How to Minimize Digital Distractions During the Virtual School Day
Children, parents, and teachers all have to fight the number-one enemy of school productivity—and that is distraction.
A distraction is anything that shifts attention from where it needs to be. Avoiding distractions during school is especially important because effective learning takes time, energy, and motivation. Disrupting any of these elements makes learning slower and more difficult.
If you’re a Learning Coach who wants to make sure your virtual school student works in a distraction-free environment, start by understanding the difference between internal and external distractions. As the name suggests, external distractions are caused by your environment or situation. Some external distractions that virtual school students can experience are a barking dog or voices outside the door. Internal distractions, on the other hand, come from our own thoughts. Students can get distracted by thoughts like, “I’m hungry,” or. “I can’t wait to finish my drawing.”
The problem of external distractions is usually easy to solve. Start by making sure your student’s learning environment is quiet and organized. To help your student manage internal distractions, try some techniques like eliminating negative self-talk to keep him or her motivated.
But what if your child faces a distraction that’s more difficult to eliminate? For example, your student spends part of the day learning on the computer, where there is the temptation to browse the Internet. When technology surrounds us and today’s children are more exposed to it than ever, how do we prevent it from derailing the school day?
The problem with a digital distraction is that it’s not as easy as turning off the TV. This is a good first step, but the real problem is when technology becomes an internal distraction. Students may find themselves thinking, “I wonder if anyone texted me,” or, “I have to go online to check when that TV show airs.” The solution is to remove not just the ability but also the desire to give in to these distractions.
Follow the steps below to decrease digital distractions during the school day:
Step 1: Remove External Digital Distractions
Start by turning off TVs, cell phones, MP3 players, video game consoles, and any other disruptive technology. If it helps, collect your student’s cell phone to remove temptation. Remember that this is a good time to mute your own cell phone so it doesn’t distract your student or you when you’re busy.
If you don’t want your student to stray from his or her lessons on the computer, a great solution is to install a free parental control app. These applications can set time limits on website visits or block websites completely during specific times, and they can also filter out search results that contain mature content. Some of these apps even create reports of your child’s activity. A couple of examples are K9 Web Protection and Qustodio. Check the features of the apps you research as well as user reviews to find one what fits your needs.
Step 2: Establish a Digital Routine
You and your student should already have a learning schedule for virtual school. By establishing clear rules and expectations ahead of time, you create a consistent routine that’s easy to follow.
Because setting a routine helps you and your child manage the school day successfully, it can also help you manage your “technology time.” Try these techniques to create an effective Technology Schedule.
Create a Technology Schedule
Start by designating specific times when your child is allowed to use digital devices. (If you already have a schedule for free time, just make sure it includes these technology elements.) For example, if your student is done learning at 3:00 p.m. on Monday, you can set 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. as the time frame for using technology. If the school day ends at a different time on another day, you can adjust the Technology Schedule accordingly. Consider posting the Technology Schedule on a calendar or juxtapose it with the learning schedule so your student can refer to it easily.
List Technology Rules
The Technology Rules should outline the details of how technology can be used during technology time. Here are some rules you can consider creating:
- Determine whether your student is allowed to use technology during recess. Limiting technology time until after school has definite benefits, however, especially for younger students. If your student takes a break from online lessons by browsing the Internet, it doesn’t fully refresh him or her mentally or physically. A better method is to make recess a time for fun activities that get your child out of his or her seat and away from the screen.
- When technology time is over for the day, specify what happens to the devices. Is your student responsible for putting them down, turning them off, or turning them over to you? This rule depends on how much supervision your child needs. As your student gets older and more responsible, gradually giving him or her power over using these devices can help your child learn better self-control.
- Establish how long your child can use technology. You can set time limits or even designate more specific hours in the schedule when he or she can use it. Give your student a timer to help him or her stay on track.
- Making a list of alternative activities can also help if your child says, “I have nothing to do,” after turning the TV off. Besides suggesting alternative hobbies, list new craft ideas, games, or projects you find. This can teach your child to look forward to the week’s new list of fun activities, and by doing this you can also teach him or her to value free time spent away from technology.
Once you determine your Technology Rules, clearly define them on a written list. Go over the rules with your child and make sure he or she has a copy to post on the wall.
Depending on how old your child is and how much he or she likes to use technology, there might be a transition period while the Technology Schedule and Rules take effect. During this time, enforce the schedule and rules diligently. The goal is to make the school day a time when digital distractions don’t even cross your student’s mind.
Step 3: Use Technology as a Learning Tool
Once your student can clearly distinguish learning time from recreational technology time, you no longer have to consider TV and other types of devices as potential distractions. Instead, they can be great learning tools that you can use them during the school day (if you don’t already!).
For example, you can add an instructional video to the day’s lessons to reinforce an important concept. If your student is struggling with math, try to find an age-appropriate online computer game that can make math practice fun. These activities can give students a break during lessons and help them enjoy the school day more. Remember to reach out to your teacher for additional resources and ideas.
But technology use doesn’t have to be strictly educational, either. After the day’s lessons, you can watch a movie that relates to a topic in school. For example, if your student is studying the ocean, watch a movie like Disney’s Finding Nemo together.
Doing activities like this blends the educational with the recreational. It helps your student understand the different uses of technology and when it’s appropriate to use each type. By using rules and schedules to eliminate internal and external distractions, you can change your student’s mind-set about technology and maintain a structured school week.
Does your student struggle with digital distractions during the school day? What are some of the things you do to eliminate distractions? Share your ideas and feedback below.