How to Handle a Squirmy, Distracted Homeschooler


Squirmy. Active. Fidgety. Easily distracted. 

That seems to describe so many kids these days, much to the frustration of the homeschool moms out there.

I have my own squirm worm homeschooler and I have learned a few things as we worked through the preschool, kindergarten, 1st-grade, and now 2nd-grade years. 

Trial and error have taught me how to handle her distraction and movement needs, and still have a productive homeschool day!

How to Handle a Squirmy Distracted Homeschooler

10 Practical Tips for Dealing with a Squirmy, Distracted Homeschooler

No Morning Screens

If you are dealing with a distracted, squirmy, all-over-the-pole homeschooler, then the last thing they need is a screen before school starts. 

I tend to think of it as giving them dessert before dinner – who wants to eat a bite of broccoli after having some ice cream? In the same way, a kid who has had the morning dopamine release of streaming Netflix cartoons will often look at a math workbook as the enemy of fun.

I know this might be a very difficult change in routine, but it will do wonders for keeping your distracted, squirmy homeschooler’s mind engaged and motivated for learning!

Instead of waking up with their tablets, have your kids eat breakfast together while you read an exciting read-aloud book to them to start off the morning. This will give them a great start to the school day while also increasing attention span, creativity, vocabulary, writing skills, and listening comprehension!

Make the Day’s Expectations Clear

Have you ever had to sit in on a class or meeting and you had no idea how long it was going to go? It’s a mental nightmare!

Even with your adult coping skills, you may still find your mind wandering and your eyes staring at the clock. 

Your kids are the same when you start out the day and they have no idea what subjects you are covering or how long it is all going to take. 

Your squirm worm homeschooler will do much better if you write out the day’s subjects, so he knows exactly what is on his plate for the day. And then let him have fun crossing off each subject as he completes it!

You can also use the subject list to let him pick what subject he wants to start with.

Try a “Focus Oil”

So, I’m not a huge believer in essential oils, but I am a believer in the placebo effect.

I bought an essential oil blend from Amazon in hopes that it would give my 1st grade distracted homeschooler a little boost in her day. I rubbed it on the back of her neck and across her chest in the morning and told her it would help her to focus and follow directions better. 

My other two kids quickly said they absolutely needed their “focus oil” too!

We continue to use it regularly, and sometimes even in the middle of a lesson I’ll reach over and grab the oil and say, “Hmmm. I think we need a little more focus oil today.”

Does it actually work? I have no idea. But my kid thinks it does and I notice her behavior change as she goes through the actions of putting it on. 

Give Scheduled, Active Breaks

Your squirmy, distracted homeschooler is much more likely to show up with a good attitude, focus, and get their work done if they know a good-sized break is just around the corner.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, I only do one subject at a time and then give a 10-30 minute break depending on our schedule.

For second grade, I have moved up to 2 subjects before a break. I try to pair one challenging subject with a shorter, lighter subject.

For example, a 30-minute math lesson is paired with a 10-minute spelling lesson. Or a 30-minute language arts lesson is paired with 10 minutes of math fact practice.

As a side note, make sure your active kid uses his breaks to be active – not to watch a screen. Burning off some energy by running around outside or doing some chores will help him to be more prepared to sit down and focus again when the next lesson starts.

Give Quick Physical Breaks During Lessons

The active breaks may sometimes not be enough when your kid is wrestling with a challenging topic or a long lesson.

If you look at your kid and see that they are struggling, give them a quick break to do one of the following:

  • 20 jumping jacks
  • Run 10 laps around the couch
  • Skip through the kitchen 10 times
  • Crab walk or bear walk up and down the hallway 10 times

Sometimes I just say to do the activity until they’re ready to come back to the table and work. My kid recognizes that this exercise helps her so much to clear her mind and focus. 

She actually recently asked me the other day if public school kids ran laps around their classroom when they needed to.

Um, no.

Homeschool for the win!

Use a Wobble Chair for Movement

One of the first times I heard about wobble chairs was when my kid’s occupational therapist recommended it to improve her focus. 

They allow kids to move and release fidgety energy while still sitting at a table and doing work. Genius!

We have tried 2 different wobble-type chairs and everybody in our house – including the adults! – loves using them.

Click here to find out more about the best wobble chairs for squirmy learners!

Gently, Consistently Redirect Off-Topic Conversation

Your fidgety, distractable, squirmy learner may not always be physically active, but instead very verbal. 

You are trying to get them to copy down some sentences, answer some questions, or work on a science experiment…and they want to ask you questions about just about anything else. 

Take it from my experience, it does not pay to get exasperated when your kid repeatedly does this. 

Just very calmly say, “Well, let’s talk about that when we’re done with our work.” You may want to scream it, but being nonchalant and relaxed is key.

By about the 5th time you say that phrase, your kid will get the idea. Hopefully.

Either way, you have a way to handle the situation that doesn’t end in frustration and wasted time.

Underline Every Lesson with Fun

Every kid – not just the squirmy ones – wants to have fun!

In order to save time (or mental energy), you may be tempted to cut the fun things out of your curriculum. You might think, “Oh, my kid doesn’t need to play that game, color that picture, or make that project in order to understand this concept.”

And you may be right.

But the element of fun and surprise that comes with learning will be lost. And your kid will be much less motivated to come to the table when he knows it will be another workbook page to slug through.

If this is not your area, no worries! Check out the best ways to bring the homeschool fun!

Mix Up the Type of Curriculum You Use

We used a box curriculum for years, but we have found that switching to a more eclectic homeschooling style has helped tremendously to keep my squirm worm homeschooler engaged and focused.

Instead of every subject being bookwork, I have now mixed in an online math curriculum, [affiliate link] interactive video-based history curriculum, and a [affiliate link] spelling curriculum that uses a tablet app with spelling tiles.

I try and space out these screen-based curriculum options so my kid is switching back and forth from bookwork to screens. This really relieves some of the monotony you can feel as the homeschool year progresses. 

I find the screen-based learning does a great job of engaging my active kid, mixing up our day, and giving my kid a change from my teaching style.

Consider Nutritional Changes

Many kids are squirmy, distractable, and unfocused by nature of their age and maturity. But there are certain things you can do to get your homeschooler off on the best foot every morning.

A high-protein breakfast, for example, will take them much farther than marshmallow cereal.

Regular snacks will keep their blood sugar up and out of the hangary zone that kids fall into so quickly. Think greek yogurt, nuts, almond milk smoothies, cheese sticks, or PB&J sandwiches. 

Make those healthy, protein-filled snacks available and easy to grab on the go as your kid goes on breaks and heads into lessons with you. 

Recap How to Handle Squirmy, Distracted Homeschoolers

I hope these tips have given you some inspiration for how to deal with your squirm worm homeschooler!

You absolutely can meet their high energy needs and still run an efficient, effective, productive homeschool. 

Yes, it might take a little more time and energy, but it will be so worth it to see you homeschooler soar! 

Lauren Schmitz

About the author

Lauren was originally a reluctant homeschooler who pulled her child from public school with no idea what was going to happen. Years later she is successfully and joyfully homeschooling her three daughters - no one is more surprised than her! Lauren is passionate about helping other families get started with homeschooling and encouraging them on their journey.

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