Sometimes, kids just lock into new learning. But even when that has been happening, it's common to see them suddenly
* find a shadow very interesting,
* stick their feet in the air and start wiggling around,
* claim to be "bored," or
* start singing a song.
It's easy to think that this "distraction" is just a sign that they are getting bored with the activity, or have been sitting too long. Sometimes this is exactly what is going on.
But, sometimes I find that a child does these things to protect herself when learning gets scary. It can be frustrating to not know what you are doing. If a child starts to feel intimidated, sometimes it's easier to get "distracted" than to deal with the fact that she feels confused.
I don't have a perfect solution, but I do think it is helpful to realize that kids show signs of learning stress in unusual ways.
When I see a child I am working with getting "distracted" during a challenging problem, I try the following:
I ask her prompting questions, like "can we draw a picture of that?"
I push a manipulative her way, or start using it myself, but very slowly.
I say "I wonder how we could do..." and then list a similar but easier problem.
I say, "This question seems confusing right now. Let's set it aside and come back to it in a minute when we have an idea." Then I pick an easier problem, but we do go back to that problem.
I change to a more active game, but hover near those types of problems while we play.
Sometimes a child acts like this when she is asked to do something she hasn't fully learned yet. A great example of this is explaining reasoning. Remember that explaining how you think can be tough for kids. Try to model this by describing your thinking on your turns and see if they pick up on how you explain yourself. For many kids, doing the thinking is easier than explaining it. So, this is a real, and valuable skill. There is also evidence that explaining reasoning is particularly helpful to girls.
So, next time your child is suddenly distracted during a learning activity, ask yourself... are they hiding stress with those wiggly legs?