It's 11:00 A.M. Sofia is totally engaged in the block area, as she has been since she arrived at school. Dechen can't quite settle down and so he flits from center to center. Samantha is on her fifth easel painting after working intently on a few puzzles. And the group in the dramatic-play area adds to the version of The Wizard of Oz they created yesterday. It's a spring day in kindergarten.
By the middle of the school year, you may notice a shift in the concentration levels of your 4- and 5-year-olds. Many have begun to focus on activities for longer periods of time and are even able to return to an activity after a break of a few hours or days. This is one of the major transitions that occur in kindergarten, and it is one that will greatly assist children in later schooling.
It may sound simplistic, but 4- and 5-year-olds learn to concentrate by doing things that interest them. However, what interests children can vary greatly. An ideal program offers a balance of activities that effectively teach the curriculum and reflect children's interests giving everyone opportunities to make choices and time to get involved in the experiences.
Factors in Concentration
Children's cognitive, linguistic, and motor-skill levels also affect their willingness and ability to concentrate. If an activity is too challenging in any one of these areas, children either may choose not to participate or may stay with the activity only for a short time. For example, children who choose blocks over art tend to feel more confident in and comfortable with large-motor skills than small-motor skills. Our role as teachers is to support children in developing concentration for activities of their choosing (by providing ample time for them to choose each day). At the same time, we need to gently encourage children to experiment and stay with activities that challenge skills they're not as comfortable with (by providing entry-level activities that are both inviting and potentially successful).
As you know, children's moods also have an effect on their ability to focus. If a child comes to school upset, tired, or overly excited, he may be too distracted to concentrate on an activity, particularly a new or challenging one. By understanding that his lack of concentration is related to a mood, you can help him deal with the cause (the mood), not the symptom (the lack of focus). Once the cause has been sensitively addressed, the symptom just may improve.
What You Can Do
Here are some tips to help children learn to concentrate:
- Provide extended periods of time for children to do independent activities. Offer a wide variety of activities on different skill levels from which children can choose during independent activity time.
- Be aware of individual differences. Find ways for children who tend to do only those activities they feel comfortable with to be successful in a variety of learning experiences.
What to Expect Next
- Many 6- and 7-year-olds have an enormous capacity to remember the smallest details about what adults have said they can do and for how long. ("But you promised ...') They can also keep going for great lengths of time when they are involved in something important. ("Just a few minutes longer, p-l-e-a-s-e!")
- At the same time, many feel a growing pressure to achieve academically. In fact, sometimes the pressure to learn to read is so great (even from within) that their ability to focus is compromised. Children need frequent breaks from academic work to keep their attention focused.
- A great number of 6- and 7-year-olds want to spend more and more time socializing. They notice one another in new ways and often want to just hang out. This is a great age for children to work in small groups on independent projects.