Tips for Keeping Students Focused While Learning At Home

  • Health and Wellness
Jessie Skipwith

As we move into our sixth week of virtual learning with Aspen Academy students, one theme has been shared by numerous parents: How do I keep my student focused and engaged during online learning? The tips below are the top recommendations based on my over 20 years as an educator, administrator and counselor, supporting student success for students with various needs and they remain true for learning in classrooms, as well as learning at home.

1. Put structure and systems in place for success

Parents and students alike thrive in demanding environments when manageable structures and systems are put into place, including: creating a schedule, developing personal plans, creating healthy expectations, making to-do lists. Such systems allow for individuals to note measurable outcomes and small successes which add up over time.

2. Focus on what's in your control

Focusing on those physical and emotional elements that rest in our control will allow us the opportunity to plan ahead of time and accordingly within the confines of the various limitations we might be experiencing respectively on an individual and personal basis.

3. Create routine

Creating a regular morning routine at home can be challenging, however it is important for us to remain vigilant in the areas of personal hygiene, exercise, organization and cleanliness of our personal workspace, and courageously leaning into each new day with the challenges that might be presented.

4. Maintain a positive attitude

Keeping a positive attitude and mindset that remains open to growth and filled with curiosity can also have a very positive impact on how an individual might approach the challenges of the day.

5. Schedule downtime

Giving oneself permission to relax and experience healthy downtime can also be a key component of being productive on the other side. Taking care of yourself can manifest in many different ways. Creating a daily journal to chronicle personal emotions, perspectives and experiences can be a fun and healthy outlet. Getting creative in these areas can allow for healthy releases of personal expression. Creativity with the arts in music, painting or drawing, or written expression are also noted as healthy outlets. Some elements of one’s personal journal might include a daily log of items of gratitude, keeping a to-do list to stay on task and motivated, and sometimes might be just venting frustrations on a piece of paper.

6. Meet learners where they are

In recognizing that there are a variety of differentiated learning styles, it is more important now than ever to recognize that we can meet students where they are as we navigate this new online learning platform together. For many students who might receive an IEP, 504 or an accommodation plan within their local level learning environment and traditional classrooms, some strategies will remain helpful and some strategies that have been helpful in the past may require some gentle modifications. Remaining steadfast and alert at home, and partnership with parent oversight, taking heed to patterns that might emerge and strategies that do or do not work well, can help to build a foundational baseline from which to grow and move forward. 

Parents can also find themselves facing the challenging decision or discussion with their student as to whether or not to maintain their prescribed medicine administration which may have already shown a track record of helping their student to maintain focus and mood regulation.  This is always a parent’s decision, however it can be seen that when students maintain their regular medicine administration, there can be less fluctuation in mood and for most, a sustained ability to maintain focus and manage stress. Please consult your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician to discuss how best to support your child with the continuation/discontinuation of any medication.

●  For all students in general, and for students with learning differences in particular, three key strategies that have demonstrated success thus far are building and adhering to a regular daily schedule, showing up and actively participating in your online learning platform so as to capture as much information during the regular administration of lessons as possible, and keeping a running list of questions that might accumulate over the course of a day so that such questions can be addressed with teachers at predetermined online office hours and help times.

7. Maintain perspective

Finally, keeping a healthy “perspective“ is something that sustained me personally was serving as an education administrator during the time of hurricane Katrina. There are so many unknowns at this time and many of us are learning to navigate so many unforeseen challenges as we grow in this experience together.  We are not alone, we are in this together, and as such it is very important to maintain social connectivity now more than ever. Being there to actively listen to others, feeling heard and receiving validation for ourselves, and critically thinking about creative solutions to problems we don’t even know exist yet, are all ways that we can sustain a healthy, supportive and empowered infrastructure for all of our students to learn.


For more tips and resources to support your students’ success, please visit the Elevate section on our website.

About the Author

Jessie Skipwith is the Student Success Coach and Licensed School Counselor at Aspen Academy.

Jessie comes to Aspen Academy with over 20 years of experience in educational leadership and student engagement. He has held head of school positions at elementary, middle and high schools, ran an all-school counseling department, provided private practice counseling services for families and individuals, and has served as the executive director of an education non-profit supporting low-income, English language learners from throughout the greater Denver area. He is a voracious reader of books about how students learn, how families and communities support developing young people, as well as books on progressive, innovative and dynamic new solutions to many of today’s life challenges. Jessie loves that Aspen Academy provides families and students with a small, nurturing and safe environment that encourages students to take healthy risks, to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, and that it inspires insatiable curiosity and wonder in students as they pursue their passions to help make the world a better place to live for all people. Outside of work, he loves to spend time with his wife and two children and enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors while hiking, golfing or skiing.