How to improve my child’s attention when learning?


At Cooee Speech Pathology, our Brisbane north Occupational Therapists work with kids and their families to help support attention for children in different learning environments.

Currently, there has been a large focus for children and families to learn from home.

With so many distractions and challenges in the home environment, how can we alter the environment to optimise your child’s attention and learning outcomes?

This blog discusses general sensory processing and executive functioning considerations for your child and family and 5 top tips to optimise the learning environment for your child.


Sensory considerations 

Our sensory systems play a large role in how we can remain engaged, focused and attended. Sensory processing is an individual’s ability to receive, interpret and respond to sensory information sourced from both within their body and the environment. 


So with this in mind, what does your child’s learning space look like?

Is the TV on in the background? Do they have lots of posters hanging up around their desk? Is there a  younger sibling running around playing in the same room as your child learning? All of these are very real and very common things happening in the home environment. Whilst we can’t always change all of them, when we understand how the nervous system responds to our environment, we can make small adjustments to best support the child and their learning.


7 sensory systems: 

  • Auditory input: What we hear, noise, volume pitch and tone.
  • Visual input: What we see, colours, shapes, movement.
  • Tactile input: What we feel, pressure, temperature, texture
  • Olfactory (smell) input: What we smell
  • Oral input: What we taste or feel around our mouth
  • Proprioceptive input: Resistance and body position information detected in tendons and muscles.
  • Vestibular input: Position in space, movement and speed detected in the inner ear.


How do children respond to all of these competing sensations?

As adults, we’ve ‘mostly’ learnt how we are most productive and how we regulate our brain and body as needed. When we start to feel tired or unproductive, we might take a break, make a cup of tea or chat to a coworker before getting back into it. For children, it can be a lot harder to modulate these responses, and in turn they become fidgety, distracted, emotional or disengaged. You might notice your child flopping in their chair, getting up and down from the desk, they might start moaning and groaning or fidgeting with everything around them. These are all signs that their body and nervous system is dipping out of their optimal level of arousal for learning. Essentially, this means  their brain and body is not taking in new information the best they can. In fact, they’re most likely getting distracted by anything else around them and having difficulty filtering the important information, the learning. 


So what can you do? It’s time for a brain break! 


With your child set a timer and have a 15 minute break that incorporates movement, a drink of water and maybe something crunchy to eat. 


Remember the proprioceptive and vestibular systems? Moving around and getting deep pressure input can reorganize the nervous system to optimise learning. Take some time to jump on the trampoline, do some star jumps or animal walks, wheelbarrow up and down the hallway. These are just some examples of movement activities that you can do with your child as a break. 


Executive Functioning considerations 

Now, our executive functions. These are our high level thinking skills including working memory, planning, organising as well as inhibition, shift (transition) and emotional control. 


For any child to engage in learning or cognitive tasks, a child needs to be behaviourally and emotionally regulated before any cognitive processing can occur.

Imagine feeling really agitated or stressed out during work. When we aren’t emotionally and behaviourally regulated, we don’t always remember all of the directions we were given or complete our work in a timely manner. This is especially important for children. If your child is upset or melting down, it’s probably not the best time to provide any learning until they are calm. Some ways to support this is to implement some sensory strategies from above, take a break and also support their working memory with a visual schedule. Visual schedules help promote predictability of a task and reduce anxiety and cognitive load. 


So my 5 Top Tips for your child’s learning environment 

  1. Use visual schedule for predictability. Break down their homework task into achievable steps. 
  2. Schedule movement breaks throughout the day or before homework.
  3. Use vestibular and proprioceptive input to organise and reset the nervous system. 
  4. Minimise competing background noise and visual clutter. Turn off the TV and clear the workspace. 
  5. Use external motivators. Something your child can work towards such as special time with mum and dad, fun activity or time outside as a family. 


For further information regarding sensory processing or executive functioning in your child, please contact the clinic to get in touch with one of our Occupational Therapists.  

Bre Surawski 

Occupational Therapist