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story.lead_photo.caption Childcare is a pressing issue for many parents right now. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Controlling a room of 7- and 8-year-olds is hard enough in person.

Over Zoom?


But Nicole Dreiske believes she has a solution.

"I created Fast Focus to help teachers restore that energy they have in the classroom," Dreiske said of her semi-new program. "It gives teachers super fast brain-body exercises that unify the classroom focus. It improves students' connections to remote learning without taking time away from lesson plans."

Teachers using Fast Focus techniques call students to attention and have them all perform a quick hand motion and/or activity, such as rhythmic clapping or group breathing exercises, to get them back on track. In theory, any students out of sync quickly realize they're alone and rejoin the class.

Dreiske, a former teacher and current executive director of the International Children's Media Center, developed Fast Focus from her existing Screen Smart program and has presented the techniques to more than 500,000 children.

With schools across the country turning to remote learning both in the spring and in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, Dreiske has been busy in recent months.

"Teachers quickly developed lessons and materials, only to find that the way they'd been teaching in the classroom didn't have that dynamic feeling, that in-person connection (over video)," Dreiske told the Daily News. "I developed Fast Focus to help teachers restore that energy that they have in the classroom."

Teachers are now using Fast Focus in at least 36 classrooms, Dreiske said. She was already working with many of the teachers in March when the pandemic upended daily life.

In addition to those schools, Dreiske has presented the program to more than 3,600 educators in two-and-a-half to three-hour professional training sessions.

"Every day I utilize the skills I learned from Nicole," Madison Brake, a kindergarten teacher in Chicago, said. "These techniques truly supplement my training as an educator, ensuring that the kids are engaged and ready to learn."

Dreiske said Fast Focus works because exercise and physical activity help children focus in the classroom, whether that classroom is through Zoom or in person.

"Children's energy is positive, we just want to channel it," Dreiske said. "You're doing an action while saying words, and kids have fun doing these things even when they have a deeper meaning."

Fast Focus also includes cool down exercises for when children are too rowdy. And as teachers navigate what Dreiske called "a perfect storm of educational challenges" during the pandemic, she plans to bring Fast Focus to even more schools.

"Schools are so frantic to solve these e-learning infrastructure challenges. That has been their sole and primary focus," Dreiske said. "They're trying to do so much, so fast. We're giving them a solution for a problem they don't know they have yet."

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