Category Archives: Extracurriciular



Instead of our usual breakdown by subject, today we are listing two sets of short films and one recommendation for online classes.

Children’s Shorts. A collection of short films for children, curated by a father.
Sprout Film Festival. The Sprout Film Festival is a profoundly beautiful, honest, and thought provoking set of short films featuring people with developmental disabilities. The appeal this will have to children and youth may vary. Be My Brother might be a good start for older children through adults.

Online Film Classes.

Inspired to make your own films? Charlottesville’s Lighthouse Studio is currently offering “pay what you can” online film making classes. This very generous offer will turn time at home into an opportunity to develop talents and document an historic episode of children’s lives.

Share your creations as you go. Tag enrichmentalliance on Instagram or post on our Facebook Page, Enrichment Alliance of Virginia.

Can’t You Just Stay Still and Pay Attention? (Reprint).

 Please! Can’t You Just Sit Still and Pay Attention?

Mary Anna Dunn, Ed.D.

Originally posted on, October 2012.

Among the concerns I have heard raised by enrichment providers, problems with distractibility and impulsiveness are certainly among the most common.   Though it may be tempting to assume children with these issues all have ADHD, not every child who has issues with distractibility and impulse control has ADHD.  Some are simply on the high end of active for any number of possible reasons.

Given that the relationship between the enrichment provider and the child is often very short term, it may not be necessary to know whether or not the child has ADHD or is struggling because of other, possibly temporary issues (such as adjusting to the unfamiliar environment of your program).  What is important is this: if a child’s distractibility or impulse control challenges are interfering with her own or her peers’ opportunities to thrive in your program, she needs your help.

Keep in mind that you are not going to “fix” this child. You are not going to eliminate all problems that come up due to his challenges.  But there are modifications and accommodations that may significantly improve his chances of having a positive experience in your program.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.  Look these tips over and pick and choose from the suggestions that work best for each individual.  Remember that the child’s parents or guardians are among the best resources you can have for understanding how to support their child.  Ask them for suggestions. I will write about communicating with families in a subsequent blog.


A note on gender: in order to avoid the awkwardness of “his or her,” I will alternate gender between sections. 

In order to protect the privacy of students, examples are composites or fictionalizations inspired by actual incidents, but significantly altered.

1. Spend some time focusing not on the child’s challenges, but on her gifts.  Often the very behaviors that are driving you crazy are also a window into her delightful mind.

Once, I was asked to observe a six year-old in a before-school program who was having difficulty due to her distractibility and impulsiveness.  When I arrived, the children were finishing breakfast.  Within a few minutes of my arrival, she, like the others at her table, was beginning to clean up. She and her peers were gathering up napkins, placing forks in bowls, closing cereal boxes, and making all the other normal preparations for putting their snacks away.  But as the other children continued with this unremarkable daily chore, I saw a gleam in our girl’s eye.  Soon, she was building a tower of her breakfast articles.  As the construction project rose perilously, the entire table began to shout, “Look what Georgia is doing!”  Her behavior was problematic, but this child was a budding engineer, asking just the types of questions we want children to ask: What happens if I do this? How can I make this better?

Distractibility and impulsiveness are challenges.  Flexibility and spontaneity are opportunities.   Identify the ways your student demonstrates the latter, and help her develop these wonderful gifts.

2. Pay attention to seating arrangements.

  • For group work, I prefer a learning environment in which children are seated in a circle. There are many reasons for this. For the sake of brevity, I will focus on those that affect the distractible/impulsive child: It keeps him in your line of vision and you in his; it leaves no one in the back of the room, where attention may more easily wander; and it enables you to keep all distractible children near you, without seating them next to each other.
  • Pay attention to how children are grouped.  Separate children who tend to get each other off task.
  • Make note of potential distractions close to your student.  An open window, a hall door, a colorful bulletin board, a pet—these are all things that some children can tune out and others cannot.  An intervention may be nothing more complicated than quietly shutting the hall door as another group passes by, or rearranging the room so that circle time does not occur next to the salt-water aquarium.
  • For small group and individual activities, it is important to make sure that a child who needs to focus is not seated next to a loud group.  Sometimes noise is a symptom of engaged, meaningful learning, especially during the creative types of activities that happen during out-of-school time. The hubbub that can signal an engaged group can also be a distraction, but simple steps can improve the distractible child’s ability to concentrate.  Try some of these ideas: place a table in a corner, with a chair facing  a relatively bare wall and let her work there;  allow the child to work just outside of the main room, door open, in plain view; or if they must be in the same room, place stations that are potentially noisy, such as board games, across the room from quiet activities, such as drawing.

3. Use your environment to support the child’s regulation of attention and impulses.

  • Consider providing soft, air-filled cushions to place on a child’s seat if he is inclined to rock his chair.  Not only is this safer, it is less irritating than the constant clang of chair legs on the floor.
  • Your goal needs to be to draw your student’s attention towards what you want her to attend to, and away from what you don’t want her to attend to.  Teachers often do this by using brightly colored chalk or dry erase markers, sometimes changing colors to highlight key concepts.
  • Conversely, it is nice to have an area of the room that is relatively free from distractions such as posters, mobiles, pets, dioramas, etc., where the student can go if he needs to focus (see above).

4. Make sure “just sit time” is of an appropriate length and your distractible/impulsive students are well-supported. It can be frustrating to witness what happens when well-meaning adults expect children to sit or stand quietly for inappropriate lenghts of time, either listening to instructions or waiting for something to happen. This “just sit time” provides ample opportunity for the mind and body to wander and the fidgets to set in. Keep in mind that an adult’s attention span is shorter than an adults. It may be as short as 7 minutes for a child who has a typical attention span, and 2 for a child with a short attention span. (Rapport, M. et all, 2009).

  • Do your best to keep the amount of time you are talking and children are listening short.  If possible, break instructions into small chunks. Not only does this take less time, it makes retention of information easier.  As an example, if your group is about to learn a new ballgame, don’t keep them on the sidelines listening to the rules of the entire game.  Give them one set of instructions, let them practice, then move on to the next set of instructions.
  • As already described above, pay attention to where your distractible/impulsive child is placed during ‘‘just sit time.”  If possible, seat an adult beside him.
  • Use visual cues. Some people are just not auditory learners and are really going to struggle when instructions are presented verbally, yet that is often how they are presented, especially outside of the classroom. In addition to your spoken instructions, use written instructions and/or drawings. Simple stick figures are just fine; you don’t need to be an artist. Visual cues are important for two reasons: they provide a focal point and a child whose attention has wandered needs a visual cue to get his bearings again.  Often out-of-school time activities do not take place in a regular classroom, so you may find it challenging to provide these visual cues. Consider having a small easel chart or dry erase board handy in non-classroom spaces.  Or, if available, pass out written instructions as a reference for those who need them.
  • Sometimes “just sit time” happens during transitions, for example, your group has finished archery and cannot go the pool yet.   Be prepared to keep the children’s attention when they are waiting for the next thing to happen. Great classroom teachers have a stock of tricks, or “time sponges,” they use to soak up those minutes of down time such as telling or reading stories, playing word, rhythm or guessing games, or asking the children interesting questions about themselves.  For examples of “time sponges” see
  • Provide the child with a meaningful activity during “just sit time,” such as passing out paint brushes.
  • Keep your activities varied and alternate the types of activities.  Try especially to mix up activities that require quiet focusing with activities that engage the whole body.

5. Monitor your student closely, especially during times known to be problematic, such as transitions and “just sit time.” Notice symptoms of restlessness and use cues to redirect her.

  • Get in there! I have seen programs in which 50-60 campers were seated in a circle with two counselors, while six other counselors watched from the side-lines. Dispersing those six additional counselors through the circle would have vastly increased the support available to the impulsive/distractible campers. If you don’t have that staff ratio, walk about the group. Someone needs to be in close proximity to the group. They will know you are paying attention, and you we be able to support them by subtly pulling them back if they show signs of distraction.
  • Making eye contact is often enough.
  • Consider saying her name if you cannot make eye contact, but be mindful that by doing so, you are drawing everyone’s attention to her struggle.
  • Unless there are rules in your organization against it, a light touch on the arm or shoulder can be helpful.
  • Develop one or two simple hand signals so that you can communicate privately with a child who is struggling. As examples, a finger to lips when she is talking out of turn, or a finger pointed down to remind her to sit.
  • Some teachers use laminated charts with rules, sometimes pictorially expressed, and quietly point to the rule that has been transgressed.
  • Quietly remove a distracting object, perhaps replacing it with a less annoying alternative.  For example, if a child is banging a soda bottle on the table over and over again, remove the bottle and pass her a soft fidget ball (nothing that bounces!).
  • Keep “fidgets” on-hand.  In addition to soft cloth balls, we keep coiled key chains, socks filled with beans, and other inexpensive, quiet items.  I have seen one of our staff members support a child simply by handing him her own wrist band to play with.

6. Keep your behavioral toolbox well-stocked with a variety of excellent tools.  If you are running a short program, maybe an art class that meets for one hour a week  for six weeks, you may not be interested in setting up more than a minimal set of guidelines, but an after-school program or summer day camp that meets every day for several hours over an extended period of time is going to need a strong management program.  If you are in one of these programs, such as a public school after-school program or a private summer-long day camp, you probably already have a system in place. Strategies and philosophies vary and in many cases are established through system-wide policies over which the individual provider has little control.  In the space below I will discuss a few behavioral strategies. Consider how these could work in your programs.

  • Have a written set of rules visible in your primary workspace.  Classroom teachers often develop these rules collaboratively with their students. Review the rules frequently and refer to them, or ask the child to refer to them himself when he is struggling.
  • If you use a reward system, keep it simple and use it sparingly.  Be aware that the use of rewards is highly controversial.  I am a moderate on this topic. I believe that some difficult behaviors respond well to reward systems, but children who are rewarded throughout the day may become jaded by the rewards and, in addition, lose their sense of internal (or intrinsic) motivation.  It is my own belief that rewards should only be used to target a small number of specific behaviors, and that rewards and the systems of delivering them should be changed occasionally.  If reward systems are used, I like to see them incorporated into a multi-dimensioned approach to discipline that includes creating a supportive, positive climate and emphasizing internal motivation.  Finally, I would urge program leaders who would like to implement reward or reward-punishment  systems to do so thoughtfully, after thoroughly researching the most effective systems, rather than as a knee-jerk reaction. A poorly implemented reward system may potentially do more harm than good. [1]
  • Take note of positive behaviors.  If you are trying to help an impulsive or distractible child refocus, you may be spending a lot of time calling his attention (and often everyone else’s attention) to her negative behaviors.  If all you ever notice is disruptive behavior, eventually the child and her peers are only going to think of her as a disruptive child.  Please take the time to notice what she does well and provide her opportunities to do it in an appropriate setting.  Remember the child who built a tower out of her breakfast items?  While I sure don’t recommend reinforcing this experiment, it would be great to later-on make note of her building skills and provide her with construction materials. Make it a point to call the other children’s attention to her accomplishment (of course, you want to do this with the rest of the children as well).
  • Do not take away active time as a punishment.  Remember, these are children who need to move.  Restricting their movements by keeping them in for recess or making them miss horseback-riding is not going to help them succeed. I am not saying I am opposed to imposing consequences—just not consequences that are going to make success even less likely.

7.  Adapt your direct instruction methods.  Even though this is not an academic setting, there will be instructional time. Children need to be told how to play golf, make a pizza, build a shelter, paint a mural, or participate in whatever activities your program is carrying out.  I have already discussed incorporating visual cues. There are other ways you can make sure your instructional time is successful. The steps that make this easier for struggling students will surely be appreciated by the rest of your group, as they simply make your program more interesting and accessible to everyone.

  • Introduce a topic by connecting it with something the children already know and have some interest in.  For example, instead of starting a mask-making activity by talking about African ceremonial masks, ask the children when they have worn masks and why.  Use their comments to segue into your explanation, referring back to their comments when possible.  “Shawna said she wore a dog mask for Halloween. Well, African ceremonial masks are often animal masks, but they aren’t used for trick-or-treating. I wonder if anyone has an idea what they are for.”
  • Don’t do all the talking.  Give your students a chance to talk about what they know, as well as to raise questions.
  • Break tasks down into small, manageable components and allow frequent breaks.

I hope that some of these hints will prove to be helpful in assisting the child who shows signs of distractibility and/or impulsiveness.  At the same time, I would like to ask that the enrichment provider remember this: the fact that a child’s behavior is different does not necessarily mean it is a problem. Yesterday a staff member shared this story with me.  He was assisting a child with special needs during a tennis lesson. The child was constantly in motion and seemed to be looking at anything BUT the instructor.  His mentor did not think he was following the lesson.  However, when the tennis instructor later asked him what he was supposed to do, the child was able to repeat back the precise instructions. Thank goodness the mentor waited to see if the child understood before he intervened.  Not only was his activity not preventing him from learning, it is entirely possible it was a form of self-stimulation that was helping him attend.  Some behaviors are problematic for others, even if they are not for the child, but often with a child who is really different than the pack, we, and not the child, are the ones who need some adjustments.

This discussion is far from exhaustive. I have tried to focus only on those strategies that will help in enrichment programs that take place outside of the regular school day.  I have chosen a few websites that may provide more comprehensive discussions for those who wish to read more.  While these sites do specifically focus on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, I wish to re-emphasize that not every highly active or impulsive child has ADHD.  I do think that the strategies that are successful with these children are applicable to children whose challenges stem from other sources.

For further reading I suggest the following websites:



[1]  The Tough Kid Book (2010) and The Tough Kid Toolbox (2009), by Rhode, Jenson, and Reavis, though arguably overzealous about reward systems, has some excellent strategies for changing rewards up and using them effectively.


Don’t Just Sit There. Do Something. (Long and Winding Version).

This version develops, elaborates on, and offers resources and examples for strategies summarized in the shorter , Don’t Just Sit There. Do Something (Short and to the Point Version).

Your camp is getting ready for their first field-trip to a swimming pool. Obviously, it is critical that they know how to behave safely.  Before you line up for the bus, you need to go over some ground rules.  You sit them down in a circle, emphasizing that it is very important that they pay attention.  Within two minutes, Samantha and Lucinda are whispering to each other, and Devin is spinning around in circles. Within five minutes, Chloe is filing her nails, Lane is playing the drum on the floor with a pencil, and Carlton is doing everything in his power to crack-up Damon and Hwei  Nyi.  A few minutes later, you notice that D’Treena is staring out the window, while Antwan and Gavin are finger-kicking a paper football.

What is going on? You are not asking them to sit through a lecture on quantum physics.  All you are asking of them is to listen to a few minutes of critical instructions. How will you respond? Yell? Deduct points from a reward system? Use time-out? Cancel the field trip? Ignore the behaviors and plow through the instructions anyway? Adjust your method of covering this essential information?

I am hoping you will consider the latter before resorting to any of the former strategies.

“But I am only asking them for a few minutes of their attention,” you are thinking.  “What is so hard about paying attention for a few minutes?” Apparently a great deal.

In a study of children who were developing typically and children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Mark Rapport et al found that the ability of typically developing children to remain focused on-task was no more than  7 minutes, while the attention of children with ADHD ranged from 2 to 5 minutes, depending on whether they had been diagnosed with or without the attention deficit component of ADHD (Rapport, M. et al, 2009).

If you had asked the children to levitate in the air while listening to your directions, and they had not complied, do you think they could have done a better job if you had rewarded them? Punished them? Told them they were not trying hard enough?

Think about it.  Sustaining attention is difficult for most people. When was the last time you sat through a drawn-out presentation or sermon, sat on hold, or watched someone explain how to operate a piece of equipment? How long were you able to focus?  Whatever your capacity to focus, a child’s capacity is less.  Whatever your capacity to PRETEND to focus, a child’s capacity is less.

In June, Deb Shapiro, my colleague from Camping for All, and I led a workshop on “Just Sit Time” for the summer camp staff of Charlottesville Parks and Recreation.  Knowing that there were many years of experience and many outstanding camp leaders in the room, we decided the group could help us write this post.  What follows is drawn from their observations and ideas as well as some additional observations and ideas offered by Ms. Shapiro and myself.

Danger Zones

We asked the 66 participants in our workshop to identify times that behavior tends to unravel.

l.  These are there activities that they identified as most likely to be problematic:


  • Waiting
    • waiting for the bus.
    • waiting to go into a site they are visiting on a field trip (for example, arriving at a pool that is not yet open).
    • waiting for other children to finish an activity.
  • Watching while one student does something (for example, a child and adult are in front of the group doing a science experiment while the other children are expected to watch).
  • Listening to instructions.
  • Transitioning from one activity to another.
  • Large Group Times such as morning meeting, circle time, and lunch.

Keeping children’s attention focused during these times usually requires some level of support from adults.  We asked our participants to consider how they might help their campers stay focused and appropriate during these particularly challenging times.

Great Expectations

  • Weve got rules here. In their small group discussion, staff emphasized setting clear expectations, and I agree that this is extremely important.  Expectations can be set up as rules at the beginning of the year, but they also sometimes need to be emergent and specific to particular circumstances.  For example, I watched a site director explain to her camp exactly how they were to get up from their tables at lunch, with details about how to push the chair back. The latter she also demonstrated. Reviewing these expectations frequently during the first several days of a program can set a high standard.
  • How would you rate that? A technique I have sometimes employed with success is asking children to evaluate themselves on how well they met expectations.

“You were expected to leave the cafeteria quietly and calmly, and we talked about how that would look and sound.  If 1 was a great job, 2, a so so job, and 3 was a poor job, how well would you say you did?”

Accept their votes with no comment. I can only base this on my own anecdotal experience, but I found that my students’ self-awareness increased rapidly with this technique and that  they quickly rose to the expectations.

  • You tell me. In the example of leaving the lunchroom, the expectations were set by staff.    Sometimes before beginning an activity, leaders may like to ask students, “What could go wrong here? Let’s list maybe five ideas for helping this activity go smoothly.”  Following the activity,  evaluate using the above procedure.
  • I know what you mean. Just because you have tried to explain something doesn’t mean that your students or campers actually understand what you want.  Using concrete examples can  help increase understanding.  “Listen to your counselor when she is talking,” is not especially concrete.  Consider asking your campers how people look when they are listening (they are looking at the speaker, their bodies are still), how they sound (mostly quiet but sometimes they might murmur agreement or ask questions). Time invested in clarifying expectations will save you time spent explaining and disciplining later.
  • Show me. Some children need visual cues. General rules, posted where everyone can see them, can help with this. But you may also want to write expectations for specific activities on ruleschart paper or dry erase boards. Images accompanying written rules , even simple stick figures, will help visual learners, struggling readers, and English Language Learners read and remember the written rules.

Describing and demonstrating. Using details.  Writing things on a chart.  Drawing pictures. Having students act out correct and incorrect behaviors. All these actions can help make expectations clear. Review and evaluate them frequently, especially at the beginning.  And above all, make sure your expectations are reasonable.

Please. Let Me Explain.

Whether you are explaining your expectations, explaining directions, or explaining what is about to happen next, a certain amount of time is spent getting information across to your campers. I have watched groups devolve while leaders stood in front of them explaining and explaining.  Invariably, the leaders become frustrated with the children as their behavior deteriorates.  In some cases, I have seen them abandon the activity all together, because the kids “wouldn’t listen to the directions.” I totally get the adults’ frustration, but I don’t think the outcome was inevitable. It is possible to convey information without loosing your audience.

  • For openers, be concise. In their time-honored book on writing and grammar, Skrunk and White encourage readers to “omit needless words.” As important as that advice may be to a writer, it is far more important to a speaker. You risk loosing your listener in a sea of language if you ask your campers to endure a verbose set of instructions.

How much verbiage could be cut here?

Okay guys, listen up. We are going to do an art activity now, and it’s going to be really fun,  we’re going to paint the mural we sketched yesterday, but it’s important that you listen to the directions because if you don’t listen to the directions you will not know what we are going to do. I know yesterday, some of you were not listening before we played Capture the Flag, and you remember how confusing that was…right? So this time, pay attention when I explain. We are going to be painting the wall, and we don’t want the paints going all over everything and we are going to have a mess if everyone crowds the wall at once. And the last time we painted, when we did our self-portraits, no one cleaned up, did you? So, we are going to need to talk about this whole process, starting with selecting our paints.  ‘Cause I know some of you are going to have certain paints you really want to use and others are going to want the same paints and I don’t want everyone to be arguing about what color they get to use first. You’ll all get the colors you want eventually,,,,,

and on and one and one she goes from picking colors to cleaning-up. Tell the truth: did you make it all the way through that speech?  Imagine listening it it.

While the details are made-up in this example, the amount of extemporaneous verbiage unfortunately is not. How many children are still listening when she is finished? How many have stayed out of trouble? How many have been able to differentiate her main ideas in this tide of words rolling in?

Let’s try this again:

Okay guys, I need your attention for a minute. We are about ready to start painting our mural, but before we do, there a few directions and ground rules we are going to need to go over.  Raise your hand if you have ever painted a mural before.

  • Tempting as it is to explain why they need the directions, and what happened last time, this verbiage is adding “just-sit time” and probably confusing your students. Keep it concise and:
  • Break it up. In the alternate passage, above, the speaker has not launched into a full explanation at once. She is going to break it down into small bites that her campers can digest.  She is employing several other devises to keep her campers’ focus. She has opened with an
  • Attention grabber.  An attention grabber alerts the student that they really need to listen now. It can be perfectly straight forward, as in “I need your attention for a moment” or it can be intriguing. “Hey guys, did your parents ever tell you not to draw on the walls? Well, today you are going to draw on the walls.”
  • Audience Involvement. After a very short introduction, the speaker has asked the students if they have ever painted a mural.  By asking a question, she has engaged them, she has changed an expectation from listening to doing (raising hands if they have painted a mural), and she has made the information relevant by connecting it to prior experience. At this point, she should allow one or two students to comment, but not all, or again the rest will be lost in a sea of words, just not her words. She should also look for questions that will engage the students who have NOT painted a mural. (Have you seen a mural? Is a mural the same thing as graffiti?”)
  • Let someone else talk. Look at the example paragraph above. How much of the information conveyed by the teacher could actually have been drawn out of the group? Not only does letting the students contribute engage them, it breaks up the monotony of listening to the same voice going on and on.
  • Get silly.  Another great way to grab and keep attention is to clown around just a bit. “We’re going to be painting a mural today, so I want everyone to crowd all around the wall and all of you try to paint the same thing at the same time, because that way  you won’t just be painting the walls, you’ll be painting each other. Won’t Madison look good with a pink nose? No? Okay, well, how do you think we should go about this?” Don’t take this so far that you get your group wound up. A little humor goes a long way.
  • Engage their eyes.  Don’t just say it. Show it. Walk over to the paint table and pick up the paints as you talk about the colors they will be using.
  • Engage their bodies. Likewise, get your students moving, even as you go through the instructions. “Okay, now everyone stand up, spread out a little, and pretend to paint on a mural.  How far apart is everyone? Good.” Not only are you teaching to the active learners, you are keeping everyone’s attention by keeping them moving and changing things up. Do you want them moving because you invited them to move or because the fidgets have set in?
  • Save some for later. Maybe you don’t have to explain it all at once.  Can you begin an activity and stop after 10 minutes to explain the next step?  Let’s say you are introducing a new, and rather complicated game. Consider breaking the game into segments the first time, then when the children have mastered the instructions for each component of the game, let them play it all the way through. You should tell them from the onset that they will have a chance to play it all the way through, but it is complicated so you are going to break it into three parts first.
  • Repeat after me. Asking students to repeat back instructions helps you check for understanding and gives them a chance to talk (and hear a different voice). It also alerts them to the fact that they need to listen, because they are going to be asked to repeat your instructions.

Keep it in sight.

  • Divide and conquer.  How you group students plays into managing their behavior during challenging times.  Whether it’s sitting in group time or waiting in line, you want to keep apart children who trigger one another’s challenging behaviors. If Carlton and Hwei Nyi wind each other up, move one to the back of the line and one to the front.  If Samantha has been known to antagonize Shelby to the snapping point, why would they be seated at the same table?
  • Get in there! Effective classroom teachers don’t stand in front of a classroom talking, they move about. Why should it be any different in an afterschool or summer program? The setting may be different. Maybe your group is on a golf course, maybe they are at various stations in a wildlife center, but you can still mingle. In a large group situation, walk through the group, making frequent eye contact and patting the occasional shoulder. Where groups are scattered around the setting, move from group to group.  Spread your staff among your students.  The very presence of an adult nearby can have a settling effect. If you know certain students’ behaviors can be particularly challenging, you want to make sure that those students are near an adult or that you are circling back to them often. But please, don’t do this in an obvious way that flags them as troublemakers.
  • Case the joint. Physical environment has a powerful influence on behavior. You can allow the environment to work against you, or manipulate it to work for you. Look around the environment of your program. What blocks your view of a section of the space? A bookshelf, a hedge? Can the items be moved? Trimmed back? Is it possible that by standing in a slightly different spot you can see more kids?

If you are visiting a site, give the place a quick once over. Your students are standing in line for a ride an amusement park. One section of the queue runs behind a broad post:  a great place for behaviors to devolve. Try stationing a staff member there, or make it a point to stroll over to that area often.

Find something to do. There are many opportunities for students and campers to find themselves with too much time on their hands. Maybe they are waiting for a bus that is delayed.  Maybe one or two students are always the first to finish an activity, and their behavior begins to decay as they wait for the rest of the group to catch up. Be prepared to keep students occupied during these periods of otherwise unstructured time.

  • Have a game plan. When the whole group is unoccupied, games can be played on the spot with little or no equipment. Keep a small juggling ball or scarf on hand and use it for a game of catch.  Play charades and guessing games. Circle games are great. Younger kids may enjoy games like “Duck Duck, Goose”, while older students will enjoy more complex games, such as “Human Knot.” For this and other appropriate activities, see and Making Fun Out of Nothing at All, Burcher and Burcher (available through ACA Bookstore:
  • A bag of tricks. In Enrichment Alliance programs, we have found it extremely helpful to keep a set of simple but engaging materials with us when traveling by car or bus.  When behavior in the car was deteriorating severely, one of our drivers began traveling with a set of colorful pipe-cleaners in her car, which her passengers shaped into flowers and butterflies. Behavioral problems ceased entirely.  One spring our students made lanyards while waiting for and riding on the bus.  Decks of cards, games, books, finger-puppets, simple art supplies — these things can be thrown in a fanny-pack or day-pack and carried along on any trip away from site. Make sure items are not messy and do not have a lot of components. Also make sure they are cheap and expendable; they may get left on the bus. Maintain interest by changing things up from time to time.
  • Up to More Tricks. At your permanent site, a box or shelf of tricks can be just as helpful.  These can be made available for the inevitable students and campers who get ahead of the group.  Keep high interest materials in a box that you can bring to a child’s seat, or direct the child to a well-stocked shelf.  Getting back to expectations above, your students should already know what to do when finished early. A child milling around looking for something to do is a potential problem, but this is a situation that is easily avoided in a well-prepared environment.
  • Can You Lend Me a Hand? Remember the study sited above which found that children with ADHD often cannot attend to a task longer than two minutes. Imagine what happens to a child challenged at this level when asked to sit at a table while materials are being passed out.  To many adults who work with children regularly the solution is obvious: let these children be the ones who are passing the materials out. Look for other situations or times of day that certain children tend to become restless and assign them chores suited to their high level of energy.
  • There’s Something in This for Everyone. The best science programs I have seen do not have one child up in front doing an activity while the other children watch; they have multiple stations in which children, who understand expectations for cooperative learning, complete the assigned activity in small groups.  This should hold true for other activities, such as cooking. You can have multiple groups doing the same thing (everyone is constructing a simple electrical circuit) or stations  with  specific tasks (chopping, measuring, blending). It is not active learning if one or two students are active while the rest watch!

Change is Hard. During our workshop, staff identified transition times as among the most difficult times of their programs.  There are numerous reasons for this, so I want to devote space to this topic, reviewing the ideas already discussed above as well as introducing some additional strategies. First, let’s consider all the reason transitions are so hard.

  • Children may not want to quit the activity they are currently engaged in.
  • The time and space covered in the shift from one activity to the next may lack structure and focus.
  • Moving from one set of demands to the next requires a mental shift that is harder for some children than others, especially children with neurological challenges.  A child who is in the mindset of playing soccer may find it exceedingly difficult to move into the mindset of cleaning-up the playground, even though this is an automatic transition for the majority of the group.

Behavior problems may arise out of the various challenges that transitions produce.  Leaders who understand and anticipate these challenges can stay ahead of the game. We have already talked about several strategies than will be helpful here:

  • Set and review clear expectations.
  • Look for ways to keep students occupied physically and mentally during the transition.
  • Mix adults throughout the crowd.
  • Strategically arrange children who have difficulty with transitions close to adults and far from their most distracting peers.

There are additional strategies that can be particularly helpful with transitions.

  • Advance warning systems. Transitions are hard. Abrupt transitions are very hard. Actually, children are no different than adults in this regard. Anyone will respond with frustration, inwardly or outwardly, on being commanded to stop one activity and shift abruptly to another, especially if the former is a preferred activity.  Giving five minute warnings before ending an activity can prepare your children mentally and physically for the coming change. A verbal reminder may be enough, but for visual learners, I like to hold up five fingers.  Various types of timers can be used as added visual cues.
  • Rites of Passage. I know a camp that has an intriguing system of getting their campers into the dining hall smoothly.  When the campers  enter the building, they raise their arms over their heads and begin to chant “Ohhhhhhhhhhh….” as they take their places around their tables. Once the entire camp is gathered in the dining hall, they burst into an extremely lively rendition of The Johnny Appleseed Blessing complete with stamping and dosidos. With their hands and voices fully engaged while the dining hall filled, no one has had the opportunity to be disruptive, but the whole experience feels playful, not regimented like many other camp transitions I have observed. Moreover, this beloved ritual clearly signals a transition to a new activity, and the raucous singing shakes out the fidgets before the group settles down to eat. In other settings I have seen leaders use singing as a way to physically move from one place to another.  Often these leaders will also look for ways to keep hands appropriately engaged. I know one who tells her group a different thing to do with their hands each day, such as making elephant trunks and tails.
  • Be Prepared.  Quick, efficient transitions are bound to go better than slow, confusing ones. Unfortunately, I have seen teachers delay an activity and drastically reduce adult supervision as they hustle from room to room gathering materials for the next activity. Needless to say, the situation in the room rapidly deteriorates.  To the extent that you possibly can, prepare and collect your materials in advance. And as you set out materials, engage your students in this task as much as possible, especially those easily distracted children we discussed above.

From Danger Zones to Safe Zones

Failure to adapt activities to a child’s predictably short attention span has potential to result in disruptive behavior. This is true for all children, but more so for children with unusually short attention spans.  Fortunately, there are many strategies that be employed to turn those “dangerous zones” into “safe zones.”  Define expectations clearly, and review them often.  Develop strategies that reduce the amount of time children are expected to sit doing nothing at all but listen, watch, and/or wait.  Mix adults in with children. Prepare for transitions.

What are some of your favorite strategies for turning danger zones into safe zones? Please reply to share your success stories.


Rapport, M. et al (2009). Variability of Attention Process in ADHD: Observations in the  Classroom.  Journal of Attention Deficit Disorders, 12.  563-573.