TIPS to improve in-class concentration

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

In a world where children's attention deficits are more prevalent than ever before, help your children stand out from the crowd by boosting their concentration with these simple TIPS. Being able to concentrate for long periods of time will make them more productive and increase their chances of success!



Dear Parents,


Nowadays, children are growing up in a society where technology is paramount. This has brought great benefits but also great obstacles. By spending so much time looking at screens, children all over the world are finding it more difficult to focus their attention on a single activity. Indeed, numerous studies (such as the one organised by the University of California Davis) have shown that sustained inattention during preschool and school years is associated with poorer academic performance in later years and greater school drop-outs. Even worse, if these attention deficits are not addressed, they can substantially limit a child's learning ability. To avoid this outcome, we invite you all to reinforce a specific skill that will allow your children to sustain their attention for longer periods of time. This skill is generally known as: CONCENTRATION.


Concentration can be somewhat paradoxical at first, as the same child who cannot focus on homework for 15 consecutive minutes, will not exhibit this limitation when watching television or playing a video game for hours on end. The difference here lies in the type of reinforcement obtained by doing these activities:


- The first case is an example of delayed reinforcement: completing academic tasks is not, in itself, a rewarding activity; but, it is necessary in order to achieve greater long-term benefits.


- Whereas in the second case, the reinforcement is immediate, the simple act of playing video games or watching television is immediately rewarding.


And well... we all know that a child will always prefer to eat dessert now rather than in 10 minutes... and not only them, but us too!


Human behaviour is ruled by clear preferences:

'The more immediate the reinforcers, the greater the likelihood that the behaviour will occur; whereas, the longer the time that passes between a behaviour and its reinforcement (delayed reinforcement), the less likely it will be for this behaviour to occur again.'

Taking these preferences into account and the enemy we are trying to stop, I invite you all to pay close attention to the conditions and strategies presented below. You should incorporate these into your children's study/work routine to develop a more rewarding academic experience and, thus, foster their concentration ability.



TIPS FOR IMPROVING CONCENTRATION


ESSENTIAL CONDITIONS

  1. Good Sleep. A well-rested child is a child who works well. Whilst we sleep certain neurotransmitters are stimulated to encourage optimal attention-concentration abilities throughout the day. If this process is disrupted, its consequences will also be visible in your child's performance.

  2. Balanced diet. The brain needs energy to function. A balanced diet will provide enough energy for optimal performance.

  3. Prepare the work area in advance. Help your child prepare a work area that is well lit, airy and quiet. It is recommended that your child works at the same desk and at the same time, everyday, to create a clear routine. In addition, it is crucial that only the resources that are needed for the current task are on the desk: ONLY THOSE FOR THE CURRENT TASK. If your child is very young, help them achieve this setting up the table yourself; but, if they are older or more independent, instruct them to pick up after each completed task and leave only what is needed for the next task on the table.

  4. Reduce distractions and offer clear guidance when necessary. Children are naturally easily distracted, help them focus their attention better by reducing the amount of distractors in their environment (e.g. toys, electronics, costumes, etc.). Giving clear instructions such as 'now it's time to do homework' when your child seems distracted, will be useful in helping him/her differentiate study time VS play time. This will also serve as a cue to practice maintaining longer periods of concentration.

  5. Physical activity. This last condition is not mandatory but highly recommended. Daily physical activity (e.g. active games, exercises such as jumping, running, swimming, etc.) will help stimulate the neurotransmitters that favour the attention-concentration process in the brain. Not only that, but it will give children an ideal opportunity to drain excess energy and any negative feelings or thoughts that might be filling their heads. Doing these physical activities before school time, during a break or even before homework will help the child to focus more, and better, during their working period.


IMPORTANT: These conditions are necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the techniques/strategies that will be presented now. There is no point in trying to implement the most useful concentration technique if the child is not well rested and the environment where he/she studies is surrounded by distractors.


EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUES/STRATEGIES

  • Technology detox: reducing the time children spend in front of screens is key to achieve better performance. Nowadays, with online classes this may seem more difficult, but it is not impossible. Children spend an average of 4-6 hours a day in front of computers during their compulsory lessons, so to balance this out, try to make sure that breaks are free from phones, tablets, television, video games, etc. There are many family games and activities that can be done without the need of using any electronic devices. Introduce your child to a childhood game of yours; not only will it be novel for him/her, but it will also foster a better relationship between you two.

  • Establish a work schedule. Together with your child, establish working periods during and after school. For example, if regular classes are from 8.30am to 2.30pm, schedule a sensible break time, and a period from 3.30pm to 7.00pm to complete all the assigned homework. Once the working day is over time (7.00pm) and the homework has been completed, children should have the freedom to do whatever they want; however, no electronic devices should be allowed an hour before bedtime to ensure a healthier sleep routine :)

  • Set short-term goals. Although passing the course will always be the main goal, it is a fairly 'distant' one. Setting smaller, clearer, short-term goals will facilitate daily planning and increase overall productivity. Help your child create a to-do list that reflects their daily objectives. Accomplishing each small goal and celebrating every effort put into it, will give your child more motivation to keep working.

If you haven't done so already, we recommend you to check out our guide to creating S.M.A.R.T goals here and our article on organisation skills here.
  • The Pomodoro Technique. This method consists of splitting work into intervals of deep work and resting periods. Our brains can neither fully concentrate all the time, nor rest all the time, the ideal is to alternate work - rest - work - rest. With the pomodoro technique your children will have to work for 25 consecutive minutes. At the end of which time, they will get 5 minutes of rest to read a book, play a game, eat a snack, etc. Once they have completed 4 sets of 25/5 minutes, they will have a longer break of 35-45 minutes. This technique is very useful for tasks of medium to low difficulty. For more complex activities, work and rest times can be extended e.g. 45/10 minutes to ensure that more of the task gets completed on each interval.

IMPORTANT: when setting work times, take into account your child's level of concentration according to his/her age. Here is a quick guide to help you.

  • The 5-10 minute technique. This technique is especially useful for those days when it is more difficult to get children to concentrate on a task. By proposing to work for only 5-10 minutes, you can get your child to sit down at the table , get his/her things ready and start working. At the end of this time you can ask them: 'How are you doing?, do you think you can work for a little longer?', to which they will most likely answer YES as they will be already immersed in the task.

Starting is always the hardest part, continuing... not so much.
  • Leave the hardest part for the beginning, not the end. Teach your child to structure his/her to-do list by starting with the most laborious activity followed by an easier one (or a break). This pattern: hard, easy, hard, easy, ... will help keep your child's mind active and allow him/her to complete the most difficult tasks when his/her brain has the most energy.

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And, to help you even more on enhancing your child's attention and concentration abilities outside the classroom we prepared some useful games. Check them out here.(AVAILABLE NOW!)


Finally, I wanted to remind you all that 'any behaviour that is repeated over a long period of time becomes a habit'. Although it may seem that your responsibilities are only increasing, this will only be temporary. Once your child learns the basics of how to improve the way he/she works, and practices them with appropriate supervision, he/she will be able to increase his/her concentration, take more control over his/her learning and achieve his/her goals more independently.



Good Luck!



Ninibeth Leal Perez

&

The Home Schooling Team