Heather from The Children’s Workshop discusses how being focused is critical to a positive educational outcome.
As the school year begins, it is essential for young learners to be ready for a successful day at school. Although a variety of factors contribute to your child’s success, being focused in school is critical to their educational experiences and educational outcomes.
Ways to help children “practice” being focused at home:
- Set Expectations:
The earlier you set your expectations and establish a routine for learning, homework and studying, the easier it will be to maintain. Make it a family practice: Allow older children to set an example for younger children—include younger children in homework and study hour by having them quietly color, look at books or do some other learning activity during this time.
- Manage Distractions:
Although eliminating every possible distraction is nearly impossible, there are ways to manage and minimize the number of things that can pull a child’s focus away. Start with technology: no television, phone or computer until homework is done. Total silence isn’t required, because research has found that certain types of music help people concentrate better, especially classical and instrumental music. If your child is interested in listening to music, consider playing Bach, Mozart or Beethoven.
- Establish Rules for Homework Time:
There is nothing more distracting than a knock on the door and an invitation to play when it’s homework time. Require that your children’s homework and studying be completed (neatly and correctly) before going out to play. This can be hard in the summer, when other children are off from school at different times. As seasons and activities change throughout the year, be flexible and adapt to changing schedules.
- Take Breathers
- Make to-do lists to stay on task and complete them
- Set aside a reasonable amount of time for your child to practice focusing on a specific task:
Young children (age 4-5) can usually concentrate for somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes, depending on the task—less time with novel and challenging tasks, and more time with those intrinsically enjoyable activities.
- Do one thing at a time:
We may praise the ability to multitask in our adult lives, but the research is clear: multitasking reduces concentration and diminishes our performance. In line with the concept of mindfulness, do one thing at a time in this one moment. For very young children, you might simply sing the alphabet together while looking at the letters. For children who are a little older, say 4th grade, you can complete one long division problem at a time together. Don’t look ahead at all the other problems, just focus on one at a time.
- Practice belly breathing:
Steady, diaphragmatic breathing slows our heart rate and clears our mind so we can concentrate. This is an important skill for kids to have when they’re confronted with challenging tasks, which can make them anxious and spike their heart rate. Anxiety leads to avoidance, the opposite of concentration. So finding ways to make tasks more approachable is important, and calming the body is one of those strategies.
- Break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces:
This is another strategy for helping children to approach a challenging task. If your child is learning to tie her shoes, make the first goal to master the initial knot, then move on to making two loops with the strings until she knows exactly how to do that, and so forth. Another “piecemeal” strategy for building concentration is to use a timer to help kids organize themselves, e.g., “Here’s a book about horses. I’m going to set this timer for 15 minutes, and I want you to write down as many facts about horses as you can in this time.
- Practice observing things in the moment:
Kids can be distracted by “internal stimuli,” like physical sensations or entertaining memories. While a child’s imagination is a wonderful thing, we also want them to be able to clear away distractions and build the ability to concentrate. You can play “I spy with my little eye…” and take turns making observations of various objects in the room, listen closely to the lyrics of a song together, or do some yoga poses and pay attention to how it feels in the body.
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