Today I would like to tell you ten different ways to help kids that simply WON’T do their work… until it’s recess time! This is such a common a problem that most elementary school teachers may have at least one or more in every class, every single year. Children with this issue often CAN do their work, but just won’t push themselves to complete their work until it’s too late. Then, once they realize that they are about to miss something fun, they RUSH through the whole thing as fast as possible so that they can go out and play! This is incredibly frustrating for both the teacher and parents, who wish the child would just settle down and work, but nothing seems to help.
“Dawdlers” such as this work veeeerrrryy sloooooowwly, perhaps stopping to get drinks, chat with friends, use the restroom, sharpen a pencil, laugh with friends, break the pencil, sharpen it again, lose their paper, stop to talk, forget the instructions, ask for help, draw a little monster on their paper, and on and on it goes. So what can you do to help get these little ones focus and try to get their work DONE- rather than try to find creative ways to AVOID it?
First of all, let me define what I mean by work. In this case, I am usually referring to a worksheet, but it could also be a recording sheet for a learning center or math lesson, etc. It is usually the follow up, independent practice portion of a lesson. And as a reminder, this year, I teach second grade, but I have used many of these techniques in Kinder and first grade also. I’ll try to mark which techniques I have used in which grade.
So let’s stop and think about what the underlying issue really is for many of these kids. If they can do the work quickly and easily, why don’t they? I believe that for many of them, it could be a host of things, including:
– the inability to think AHEAD, (even 30 minutes ahead,) to how they will feel during recess time and plan for it.
– immaturity, in that the child is totally living “in the moment” only, and does not care about what is coming “later” until “later” is NOW.
– attentional and focus problems.
– a lack of interest in the work, if it seems irrelevant to them.
– a lack of quality playtime. Kids tend to find a way to get what they really need if they can, so they find a way to get that playtime- during their work time!
And then of course some children don’t complete the work because they actually just need more HELP- but that’s a different issue than the one I’m describing above.
Ten Things to Try When a Child Won’t Do Their Work Until Recess
1. Try a Sand Timer
A one minute sand timer has helped me get children focused in Kindergarten, first, and second grade! It’s simply a matter of challenging kids to see if they can finish one item before the sand runs out, which is usually doable. If you make a game out of it, this is usually fun. The only problems I’ve had with it is that I’ve had kids RACING to see who gets the timers on that day, which is a problem. To solve that, I eventually purchased ten of them so I would have plenty- and now they make towers out of them. (Kids gonna play.)
2. Try a Little White Lie… About What Time It Is!
If you KNOW some kids will do their work once they THINK it is recess time, you might want to tell everyone that it is “just about recess time,” and have the class all sit down for some “instructions.” As you are getting the rest of the class settled, your dawdlers will likely panic and do their work. Meanwhile, you can review the lesson or discuss it with the rest of the class, etc. This worked especially well with Kindergartners and first graders that cannot yet tell time.
3. Give the Dawdlers a Head Start
When I taught Kindergarten, I used to use volunteers to give some of my more “famous” dawdlers a bit of a head start on some assignments while I was giving instructions about the assignment to the whole class. They were usually daydreaming during this time anyway, so it didn’t seem to matter. It really worked, especially with writing assignments! Of course, you have to have those volunteers….
4. Create a Group for Independent Work Time That Must ALWAYS Sit With YOU
My second grade class this year is a very social, lively group, and many of them have problems focusing in independent work settings. I’m also doing flexible seating this year, and many of these dawdlers simply cannot make good choices about where they should sit in order to complete their work!
So in desperation, I finally decided that if we are doing independent work, certain children MUST sit at a table with me or a volunteer. Out of my 19 students, I have ten children that MUST sit at a regular table with either me or an adult to work. (Thank the good Lord I have some wonderful volunteers!) They cannot sit on the floor unless I pick out a spot for them and they are completely isolated. It’s unfortunate that this is the way it is, but we have been working on making good choices for six weeks now, and things are not getting better for some of them. So those that cannot choose for themselves will have to let me choose for them. It’s just sad for my little ones that make good choices, and really WANT to sit with me- but can’t.
5. Use Food Incentives for Each Little Bit Finished
Some of my kids will really work well for bites of cereal! For example, for each line of math problems, they earn a few Cheerios. Those kids will work really fast and focus when there is a tasty reward waiting for them! It is well worth the price of the bag of cereal.
6. Help Them Visualize Recess Inside vs. Recess Playing Outside
In the past, I have tried to have kids close their eyes and imagine themselves outside playing, and then imagine themselves inside doing work. This can work with SOME children. I think I will try printing out a photo of my most frequent dawdlers doing their work during recess so that they can remember how it felt, and also a photo of them playing at recess, and maybe put it on the table in front of them.
7. Isolate the Dawdler
Try putting the child in a spot where he or she can really concentrate without distractions, if you think that is the issue. You may have to rearrange some furniture in your classroom, but if it solves the problem it could be worth it. We have some lap trays that we use for flexible seating that are turning out to be very useful for this purpose. I originally got privacy shields for testing, but they do help some children concentrate by blocking visual stimuli.
8. Take a Movement Break
Most kids benefit from taking a stretch break or movement break either right before they start working or in the middle of the lesson. It may seem counter-intuitive to stop them and let them get up and stretch, but it really can help! Try some music! Here are some examples from our collection below. The first one, I Can Follow the Rules, is from Music for Classroom Management.
9. Try Headphones (with no music!)
One of my students this year is sensitive to noise. She prefers to work with her headphones on because any noise in the room is distracting to her and prevents her from working. There is no music on, but they help muffle the other sounds in the room.
10. Make Sure the Assignment is Within the Child’s Ability to Complete
Remember, not all children are going to be able to and need to do 20-30 math problems to practice. And not all children are able to process at the same speed. Make sure that the assignment is appropriate for all of the children, and make adjustments as necessary. Remember, the people that wrote the book haven’t met your students!
And now it’s your turn! What do you do when you have a child that CAN do his work, but won’t? Let’s share!
See you next week!
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