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Give kids a break to improve attention span

THURSDAY, JULY 30, 2015 11:39 AM

Teachers and parents alike are always trying to get kids to pay attention and stay focused on specific tasks. It's easy to forget that concentrating for extended periods of time is difficult, even for adults. Staring at various equations and problems for the whole day and then going home to more homework can take a toll on a child's attention span. Eventually, all the material begins to blur together, and a person's brain is no longer processing the information being thrown at it.

This lack of focus often happens to adults at work when they realize they've been rereading the same sentence but not understanding the meaning. When this happens to kids, they can become frustrated or easily distracted in a classroom. To minimize the frequency of these overloads, teachers and parents should make an effort to provide kids, especially those in kindergarten and other elementary grades, with opportunities for brief mental breaks.

A lot of people believe that not being able to focus on a task for an extended period of time is due to a lack of concentration. However, a study published in the journal Cognition found evidence that one's attention span is not the problem. The study supports the claim that constant stimulation results in loss of control over one's thought process. The effect can be related to Troxler's Fading. This phenomenon happens when a person fixates on a specific object, which causes stationary items in a person's peripheral vision to fade and eventually disappear, but when the eyes are moved, the objects come back into view, Nature Reviews notes.

Basically, the brain has been overly stimulated by the content a person is staring at and starts to make it fade out. This condition can easily be overcome, the study notes, by briefly allowing a person to disengage from the activity. A person's cognitive functions can take a break and come back to the task refreshed.

What teachers can do
Keeping a whole class on task is a challenge, but giving students the opportunity to get up and move in between activities can be extremely beneficial. Minds in Bloom suggests short, three-minute breaks, such as a quick dance party or a game of "Would you rather?" There is a wide variety of options for teachers to choose from when giving students a chance to relax. A few other ideas include:

  • Reading a few short poems
  • Having kids draw a quick picture
  • Creating a brief yoga routine

What parents can do
When kids get home from school they usually have homework to complete. Allow them to take short breaks between subject assignments to do something fun or relaxing. This way, they will be more focused when they return to their homework because they will have burned off some of their extra energy. A few break ideas include:

  • Playing a short game
  • Running around outside
  • Reading a book

Scientific Learning also suggests making sure kids get plenty of sleep. This is the ultimate downtime for a child's brain, and it will help them focus on tasks for the next day.