Getting your child to stay on a set school task for more than 10 minutes can be a mammoth struggle in many households. I have spoken to many parents over the years, who believe that the homework struggle can add a lot of stress to their home environment.
In the same way, many parents of pre-schoolers also worry that their child who will attend primary school in the next year is unable to stay on a task for more than 10 minutes. This could mean that their child wanders from activity to activity, not really engaging with any task, they could only do a task for 2 minutes and then tell everyone they are finished or they could simply need their parents to sit with them during play in order to stay at an activity.
Whilst at school, children need to develop their own concentration in order to complete a task or work constantly on a task for a given time. Each task is given a time limit within the classroom and it depends of the type of task and the age of the child.
In the first year of schooling, it is expected that children can work for at least 10 minutes independently. This means that children need to work by themselves or with a group of children without teacher interaction. In the standard classroom the ratio of teacher to student is around 1 teacher to 30 students. If the teacher spent equal amounts of time with each student, in an average day of 5 hours of learning time, a teacher would spend approximately 10 minutes with each student.
It is important to help your child develop these focusing skills in order to enable them to persist at a task, complete a task and be motivated to do a task to the best of their ability. Here are 7 tips that can help children develop their focusing skills.
- Set routine
I cannot stress the importance of a routine enough times. Children thrive on knowing what is coming next and find comfort with predictability.
For a child aged between 5 – 12 years old, this could be seen through an afternoon routine. A timetable could be visible so the expectations are very clear for what they should be doing. The routine could incorporate things like outside play, free choice, homework, dinner, shower, reading, tv etc
For a pre-schooler, this could be seen through a visual timetable that has pictures of all the parts of the day and the activities that they will be doing. It would incorporate “quiet/rest time” which is a time in the day when they need to play independently without adult interaction.
- Physical activity first
Before getting a child of any age to sit down quietly and complete a task, it is important that they have an opportunity to move their bodies around prior to this activity. Children of all ages can not sit still for very long (nor should they be expected too) therefore get them to do a physical activity before a homework task or quiet activity to expend some energy.
- Meaningful learning
Just like adults, children will find it difficult to focus on a task that is boring. Boring activities are those tasks that are not meaningful to that child. Ask a child to complete a task that is meaningful to their own world, it will be hard to stop them from playing/completing it.
For children aged between 5 -12 years old, use their obsessions or talents to develop other areas that are weaker. Eg If they are struggling to write and they love soccer, get them to write a letter to their favourite soccer player and send it. Turn some homework tasks into games to make them more interactive.
For a pre-schooler, set up tasks they will help them to develop skills in an engaging and interesting way. For example, set up a few buckets of water and give them a variety of water equipment to let them experiment with. For example measuring cups, pipettes (medicine dropper), panadol baby dispensers, containers with holes etc
- Break tasks into small manageable activities
Children need guidance in splitting a task into more manageable chunks. Help them break the task into two smaller parts or even four smaller parts. They can write down each part or draw a picture of each part and tick each one off when it is complete. This helps the child follow a sequence, feel success throughout the task and focus on one step at a time. Trying to tackle a whole task at once can be very overwhelming.
- Use a timer
This is a secret weapon for parents and educators. Time is a very abstract concept so a timer will help children be able to visualise the time spent on a task. Start off with quick tasks (cleaning teeth, brushing hair) to teach them about how a timer works. After they understand the concept start with tasks or play activities for 10 minutes and work towards increasing it depending on your child’s age.
- Self monitoring cards
This is another tool that educators use for the younger students. These are picture cards that demonstrate what the child should be doing if they are on task. It could have a picture of lips closed, holding a pencil correctly, feet flat on the floor, eyes looking at the task etc. The cards are placed on the child’s table so they can see them throughout the task. It is a great idea to discuss the cards before each task to remind them of what you expect.
- Set goals
Have the child set goals for themselves that are realistic. This enables them to have ownership over their learning. A goal might be, I am going to write 2 sentences and then try and shoot a goal in the basketball ring.
I hope you have enjoyed the second blog in our series Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten. Encouraging your child to develop their own concentration and focus is important for children of all ages.
I will continue this School Preparation Series in January 2016. Next week we are going to start our 12 days of Christmas craft series. Make sure you stay tuned.
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Until next time…
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