Distractable–Or Imaginative and Creative?

Today’s post is from a “tutoring lesson report” on a child whose parents had been told was very “distractable.” As the lesson went along, I began to think maybe the child wasn’t really so “distractable” after all. What do you think?



Today I had M read two short books, Counting Bugs and The Pie that Jack Made. She was able to quite easily sound out a number of fairly hard words–several for which there were no picture hints. Such words included “wiggle, flutter, creep, ground, flower, pumpkin.” I notice that she tries to sound the words out silently in her head, and has difficulty that way, but when she sounds them aloud, she does much better. So try to make sure she sounds aloud! It will help her to focus.

We also worked on skip-counting (without looking at numbers). We said the 10s together once, then M said them herself, and got them all right. Then I explained that the 5s simply go in between the 10s, and that “five” is part of each one (except FIFteen). After once together, and twice more with me fading out more and more, she was able to do 5 to 100 in 5s, without help (and without looking at numbers). Keep practising these at home. I suggest doing it once together, once with you helping quietly when needed, and once by herself. If you do this a couple times a day, she’ll soon have the 5s down pat, and then we can work on the 2s (evens, then odds). You don’t need to make it feel like part of “school work”–it’s something that can be done at odd times, like when driving places in the car, going for walks, even together as a family at the dinner table–and the other kids will then learn theirs, too. Make it a fun family activity. M is very talkative and sociable, and approaching memorization of facts in these ways will be far more effective than writing them out repeatedly ore reading them over and over or filling in worksheets.

Today’s Alphabet story was “A Hot Rod in A Rut.” This story didn’t have any pictures, so I thought it might be a bit challenging for her as I’ve noticed she tends to rely on pictures–not surprising, as she is so artistic. Also, there were a few words in the story she didn’t know the meaning of, so I had to explain those. But the interesting thing I noticed is that when she seemed to be “distracted” (looking off into the distance, smiling to herself, tapping her fingers, etc.) I told her, “Tell me what you’re thinking.” Here is kind of how it went:

Rich had a hot rod. (What’s a hot rod? — It’s a racing car — Oh, well, why is it hot? …–so we discussed that–) It had a lot of mud on it. (Like our car. It’s really, really dirty. You should see it!) Rich got in. Rich got Rob, his chum. (What’s a chum? … so we discussed that, too). Rich and Rob bat the rug. (What does that mean? –I explained– Oh. They’d need to be careful so they don’t get hurt, right?). They mop the top. (Why did they do that? — To clean it — Oh, that would be funny to see them mopping the top of the car!)  Oops, a bug. (A bug? I wonder what kind of a bug it was …) Rich and Rob are in a jam (I explain to her what “in a jam” means — Oh! Wouldn’t it be funny if they were really in a big jar of jam. It would be so sticky. It would be so funny to see that…). It is a job for Bim-Bam. Bim-Bam did it. Rob and Rich are out of the rut. (Is Bim-Bam their friend? Maybe he’s their pet? Do they know him? I guess they must know him if they know his name, right?)

By getting M to speak aloud what she was “thinking” in her “distracted” moments, what it appears to me is that she is less “distracted” and more creative and curious and imaginative. Perhaps when you are working with her, if she seems distracted, ask her to tell you out loud what she is thinking. If it is related to the work at hand, it can’t hurt to discuss it–and you could even encourage her “writing/storytelling” skills by writing down or tape-recording her thoughts. Then rewrite or type the story, but add the ideas she expressed. Finally, have her read it with her ideas included. By having her thoughts added in, she may indeed be more motivated to read it in a more focused manner, and more willing to try “hard words” (since she suggested them!). She might even become motivated to write her own versions of the story or create original stories.

(I also noticed that when M seems to be distracted, she tends to tap her fingers or swing her legs or otherwise move her body. I told her that when she is reading, she is welcome to use body movements to “act out” parts of the story. For example, she could act out batting the mat or mopping the roof of the car. M thought this was great fun–and it really kept her focused on her reading!)

Here’s an example of how you could rewrite the story above, using M’s ideas: Rich had a hot rod racing car. The engine got hot when he drove it fast. It had a lot of mud on, just like our car is really muddy and dirty. Rich got in. Rich got Rob, his chum–his friend, pal, buddy. Rich and Rob batted the rug from the floor of the car. Rich held it and Rob hit it with a stick so the dirt and mud fell off it. They had to be careful so they did not get hurt. They mopped the top of the car. That is a funny way to clean a car, using a mop. Oops, a bug! It was a great big black fly, and it flew straight at the window, so Rich swerved the steering wheel, and the car slid into a rut in the mud at the side of the road. Rich and Rob were in a jam. They were stuck in a muddy rut, and the car was sticking like jam in a big jar of jam. It is a job for Bim-Bam. Bim-Bam is a ram. He is a big man sheep with big curly horns. They know Bim-Bam because he belongs to their neighbour, the farmer. Bim-Bam is their friend.

As you can see, this version introduces lots of new words, while including the words and sounds that are being focused on by the author/publisher. So not only does M continue to work on the “focused” words, but she adds lots of other words that come from her, and it becomes HER story, which will motivate her in many ways.

So maybe M’s problem isn’t so much “distractability” caused by outside factors, but simply strong personal imagination, curiosity, creativity–all things we need to encourage, though of course she also needs to learn to focus.

Note: M’s mom and I have also discussed some other possibilities/solutions related to “distractability” such as rewards for focused work, and withholding of rewards/privileges until required work is completed; providing a less distracting environment, such as making sure the TV is off, curtains are drawn, other children are not in the learning area; alternating short periods of “focused” work with other work that engages her creative, artistic, graphical skills; using “unit studies”–such as her interest in bugs–in which math, science, reading, writing, social studies, art, physical education, etc. are all included, but not presented as “subjects”; and so on.

After having M do all that focused reading, I provided her a break/reward by having her do a couple of “2D” and “3D” geometry worksheets which included drawing shapes and colouring. She enjoyed that.

Then I had her do some subtraction practice. First, she did subtraction using a number line. Then I had her use crayons (as counting manipulatives). She is slowly getting more understanding of the concept of subtraction but does need lots of “hands-on” practice, the more the better for a child who is as active as she is. Use as many different methods as you can think of–the more ways she “sees/experiences” a concept, the better.

M enjoys “game” approaches to learning, as well as graphical approaches, so I’ve given her a couple different things to try:

  • A sequencing worksheet which involves a game. The worksheet gives instructions on how to play the game (which she can play with her siblings; all she needs is a muffin tin and some kind of item to toss–pennies, pebbles, paper clips, something like that). The game is for fun. The “sequencing” is to read the instructions at the top, then play the game, and then put the mixed-up instructions at the bottom in sequence/order.
  • A reading/drawing worksheet. M can read the sentences, and then draw a picture for each one.
  • A “Tic Tac Toe” sentences worksheet/game. Each square in the game has a sentence to read. I have given M two colours of sticky-notes, which can be used to play the game (and reused repeatedly, playing the game over and over until she can read the sentences easily). You can also make up your own “Tic Tac Toe” sentences games for her, just choosing whatever sentences you like.

We went on to read another story, Monkey Business. She inserted her own comments and even did some more “body language” as she read. I jotted down her comments, and then rewrote the story, putting the original author’s name and M’s name as co-authors. M was so excited, as writing stories up to this point has been a big “chore” for her.


Want to learn what monkeys like?
They like swinging on branches and eating bananas and sitting and dancing.
Monkeys like to live in groups.
They like hugging and sleeping while they are hugging.
Monkeys like to swing in trees.
Monkeys like to sleep in trees.
They are all sleeping in the trees.
They are snoring. Z-Z-Z-Z
Monkeys like to eat bananas.
This one is eating wide. Yum.
And this one is saying “Yummy.”
Monkeys like to say “Eee-eee!”
Ee-ee-a-a-ah! Eee-ee-ah!
Each one is saying, “Eee! Eee!”
They have wonderful teeth. They are all dancing. This one is doing a ballet dance. He is patting his tummy and rubbing his head.
But monkeys do not like itchy fleas!
This one is scratching him, and this one is scratching him.
This one is scratching his butt!
I am going to scratch them too. [and she started scratching them on the picture]
Oh no! A flea landed on me!
Now I am itchy, too!

M was very excited to be able to read the story with her words–and said she is going to draw a picture of it at home and read the whole story to her sister. Even though it includes some “hard-for-M” words, she was able to figure out most of them herself, since she had created the story.

We read another Alphabet Story, A Fin in the Fog. M was very interested about what the fin might belong to–a shark? fish? porpoise? She asked why the writer didn’t say, and I told her it is so she can use her imagination. She was pleased and suggested it must be a porpoise. She also did not know what a “hut” might be. I told her it was like a small house or a kind of shed. Then when she read more, she wanted to know what the light at the top would be, so I told her it must be a light-house. She was puzzled, wondering what a lighthouse is. I described it to her, but she asked if I had a picture. As a matter of fact, just a month or so ago, I wrote a short story based on a magazine picture of the Marshall Point Light House in Maine (the lighthouse in the movie, Forrest Gump), so I dug it out, showed her the picture, and read her the story. This led her to more discussion about the Fin in the Fog story as well. As I’ve said already, she may be a bit distractable … but it might well have more to do with curiosity and imagination. Try to allow time to follow her ideas–she’ll be learning so many new things, at the same time as her reading and writing are improving. Use those “teachable moments” to grab her attention; it will help to turn her “distractability” into amazing focus!


Is your child distractable? Try some of the methods discussed in this report and see if maybe that distractability is really something else–like creatively, curiosity, imagination–and a naturally active child!


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