Helping Your Child Pay Attention


Q. Do kids really have deficits in their ability to pay attention in class? Or is it something the schools are doing wrong? 


Both. Let's face it: kids are naturally deficient in the ability to pay attention, because they're kids! None of us is able to sustain a hyper-focus 24/7, nor would we want to. We all need some down time. The trick is to help your child learn how NOT to have that down time in the classroom! 


Because schools believe in the "child-centered classroom," which is less authoritarian than in the past, it's tougher for many children to stay on task. The desks are no longer in rows with all eyes at the front of the room, on the teacher, because the teacher tries not to be the center of attention any more. If there are desks at all, they're likely to be clustered in groups, so that children's eyes are pointing all over the room, and at each other. The focus is often on small-group projects, too, which creates a lot of opportunities for distractions and conversations. And teachers know that many students need to move, during the school day, so getting up and walking around is often permissible. All of these work together to create a more distractible environment than ever before. 


But here's how parents and teachers can maximize a child's ability to focus, concentrate and learn. These "oldie but goodie" tips are from a 1936-37 document, "Manual of the Common Schools" of LaSalle County, Ill., found by an education activist in an antique shop: 


         Get into the habit of putting yourself into "the ready" position while in class. Keep your eyes looking toward the teacher, keep your hands together and keep your elbows on your desk. 


         "Track" the teacher by keeping your eyes on him or her at all times, unless you're working on a hands-on project, reading a book or participating in a small-group discussion or project. 


         Control and direct your thinking so that your mind "pays attention" only to the things that belong to the lesson. 


         In study hall and at home, shut everything else out except your homework or reading material, and that habit will translate to class. 


         At the start of each class, think through what you learned in the last class. At the end of each class, pay attention to the two or three main points you learned to fix them in your mind. 


         If you speak aloud the main points of a class period, you are much more likely to remember them. Train yourself to tell what you "know new," in an orderly fashion, even if it's privately to the bathroom mirror every night after school. 


         Be an active listener, keep your mind alert to what's being taught, and contribute every class period to the discussion by making comments or asking questions. 


         Think of others and be considerate to fellow students and your teachers, and you will help everyone pay attention better. 


Homework: For more pearls from the past, download the manual: 





By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Parental Involvement 23 2008 


Show and Tell for Parents - Educational Advice Columns