Use puzzles and games to improve in-school focus, reduce fidgeting

Problem behavior in the classroom is a major challenge for teachers and interferes with learning. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Resource Center website, “Two of the most common problem behaviors in the classroom teachers see are a child's lack of focus, and the inability to sit/stand for an appropriate length of time to effectively learn.” Although the site is geared toward kids with a sensory processing disorder, which involves difficulty “taking in or processing” sensory inputs from the environment, most kids (and quite a few adults!) have challenges sitting still and focusing from time to time.

As the languid days of summer wind down, and a new school year gets underway, it’s a good time to consider ways to improve and continue working on kids’ focus and sit-still abilities. The National Center for Learning Disabilities offers some excellent, quick-and-easy ideas for improving kids’ focus. One idea is to play “Freeze! Focus!” When a child is least expecting it, say, “Freeze! Focus!” and have him or her freeze in place for a specific time, starting with 10 seconds. The Center also recommends doing all kinds of puzzles with kids, including word puzzles. Kids find them fun and seldom see them as lessons or work, even though puzzles teach and reinforce skills of many kinds.

Preschoolers and kindergartners love solving dot-to-dots, connecting the points to make pictures appears. Books like ABC Dot-to-Dots Deluxe Edition and 1-25 Dot-to-Dots Deluxe Edition help them feel like artists while strengthening number and letter skills, along with attention span.

The Jigsaw Jumble Jr. app, for kids ages 3-5, and Jigsaw Jumble, for ages 5-10 and even older, both in Android and iOS, help expand reasoning, percept, and problem-solving skills, along with focus. The Jr. version lets preschoolers and kindergarteners choose between twelve puzzles and 6- or 12-piece versions of each one. The other one allows choosing between twelve picture puzzles and 12- or 20-piece versions. They are a great way to make good use of car time and wait times.

For slightly older kids (6-8) Big Puzzle Play Codes, Puzzles and More! Workbook and Software duo offers dozens of activities and hours and hours of focused puzzle time. Expand problem-solving and critical thinking skills, too. The supersized 320-page workbook challenges little learners with dozens of codes, crosswords, word searches, games, riddles, and other activities. “Think About It” questions add to the exploration. “In what ways are mollusks different than other sea creatures? In what ways are they the same?” Plus, the Puzzle Play Word Searches software turns your computer into a puzzle-making machine.

Another favorite activity for the same age group is finding objects and pictures hidden in other pictures, like those in the 320-page Big Hidden Pictures & More workbook. Take a closer look. Then closer still. Sharp-eyed concentration reveals much more than first meets the eye. A huge kaleidoscope of scenes demands your child’s focus as he or she follows the what-to-look-for clues.

With the Flash Action Wonder Words Windows download kids 5 and up can have fun with early word play. They will discover sight words when feeding Mr. Munch the Word Monster all the words that start with the same letter and also alphabetizing and matching words, letters, and pictures.

Crossword and sudoku puzzles are wonderful ways to build word, number, memory, and logic skills, along with stretching attention spans. Early readers can benefit from My First Crosswords Little Busy Book, while ages 9-adult can tackle more challenging crossword puzzles. These puzzles also improve vocabulary and all-around, multi-subject knowledge.