How can we keep our kids focused? We put this question to Fiona Walker, CEO and principal of school of the Julia Gabriel Centre, Singapore. A mother of two as well as an educator herself, she admits that it is a problem now more than ever. “As our focus is pulled in so many different directions by mobile media, as well as Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, our ability to concentrate on one thing is decreasing.”
While the ability to multitask can be seen as a virtue, it sure doesn’t help when you need to understand a complex concept. And it’s all very well saying that succinctly summing up your point in a tweet is a valuable skill, but really — most tweets and posts are banal and unclear.
Finally, says Walker, children still have to digest large amounts of information, understand new concepts and make connections between different areas of information. “This requires focus and concentration. Unfortunately many children have not yet developed the mental ‘muscles’ to focus and concentrate for any length of time.”
What can you do? Walker gives us five tips for promoting your child’s ability to focus…
1) Be patient
First, remember that you yourself may also have a diminished attention span. So put aside your phone and any other distracting items and focus on your child. Be patient with them and don’t rush them. Even during small tasks like getting shoes on or getting ready for bed, take your time. Let your child focus on what it is they need to do and be absorbed in the activity. Allowing them the time needed to do something for themselves helps your child develop independence, focus and self-esteem.
2) Make time to move
Young children are not designed to sit still and concentrate for long periods of time. Build in time between periods of study for them to move around and physically work out their bodies. That will make it much easier for them to focus without getting too fidgety. It can be as simple as a 10-minute break in the middle of homework to do jumping jacks or dance around the room — then they can go back to the activity with renewed focus.
3) Play games
Memory games are a great way to develop concentration. These can be played anywhere, any time. Playing “I spy…” or “I went on a picnic and brought…” on the MRT or while walking to school is a fun way to pass time and develop focus. Memory matching cards are good and board games are always a brilliant way to develop a number of social skills such as turn-taking, winning and losing, as well as concentration.
4) Remove visual distractions
Visual distractions are everywhere! If you think back to your childhood there would have been one, maybe two, TVs in your home. Now there are huge screens along the roadside, at the elevators, there are phones, iPads and computers in each and every room and almost every hand. To help your child focus on whatever it is he or she is doing, whether it is homework or playing a specific game with you, remove all these other distractions that might otherwise be competing for their attention.
5) Read to your child
It’s very easy to give your child an iPad to watch their favourite show or play a game but this will not help them focus. Instead read to your child; start this habit as early as possible, do it as often as you can and don’t stop! The benefits of reading to your child cannot be over-emphasised! Your child develops focus, language, imagination and a desire to read more. It is the best possible investment in your child’s future academic success.
Remember that focus is like a muscle, you and your child need to exercise it and it will become stronger.