Learning in a Busy World

Today’s children inhabit a world loaded with stimulation and external input competing for their attention. Thanks to our screen-heavy lifestyle, the market is flooded with games, apps and shows designed to ensure that children’s brains are lively, colourful places at all times. Keeping your child perpetually entertained has never been easier. 

On the one hand, this can be seen as a positive. Developing minds need stimulation and resources to help them learn about the world that are both accessible and challenging. On the other, we adults are living through what can only be described as a crisis of focus. 

Why Concentrate?

The attention economy is in full swing. Yet adult reading for leisure has never been lower. The ability to focus on one thing at a time is vital in helping children develop the attention span they will later need to succeed in work, relationships and intellectual endeavour. 

An inability to focus can lead to a variety of undesirable consequences. For example, your child may find it difficult to retain basic information or follow simple instructions. Their short-term memory may be affected, making it challenging for them to recall what they have just learned, and they may become easily distracted. No one wants their child to be confronted with these problems when they start school. So, what can parents do to prevent these outcomes?

Activities to Improve Attention and Concentration

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Create a Productive Environment

Help your child experiment with what they need to concentrate. Focus doesn’t look the same for everyone; some need total silence to get work done, others work better with music or ambient noise. 

Imposing too much rigidity on your child’s rituals can be detrimental and discourage them from actively trying to work out what’s best for them. However, setting aside a space for concentration with limited noise and distractions is an excellent place to start. 
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Incorporate Breaks

You might be familiar with the pomodoro technique which encourages periods of work to be broken up into half hour chunks with short breaks in between. This method is widely believed to be the most structured way to order your time productively and its principles can also be applied to children. 

While you don’t need to be quite so prescriptive with your child, encourage them to take breaks from whatever they’re focusing on and they’re sure to come back to the task in hand feeling refreshed. After all, children are, as we well know, just as susceptible to reward systems as adults. When dealing with older children, it’s a good idea to slowly build up the length of the intervals between breaks, as, like anything, concentration is an art that requires practice. 
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Help Your Child Establish a Routine

We’ve all been there; if you’re on high alert waiting for a person or event that may or may not arrive, it’s almost impossible to concentrate productively on what you’re doing. Children are the same. When a child’s routine is subject to frequent change, they are liable to spend long periods overly alert and easily prone to distraction. Knowing that they can expect a grounded framework allows them to settle into a place of uninterrupted focus. So, designated homework time is the aim of the game!

Putting a solid routine in place also involves making sure your child is getting enough good quality sleep. As you’ll know from your own experience, deep concentration is verging on impossible to achieve on a lack of sleep. Be sure your child is sleeping the correct amount of hours each night: 

– 1 to 2 year olds – 11 to 14 hours 
– 3 to 5 year olds – 10 to 13 hours 
– 6 to 13 year olds – 9 to 11 hours 
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Limit Screen Usage

This won’t surprise you in the least but the detrimental effect that excessive screen time can have on a child’s ability to focus really cannot be stressed enough. The passive consumption enabled by screen-based entertainment can lead to severe underuse of active cognitive skills, making deep concentration harder to achieve. It can also affect a child’s ability to separate the real from the simulated and take away from their interest in the world around them.

Though a blanket ban on screens is generally considered unnecessary, limiting screen time in some form is highly advisable. While televisual sources can be helpful for varying a child’s input, human interaction is the optimum way for young children to learn, so, between the ages of 2 and 5, no more than one hour of screen time is recommended per day. Beyond age 5, encourage blocks of the day devoted to other forms of entertainment and play, such as those listed below. 
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Play Games With Your Child

Developing focus isn’t just about learning to concentrate on undesirable tasks. Productive games can be tremendously beneficial activities in helping your child build their aptitude for clear thinking and the speed of their responses to stimuli. 

These include ‘Simon Says’, ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ and ‘Spot the Difference’. Games like these are perfect for encouraging your child to focus and have fun along the way. What could be better than a bit of productive bonding time? 
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Encourage Make-Believe

On the subject of games, encourage your child to incorporate make-believe elements into the games they play. Imaginative play is great for encouraging children to make creative decisions and allows for sustained periods of concentration – and not a screen in sight! 

Thinking ahead and coming up with independent solutions are just some of the skills that imagination-heavy games allow children to build. Plus, research shows that children who play make-believe games are more self-reliant and have more developed capacities for empathy. 
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Read With Your Child

We all know it; when it comes to developing a child’s mental and intellectual abilities right from day one, there really is no substitute for reading. Reading is a way to slow the sometimes frantic pace of life with kids and allow children a form of mental stimulation that is gentle and calming. 

Even if they’re too young to fully understand or engage with the story, your child will still start to mimic your focus. It’s a great way to stimulate the part of the brain that processes language, and research has repeatedly shown that children who are read to from an early age are significantly more likely to develop a taste for reading independently as they get older. What’s not to love?
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N.B. Possible ADHD

All children have limited attention spans in the early years, but if you’re concerned that your child may be showing signs of ADHD, it’s important to seek professional help. Start with a formal diagnosis and then shop around for resources providing extra educational guidance, such as private tuition and online services and forums. However, even if your child does receive an ADHD or ADD diagnosis, the above tips remain highly useful for helping them stay on top of it and tackle the day-to-day challenges they may face.

By Ella Burgess, Senior Content Writer at Tutor House