1. ~ The most popular method I've heard, (and was used by my mother, as well) is to...use a timer!
There are several suggested ways to utilize the little tool. One idea given was to let your child "race against the timer." Another suggestion is to use rewards and consequences. Keep a prize box with small/cheap rewards if they beat the timer or let them do something fun as a treat, even just a trip to the park or a play area. If they finish a certain assignment before the timer goes off, let them use the rest of the time to play before going to the next lesson. As a consequence, they lose play time if they have to continue working instead. I would add...make sure you give them a reasonable amount of time. If your child constantly runs over, you might need to add a little more time for them or divide the assignment/lesson into different times. Let them do part of it for a certain amount of time, take a break, then do the next part.
2. ~ Rewards are a great motivator with or without a timer. Again, keep the rewards small and cheap, if not free or you will find yourself overwhelmed. Even a small snack will work.
3. ~ One parent has "Cookie Fridays." If her children stay on task all week, (good for home school assignments or homework brought home,) then on Fridays, she lets her children pick what kind of cookies to make. She only uses a half of a batch to keep the sugary sweets to a minimum. She said her children remind each other to stay on task and they have only missed out one week. Cookies sound like a great motivator to me!!
4. ~ Another suggestion was to play a lively classical music CD in the background. Classical music is widely known for stimulating the brain.
5. ~ A public school special education teacher recommended taking one of those long swimming noodles, cut it in half, and let them roll their feet on it while working. Children's minds and bodies, especially younger ones, are constantly moving. Being able to move a part of their body while doing seatwork might help keep them focused on the task at hand.
6. ~ Build their habit of focus gradually. Start in 10 minute incriments, or even 5 minutes for the younger school age student and require 100% attention during that time and no play time or rewards until the task is finished. As they mature, lengthen the amount of time. It is suggested that if they absolutely cannot sit still and focus at a particular time, give them a physical task to do such as dusting or cleaning something until they get it out of their system.
7. ~ One lady said she just resigned herself to the fact that it was going to take a little longer. While we need to teach our children to stay on task, this is a good idea to keep our own sanity. Just love them the way they are and don't let it get to you. I am a full grown piddler now, (grown ups call it procrastination,) and I can honestly say...it will get better.
8. ~ One of my own ideas is to make a 'mini-office' for your child. Now, the office I made is probably better suited for home schooled children. I will address a similar idea for traditionally schooled children in a minute. The mini-office is basically a little cubicle made out of file folders or a tri-fold project board that your child can set in front of them on the table or desk to help block distractions from others. I made one for my son, and it does help when his little sister is on the other side of the table. Oddly enough, the helpful printouts I decorated it with can be a distraction itself. But, once the newness of it wears off, it works quite well. This may work for multiple children doing homework brought home, too. Here are a few pictures of our mini-offices. I actually used a tri-fold project board that was so larg, I cut it in half and made two. (I wasn't going for this, but the dollar store was out of the smaller boards and I had to get a larger one at a big box store.) I made one with helpful math tips on it and one for reading and writing. Obviously, our printouts are geared for K-1 grade, but there are printouts available for whatever level you need. (I still have to add a pocket with fraction wheels to the vacant spot on the math one.)
Here is a link to a site that will show more examples of mini-offices and where to get the printoutes...
Most of the mini-offices you will see on these sites are made of file folders attached together and once all the printouts are in place, they laminate the entire office. I'm going to make one like this for my daughter.
I would like to make a similar suggestion for children in a classroom. Often the homework that a child brings home is what was not completed during that time in class, possibly because of distractions around them. One of the things I remember doing in my elementary years of school was taking my binder and setting it up on the desk or table in front of me to pretend it was my 'office.' Actually, all of the girls did this. (I don't remember what the boys did.) But, we worked diligently in our 'offices' to get our work done. Maybe someone else did this and the 'mini-office' idea was born from it. Ask your child's teacher if it's okay for your child to set a binder up on their desk or the space in front of them while doing independent seatwork. Maybe it will help them stay focused on the task in front of them. And who knows, maybe it will inspire others to do the same, thus possibly helping someone else, too.
These ideas, as stated before, have come from other parents who deal with piddling everyday. I hope you find something that helps you or sparks your own creative ideas on how to help our children when the task seems long. Above all, love them and every little quirk about them!!!