Sunday, June 3, 2012

Focus and Attention

We hear these words, focus and attention, when evaluating the students in our class.  Can she focus?  What is his attention span?  

As parents you have probably heard these words as well.  Your child does well when he/she is focused.

How can we help children develop focus and attention.

It starts when they are very young.  Very early in life babies possess an "absorbent mind".  They absorb their environment through the senses.  It is important to prepare the child's environment so there is beauty and natural materials wherever the child looks and experiences.  Beautiful toys made of wood and other natural products, delightful and colorful mobiles, soft voices, lovely music, fragrant flowers all will attract a very young child's attention and hold their focus.

As the child becomes more independent around age 2, it is important to be consistent.  Attractive books and toys can be arranged on open shelving so that the child can reach for them without help.  Natural materials are best, try to avoid plastic.  An open space in which a child can work (play).  Chairs and a table that is the right size for the child.  Letting the child take the lead on what he or she wants to use and then letting the child focus on it until he or she decides to change the activity.  Outdoor activities, water play, music, story time are all important activities.  Children do not necessarily interact with other children at a young age, they can play side by side, each absorbed in his or her own activity.

I have observed many parents who want to hurry their children from one activity to another, this disrupts the natural development of focus and concentration.

As the child grows so should his or her attention span.  Be judicious about the activities you schedule for your child.  Running from one activity to the next does not help the development of focus and concentration.

I have observed children who come to school and have clear issues with maintaining their focus and concentration.  I will often find a time to observe the parent interacting with the child.  When I see the parent frequently redirecting the child as they work together, I can tell that the child has underdeveloped concentration skills.  When parents say to me, he can concentrate for hours at home, there must be too many distractions in the classroom.  I find it necessary to point out that as I was observing the child lost focus X number of times, or every so many seconds.  He changed the subject, distracting himself until you (the parent) redirected him.

So how do we develop focus in a child who has missed developing it while very young?  That is the question.
It sounds counter productive but we give time limits.  For example, a child who takes an inordinate amount of time to eat meals.  Set a time limit, say 15 minutes.  Let the child know that he can have his plate for 15 minutes and then take it away.  No matter how much he has actually eaten.  After a few times he will focus more on eating and less on distracting himself.

Give a time limit for bedtime routines.  Lights out in 20 minutes, put on your pjs, brush your teeth, get in bed and the rest of the time you can read or I will read a story to you.  Stick to the 20 minutes so the reading time is lengthened if the other steps are done.

Find activities in which your child loses track of time.  This does not include computer or TV time.  Your child should be actively engaged in the activity.  Art work, building, Legos, Play Doh, putting on a show or concert, biking, skating, reading...all good choices.  These activities engage your child and allow them to "entertain" themselves and allow them to maintain their focus for long periods of time.

A word of advice, try to avoid "bullying" your child into maintaining focus.  By this I mean sitting with them so that they stay on task.  This does nothing to help the child.  Give them a time limit and then walk away.  If the task is not completed, let the child know that you are surprised that it could not be finished.  Talk to the child about how proud they would feel if they were able to accomplish a task on their own.  Help the child develop a feeling of responsibility for maintaining focus.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Debbie! I feel so good about finding your blog, it is full of helpful advice, with lots of practical and easy recomendations, it is amazing that you go straight to the point in a sweet kind way also giving a comforting feeling that we can do it!, this article in particular will help me a lot because just today I got so angry because my 8yr old can't focus to study for his tomorrow test. I will certainly take all your recomendations starting tomorow ;) wish me luck, and please!!! continue with this amazing blog. I will love to read something about child anxiety. greetings from Mexico City! xoxox Yazmin.