News From Your School Psychologist



As adults we know and understand what it looks like to "pay attention." But kids may need direct instruction, visuals, and other strategies to better understand this concept that we take for granted. Sometimes we expect elementary aged kids to sit still with their eyes glued to the teacher (or Zoom screen). However, this "one size fits all" definition of what it looks like to pay attention is not the norm, nor is the expectation of teachers (in person or remote). Paying attention is hard. And remember--the part of the brain that controls attention is still growing and developing for all kids.

Let them Fidget and Rethink Seating

When you see your child squirm, your instinct may be to tell them to stop. Some wiggling isn't necessarily a bad thing if their brains are still engaged. Whether in school or online, some kids need to move in order to pay attention. Unlike the old days, there is no one size fits all approach. If your child prefers to stand, maybe prop the iPad on some books or a counter. Now this doesn't mean that the rules for expected behavior are out the window. Children who are remote still need to be in the Zoom box and they cannot be moving their screens and making the teacher dizzy! But with proper teaching, many of our students use standing positions, bungee/stretchy cord for their feet to bounce against, or hand held fidgets. For many of us, we can pay attention better when we are playing with a pen in our pocket, playing with a rubber band or moving our hands or feet.

Fidget Rules-A social Story for Kids

Check out this great resource from The Calming Corner to teach the Do's and Don'ts of Fidgets.

Suprising but True--Average Attention Span

A normal attention span is 3 to 5 minutes per year of a child's age. Therefore, a 2-year-old should be able to concentrate on a particular task for at least 6 minutes, and a child entering kindergarten should be able to concentrate for at least 15 minutes. (Note: A child's attention span while watching TV, video games, Legos, or other preferred activities is not always a representative measure of his or her attention span for learning.) Of course, these are only generalizations. And how long a child is truly able to focus is largely determined by factors like how many distractions are nearby, how hungry or tired the child is and how interested they are in the activity. Further this research was not intended to be based on virtual learning. As it seems, students are able to focus for even less time due to the "2 dimensional" nature of this type of learning. do we "teach" kids to pay attention?

Visuals, Explicit teaching, and repetition....also as adults we need to be more flexible and consider that different kids may display various body postures and students may cope with one-sided screen-based learning in unexpected ways. After all, children require much more movement and are not cut out for desk jobs:)

Here are 4 kid friendly approaches to teach the concept of "paying attention"

1. Second Step Posters

At Sprague we utilize the "Second Step Curriculum." You may have seen these posters around our building. It helps serve as a common language to prep for learning. Most students and teachers around the school can be heard saying" eye watching, ears listening, voice quiet, body still."
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2. Whole Body Listening

I really like the book "Whole Body Listening Larry, " by Elizabeth Sautter and Kristen Wilson. There is a school and home edition. This book "shows" how to listen through explicit teaching of different parts of the body (i.e. what do your ears need to do? What does your heart need to do?")
Free Social Thinking Read Aloud: Whole Body Listening Larry at Home

3.Video Modeling

Does your child have issues following directions? Focusing? tuning in? Consider watching videos together and having discussions about the behaviors. Our district has access to these awesome Everyday Speech videos with real kids acting out different scenes. They are short and show students visually how to to act out the skill. Video modeling is an effective evidence based therapy approach for all students. It is an awesome tool to work on differentiating between the expected and unexpected behaviors

Please email me if you would like links to more videos on a given social skill!

4. MEET BRAINEATER: Refer to a character/code word to alert your child that they are distracted

Also brought to you by Michelle Garcia Winner's brilliant social thinking curriculum, Braineater is one of our favorite visuals and lessons here at Sprague. He is a character who represents distractibility. When Brain Eater gets in a person’s brain, he may be armed with several distracters! He will do what he has to in order to distract your brain so that you are not thinking about the topic or others around you. We teach kids what distractions are, how to identify them, and then strategies to "defeat" Braineater. When you associate a name/character, it makes the concept of inattention more palpable. It also takes out the judgement. Instead of saying, "You aren't paying attention," you can say, "oh, it looks like Braineater is here. What should we do?"

Watch the slide below with your child to learn more...

Types of Distractors

We teach kids to identify distractors. This can be a lot of fun, especially when they can catch "Braineater" visiting parents and distracting them. We explain that there are "inside the brain" distractors and "outside the brain" distractors. Have your child look at their learning space if they are learning at home and try to find distractors.
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Strategies to Defeat Braineater

Here are some simple tips...
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What are the 3 big reasons that kids procrastinate?

Task Initiation Tips

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Why is attention impacting remote learners so much?

A lot of parents ask, "Why is it harder for my child to pay attention on a screen than in person? They love screens and video games!" Teachers report that it is typically harder for kids to pay attention and have the academic stamina from behind the screen. But why?

Well, after I've conducted classroom observations via virtual means and in-person, I've come to the following realizations.

1. Children’s learning is usually supported by watching others work, following along with the group, and asking teachers or friends for help. Without this structure and support, children with attention problems may feel lost, confused, and disoriented, and thus experience even less drive to engage in their work, and be more likely to avoid it.

2. Stress, anxiety, and trauma are factors that work against attention. During a global pandemic, every household is dealing with these factors.

3. Developmentally most K-2 cannot read fluently enough to understand written directions.

4. Developmentally, most K-2 students cannot type proficiently or understand the technology required to troubleshoot internet and technology glitches.

5. Children don't have the self regulation skills to self motivate and sustain attention for learning

6. 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.

7. When remote, teachers cannot really see kid's screens. Kids may look busy and focused, but they may be doodling a picture on the screen instead of doing their math or reading work. When in person, teachers walk up to the student and notice right away and may say, "Is that what you are supposed to be doing right now?" In person, only a few minutes may be wasted doing the "off task" behavior versus a longer chunk of time when doing e-learning.

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.

9. There is less of a stigma for doing "unexpected behavior." Kids don't feel like other kids can see when they are doing other things.

10. The temptation to multitask is super hard to resist. When kids are muted or engaged in listening tasks on the computer, it is more tempting to open up other tabs or play games and do something they desire.

Movement promotes learning

Excerpt from The Atlantic Magazine

Vanessa Durand, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, says, "freedom of movement is necessary for children to meet their developmental milestones: “Children learn by experiencing their world using all of their senses. The restriction of movement, especially at a young age, impedes the experiential learning process.”

Movement allows kids to connection concepts and to learn through trial and error. “If you walk into a good kindergarten class, everyone is moving. The teacher is moving. There are structured activities, but generally it is about purposeful movement,”comments Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of early-childhood education at Lesley University and the author of Taking Back Childhood, describing the ideal classroom setup. In the classroom culture she advocates for, “[Kids] are getting materials for an activity, they are going back and deciding what else they need for what they want to create, seeing how the shape of a block in relation to another block works, whether they need more, does it balance, does it need to be higher, is it symmetrical. All of these math concepts are unfolding while kids are actively building and moving.”

For full article

Analyze your child's learning environment

Do an "Audit" of your child's learning environment. Are there hidden distractors that need to be changed?

I look pretty focused right? See if you can find potential Braineaters....There are at least 5!

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Nothing Works! What should I do?

Change the channel and move. No, don't turn on the TV! Change the channel on the task. Teachers and parents know when kids are trying but they are hitting a wall/shutting down. They appear stressed out, teary, angry, or cannot sit still. It is okay to make a judgement call that your child needs a break. Take a few minutes away from the screen. Set a timer for 5-15 minutes. If possible, have your child get active. Play a board game. Get a snack. Or color. Whatever your child is good at and gets their mind to switch tracks for a little break.

A "Colorful" Intervention

Reasons Kids Calm Down Coloring

by StressFreeKids

With the weather changing and more time indoors, consider a coloring break or coloring as a family before bed. It has more benefits than you think!

Coloring leads kids to focus. Because children want to complete the coloring page to the best of their abilities, they zone out everything else around them. But because it isn’t quite like the pressure that they often feel at school or doing a chore, they respond to the demand to focus entirely, feeling no tension.

Coloring requires hand-eye coordination. The simple act of holding a crayon and coloring within the lines is an act that demands their physical concentration as they strengthen their fine motor skills. (Of course in keeping coloring stress free, coloring outside of the lines is also encouraged.)

Color affects the brain, mood, and emotions. Some colors evoke a relaxation response while others motivate. A child can go from sad to glad within minutes of coloring by choosing mood changing happy colors. One study explored changing the colors on the walls of a classroom. Teachers reported that the children’s behavior improved. The students were more attentive and less fidgety.

Coloring is a mindful practice. We keep hearing that we can reduce stress by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness can help “re-wire your brain,” says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist. Coloring is one of the easiest ways for children to experience this intangible concept of being mindful. Adults too!

Coloring mimics meditation. One of the greatest challenges novice meditators face is to stop the brain chatter. Dr. Rodski, a neuropsychologist, told Medical Daily that coloring elicits a relaxing mindset, similar to what you would achieve through meditation. This is easily achieved while coloring.

Coloring is calming. Using advanced technology, Dr. Rodski was able to see the physical effects that coloring has on the body. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that “the most amazing things occurred — we started seeing changes in heart rate, changes in brainwaves.” These neurological responses came from the repetition and concentration to patterns and detail associated with coloring.

Coloring increases joy. The act of coloring has the power to replace negative feelings with positivity. Because coloring is such a joyful activity, there’s little room to entertain fear based or negative thoughts. Kids calm down coloring almost instantly, freeing themselves with joyful thoughts and a sense of accomplishment. Their self-esteem gets a boost.

Revisiting the Brain

If you remember last month's newsletter, there was a section about the brain. To review, when your child is stressed, overwhelmed, or just burnt out from sitting, the more reasonable center of the brain (frontal lobes) are shut down. No learning can take place at this point. Click below to access Sprague's Calm Down kit with some quick and easy strategies.

Sprague School Calm Down Kit

You can print and cut out this mini book for your child. It has easy to use strategies and a quick parent page before each strategy.

Expected Zoom Behaviors

When I observe student engagement on Zoom or in person, I obviously cannot get into their minds to truly know if they are absorbing the information. However, what I can do is run through my checklist of observable behaviors. Here are some things to notice...
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Tuning in--Attention and social effects

As students develop self awareness, they may be able to understand that paying attention can have social benefits. When we pay attention or "tune in" to the world around us, friends want to play with us and share with us.

Students who have difficulty noticing and recognizing what is going on in their environment often also display difficulty behaving in ways that are appropriate for a given situation. If a student is unable to self-monitor and make sure their actions fit the current situation they are in, it can cause the people around them to feel uncomfortable, confused, or upset. Use the concept of Tuning In to teach students how to notice and be aware of their environment and then decide how to act based on that awareness. By practicing Tuning In to a situation, students are learning to pay attention not only to where they are and who is there, but also their own actions and how those actions might affect those around them.

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Tuning In Video

Impulse Control

It is normal for kids to struggle with impulse control. That is the bulk of what kids are learning in school, from raising their hands to following the group plan. It is important that we guide kids to ask themselves the following questions.

1. What will happen if I do this?

2. Will I regret this?

3. What will others think about my actions?

Sometimes, it helps to tell kids to put on their "future goggles," and imagine what will happen if they do something...

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Book Corner

The Power To Choose Series

For more practice with impulse control, try reading any of the "What would Danny Do." series. It is a great book to help kids practice the power of controlling their impulses and seeing what the consequences are in a safe way. Our students love to read it the "expected" way and then again making the "unexpected" choices.


"What Should Danny Do? is an innovative, interactive book that empowers kids with the understanding that their choices will shape their days, and ultimately their lives into what they will be. Written in a "Choose Your Own Story" style, the book follows Danny, a Superhero-in-Training, through his day as he encounters choices that kids face on a daily basis. As your children navigate through the different story lines, they will begin to realize that their choices for Danny shaped his day into what it became. And in turn, their choices for themselves will shape their days, and ultimately their lives, into what they will be."

🦸‍♂️ What should DANNY do? By Ganit & Adir Levy - Children's Books Read Aloud

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