HELP! My First Grader Is Not Focusing in Class

Updated on December 09, 2010
I.*. asks from Columbus, OH
11 answers

My daughter is in first grade. She’s been having some issues focusing this year. She gets distracted very easily in class. Her grades are great, She is exceeding in most things except working independently. Right now her teacher is trying to set goals with her on her work. She’ll say, I am going to work with a reading group, how much work do you think you can have done in 20 minutes? My daughter will tell her and she always gets that done plus some. On days when she doesn’t set goals, like Monday, she doesn’t get a lot done. Her teacher said Monday in an hour and 20 minutes she only had three sentences written for her reading group and 9 out of 30 words written. I am wondering why an hour and 20 minutes went by before her teacher noticed she wasn’t on track but I’ll have to ask the teacher that. My daughter loves art. Sometimes in class that causes her problems. They will get an assignment to color in certain pictures and my daughter will also want to color in the background or get very detailed with her coloring. Her teacher has mention to me this slows her down. How do I tell my 6 year old it’s great she has a love for art but it’s not always ok to express that? At the end of the week or the following Monday, her teacher sends home weekly sheets to let parents know how our kids were in class for the week. I noticed sometimes it would say on a certain day my daughter got little work done or a couple times since the beginning of the year she got her name on the board w/out a note saying why. I emailed her teacher and asked that she let me know the day of or day after something happens like that in class so I could talk to my daughter immediately. Almost a week would go by before me finding out and my daughter wouldn’t always remember what happened last Monday for example. This is why her teacher emailed me yesterday to let me know about her work on Monday.

Her focusing issues are not only at school. She does get distracted at home also but it’s much easier for me to set small goals for her to get things done than it is a teacher with 20 students. I’ll say you have 5 minutes to get dressed and she does it. An example of her getting distracted would be me just telling her to get dressed and not mentioning a time to get it done. She would start to get dressed then start looking at the design in her shirt for several minutes and say, “Mommy, this is really pretty. Look at this.” Which I can see she pays close attention to detail, I’m ok with this at home, I can get her back on track and appreciate her paying close attention to things but in the public school system this isn’t ok.

Has anyone had a child likes this? How did you handle it? Today I gave her a bracelet and said, this bracelet is to remind to focus on your work. I don’t know if it will work but I thought it was worth a shot. She has her yearly checkup with her pediatrician today and I’m going to talk to him about this to see if he has any suggestions. I’m hoping there are some other moms out there that have gone through this that might have some suggestions for me.

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answers from Washington DC on

First graders need to be told what to do and how to do it. They are all easily distracted... To give a kid a pile of papers and tell them to do them, is not going to work at this age. Time management is not a skill they have mastered... it takes some kids well into college to learn that little skill.
It sounds to me like the classroom is distracting.
If the kids are talking and giggling, then little work is getting done.
If the teacher gives her a goal and she reaches it, is the whole class getting the goal?? Is the class quiet at that point? Is everyone working??
It could also be that she is bored...
I'd ask if I could sit in the class one day - ask if you can help cut out stuff or correct papers or whatever so you can see what is actually happening. You might have to sit a few times to get a real sense of what is going on in there.

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answers from Hartford on

Sounds like regular 6 year old behavior. My son was the same way and seems to slowly be growing out of it. We ask a lot of our children to sit still and do work all day, lol. I can still remember primary school and it was boring. She'll come along :)

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answers from New York on

Sounds like the teacher has already found a way to solve the problem, an appropriate way for a first grader by setting a goal. Ask if she (or you with her input) can make a chart for your daughter that can be copied and used on a daily basis. One idea - list things she must do and things she can do (like intricate coloring) after must do list is finished. she may be inspired to finish her must do list quickly so she has time to color.
2) Some teachers put a chart on the student's desk happy face gets colored in if she stays focused for the first segment of time, sad face if she doesn't keep working and a straight line mouth means the teacher had to keep reminding her.
Many teacher tell students what to do when finished with your work it should be educational and enjoyable and not disruptive for those still working like if she finishes all her work she can read any book she chooses or do her own art work, or a fun word search....
Dont make an issue that the teacher couldnt stay focused on your daughter's work habits while she was working with a reading group but DO ask she in some way continues to set goals for your daughter since that works and keeps your daughter learning.

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answers from Cleveland on

I kinda want to disagree with everyone. It doesn't sound like an issue focusing so much as a desire to do things in what she feels are the correct manner. For example, is she slow writing her words because she wants them to look perfect and not because she's daydreaming? My second grade daughter is like this. I'm lucky enough that we homeschool her and her brother, but I have to set very specific timelines for her to get her work done, because she won't settle for less than completely perfect work, and if that means a picture needs colored it has to be done completely and to the very best of her artistic ability. She's very diligent and a perfectionist, we work on it every day because sooner or later she will have to learn to set her own goals and timelines, but that is getting better every year and will come with age. And I did have her tested, only to find out she has a very high IQ and is mathematically advanced but otherwise perfectly where she should be in all areas. It may be possible that you can explain to your daughter that for example, reading time is this long, this means you have this much time to get your work done (maybe even get her a watch, if she can tell time well, so she can look and see where she is at). Good luck!

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answers from Lexington on

There are so many different things that can be going on. One friend had a child with what I would call true ADHD - a very good, well-behaved child whose brain needed training to focus longer and longer and also, they had to really steer him in the right direction. He is now a grown man in a creative job, doing well in life.

However, I know several other children diagnosed with the same thing and they had problems ranging from vision issues to LD, to food sensitivities to endocrine problems and sleep issues.

This information perhaps can help:

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answers from Columbus on

You could invest in an evaluation to see if she has any processesing issues that are causing her the trouble. It does not sound that bad, and you have found ways to accomodate her at home so that it is not an issue, but, if she turns out to have something that you could identify, and accomodate at school, that may help her. Since her grades are good, you might just look into having a nueropsycholgical evaluation, and see how that shakes out. Some of her issues could respond to therapy.

Many girls present this way, and do not draw too much attention because they are not behavior problems. Since she is doing so well in school, getting a nueropsychological assessment may be helpful even if you find that she only has relative weaknesses in her profile, meaning, that she has skill level that is very high in many areas, and one average skill kind of throws her for a loop. I bet you will find your answers here.


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answers from Washington DC on

i dunno, it sounds pretty typical for her age. a task that takes an hour and 20 minutes isn't outrageous, but it's a lot to expect a kid of that age to stay focused without reminders. i can understand why the teacher can't stay on top of each child, but it would be more age-appropriate to break the assignment into smaller shorter segments.
since she's an excellent student and all-round sounds like a delightful child, i'm not sure there's too much you SHOULD do. she does of course have to learn to focus for longer periods but that's a skill that is learned gradually, through the methods you employ at home. if she's getting her name on the board, that's probably enough of an incentive for a child like this to work on improvement, especially if the teacher is able to communicate with you more promptly on when it happens (although i appreciate her difficulty in trying to do this all the time.) a bracelet reminder is a great idea, and an incentive program if she manages to go a week (or a day or whatever) without incident.

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answers from Boston on

You just described my 8 yr old son. He is well behaved just cannot focus. We have not medicated him yet because it was not affecting his grades but this year (3rd grade) he is having a lot more difficulty keeping his grades where they need to be because he is not paying attention. When he was originally tested in first grade he fell into the high risk group for add so our pediatrician told us to keep an eye on it. To make his new teacher every year aware of it so they could inform us right away of any problems because of it.

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answers from Atlanta on

Hey Mama!

Wow, right-brained six-year old little girls are taking over the world!!!!!!!!! (my daughter being one of them!)

Seriously, she sounds like a delightful little sweetheart, but frankly, exactly like my daughter Mia. Mia is newly seven, and is ADD. Because, as a kid, I had ADHD, I did not doubt for a minute that Mia was dealing with this as well. I was medicated when I was her age, and I made the decision to do this for Mia as well. While I understand this is such a personal issue that many parents deal with, I will say that the change in my daughter since being diagnosed with ADD has been pretty cool. It's SUCH a common thing for kids to deal with.

Feel free to email me if you'd like. I can certainly be a friend for you to reach out to.

Good luck to you and your sweetie-pie little girl!




answers from Columbus on

My son had similiar problems in elementary school - to the point as he got into 3rd and 4th grade I had to sit with him and tell him step by step what to do on projects to keep on task. For coloring he would want to do the most detailed pictures and it would take FOREVER. He was a straight A student. In 5th grade it all fell apart - he couldn't remember how to turn in papers, etc. He was diagnosed with ADD - no hyperactivity. It has made all the difference in the world - he does take medication now (8th grade currently) He wouldn't have gotten through middle school and jr high school without help. He also has a very literal interpretation of things and you have to be very direct and to the point. You also can't tell him to do a whole bunch of things at once - he won't remember all of them.



answers from Cincinnati on

That sounds like me at that age. Some have suggested that it will improve with time, however, in my case it hasn't. For the most part, it has been a matter of figuring out how to cope, which at times was a struggle. I have never been to the doctor about it, but I do believe that I may have mild to moderate ADD. When I was growing up, this was not diagnosed often. When it was, it was the disruptive, hyper child, not the "day-dreamer".
I suggest you mention it at her check-up. Ask her pediatrician about maybe having her evaluated.

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