Helping Children Concentrate by Darren Laverick

Most adults would agree that concentration is a skill that should improve with age. The expectations for focus and attention increase through childhood. Many children at school learn through teacher instructions, social cues, and copying other children. They just seem to know how to show they are concentrating, but for many other children however, it doesn’t seem to come naturally, and for a variety of reasons, they find concentrating for longer periods of time difficult.
In classrooms around the world, most children like to blend in with their friends and learn through experience that sitting still, listening and focusing on lessons helps lead to success. For other children, they seem unfocused and have trouble sitting still, listening and following directions. This can be interpreted as behavioural problems, and often adults conclude that this is a choice that the child is making. Behavior problems such as not sitting still, looking around and showing disinterest are often characteristics of children who have trouble concentrating. These types of behaviour can sometimes lead to learning issues, disengagement or forgetfulness, and more behaviour problems.
Recently new understandings about brain development and social development has shed light on such issues. Fortunately more and more teachers and adults who work with children understand that concentration is a skill that can be taught and developed. There are many developmental, emotional and physical reasons for lack of concentration including issues such as boredom, hearing problems, anxiety, fear of failure, difficult subject matter, lack of motivation, language issues. With these in mind, we can all find ways to make concentration easier for children.
So what can teachers and parents do to support the development of focus and attention?
Allowing choices whenever possible to give children ownership of their learning, being aware of the developmentally appropriate length of time children can concentrate for, making sure children understand and can connect to the task or topic, building a culture without fear of judgment and encouraging risk taking and questions when they are unsure can all foster attention, focus and concentration on a given topic.
Adults should always ask themselves how can they make learning more engaging, what can they do to make sure that focus and attention can be sustained for longer periods of time and how can they engage all children to help them build stamina for concentration.
Interactive group games that require waiting for a turn, listening to others and some movement can help build stamina for focus, and concentration. After the fun of a game, explaining to children that they used to skill of concentration to be successful will help them see themselves as successful learners. They will recognize their growing abilities to remain focused and attentive, which will lead to higher levels of engagement in other learning activities.
And finally remember it’s always best to praise a child for what they do well and focus on helping them improve whatever stage they are at. The notion of ‘nudging’ a child at his or her own stage of development and celebrating the small success can lead to major changes in behaviour. This seems to be the most successful way to help build any skill, including concentration in children.
The above piece was written for LoriMoon by Darren Laverick an Elementary Teacher in a leading international school in Bangkok, NIST – International School Bangkok.