinda looks like a Santa, elf, oompa-loompa jailer or something)

Every delivery method of information is like a key and my child's mind is locked. I need to use the correct key to unlock her mind so she'll "get it." If the method that I'm the most comfortable with isn't working, (wait for it, because this might blow your mind...)

it's not my kids' fault.

Well, let me show you what I'm talkin bout.

Carol used a great example:

Shnoodle and popsiwackle equal moonhyde.

Did you get that?

No? Oh, well, let me say it louder:

Shnoodle and popsiwackle equal moonhyde.

What about now? (and this is totally me with math facts right now)

No? Hmmm... Maybe if I say it slower and little snarkier perhaps?

Get the picture? When that happens, we need to toss that key for the moment and try another one. As the keeper of the keys, I can present the information in different ways until Mary understands. After all, there's more than one way to learn something. Don't assume the method is correct and the child is broken.

"I believe that every item to be learned can be learned in more than one way. There are several "keys" to unlock understanding of any piece of information. If I present something to my son and he does not get it, I have given him the wrong key! It is not his job to take this key and jam it into the lock of his brain and try to make it fit - even if it fits for ninety-nine other kids 99% of the time." (p. 19)

Now, Mary also has to take some responsibility for her learning, of course. When she doesn't understand something, instead of pitching a fit, she needs to tell me to try another 'key.' Carol rightly says that the only limitation to this strategy is my child's maturity (obviously, a three-year-old can't respond to this the same way a seven-year-old can).

"All of us need to be liberated from the idea that if it works for other kids it must work for ours. I simply want to free yourself from thinking in a box." (p. 20)

Preach, Carol! Yes! (and, you know she looks nothing like the real Yoda; she's much, much prettier.)

Seriously, I could go on and on. I'll just mention one other thing from her book really quickly. In How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On to Learning, she also has tips for managing our distractible kiddos while in church:

"People who have never personally been around a truly hyperactive child will watch your child and assume they are observing a major lack of discipline." (p. 66)

So true! Want to know her tips? Well, you really should invest in her book then (sorry for the tease). If I keep giving away all of her great ideas, how is this wonderful woman supposed to earn a living? ;) 

There you have it. That's pretty much my TTD Day 2. I met and fell in love with Carol Barnier. I went to all of her other sessions; I didn't even bother listening to any other speakers. Just Carol. And I learned SO much!

She also has a book for the highly distractible mama:

If I'm Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where'd I Leave the Baby?: Help for the Highly Distractible Mom was sold out at her booth, so I wasn't able to pick that one up. However, I'm not that distractible (except when I'm on the computer or in the Exhibit Hall), which has made dealing with a child who is all the more challenging. But, I've heard it's awesome, and the reviews on Amazon are great. So, if you're interested, Carol also has a book for the mamas!

And be sure to check out Carol's blog for other books (one on different learning styles - I did get this one but haven't had a chance to read it yet - and one for parents of Prodigal children), CDs (including a recording of the session talk!), eBooks, and articles (she's hilarious, y'all).

Your turn!

Do you have any highly distractible children crawling on top of the refrigerator in your home? If so, I'd love to hear your tips for dealing with these unique challenges. Did you go to Teach Them Diligently this year? What were your big take-aways?

I hope you enjoyed my Day 2 recap! I'll be posting about Day 3 soon, so check back! And be sure to hang out with me on Facebook, too. Did you see the picture I posted on there from Day 3? I had the blessing of meeting my other Yoda in Nashville! Eeeek! Go check it out!


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  1. Melody, thank you for sharing this! I love the "keeper of the keys" illustration!

    1. Oh, me, too, Beth! That illustration really made it click with me! :)

  2. So I need to borrow this book too!!

  3. I had found Carol's books prior to meeting her....and I was SO excited that he was going to be at a homeschool convention in my area. I wanted to meet her, but thought I would just cry all over her ~ because she KNOWS my child. Without having ever met him.
    I love this post and that she's your Yoda! (found your post THROUGH Carol's fb link ~ woohooo!)

    1. Steph, thanks for sharing! There were many tears at her booth after her talks; I think she's many mamas' Yodas. :)

  4. I adore Carol's books and hearing her speak. Her presentation on innate preciousness was literally life changing for me. It clarified and put into words, things that had been in my heart for years.

    1. I agree! Her last session I attended was on appreciating the GIFT that is your child. LOVED it! Thanks for taking the time to comment, friend! :)

  5. Met Carol at a conference - she was talking about "Don't Miss the Gift in This Child" - is s/he still a gift when s/he does.... X? ...Y? ...Z? Thankfully, YES! was her answer. *tears* I have been struggling with discipline frustration & wanting to see my child as a gift... Carol spoke to my heart. She has so much wisdom to share - Yoda is a perfect analogy!

    1. YES! I heard that talk, too, and it was FABULOUS! There were many tears (from many people) during and after that session, but also MANY laughs. Carol is such a great speaker! SO funny without lessening the importance of her topics.

  6. Melody - boy you just shared all my secrets! LOL :) Having two kiddo's that are driven to distraction, I found that things like my list were all born out of dealing with my own distracted ADHD kids for years and figuring out how to teach to them. As a Tutor, I found it didn't matter what sort of kid you had in class, they ALL love these things regardless - so it helps to make those more "moveable" kids you may get as a Tutor (or have as a child) more able to be successful in class, when you make it "creative" as I call it. :) Hugs - thanks for sharing, friend!

    1. Colleen, I LOVE that post! I've used SO many of your ideas in my class! Thanks for reminding me of it! :)

    2. Yaaaay! These ideas are awesome!!

  7. I love this post! And now I'm going to have to check out both books! LOL

  8. Melody, this post is a blessing. Your whole blog is a blessing. Thank you for sharing in a transparent and God honoring way. I am buying both books now. :o)


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