Is it difficult for you to get your children to focus? Children tend to focus better on tasks they enjoy and that interests them. Understandably, lack of concentration skills can affect the ability to learn in the long run. Several parents and pre-school teachers recommend the following activities to improve your child's ability to focus, while allowing them to have fun at the same time.
Physical activity such as simple exercises, sports practice, or maybe even dance class not only makes your children physically healthier but also help improve their ability concentrate. So, those ballet lessons or basketball clinics your kids take every summer are a good idea, especially if your kid enjoys them.
The paper, “Effects of the FITKids Randomized Controlled Trial on Executive Control and Brain Function," suggest that children who exercise regularly have better concentration skills than those who don’t. In an article by the University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Charles Hillman, who led the study, says, that children who were in the exercise group also demonstrated improvements in “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out distractions, and in “cognitive flexibility,” which is the act of switching between mental tasks quickly and accurately.
Karen*, a mother to a six-year-old, can confirm this. “My daughter Camille has been taking ballet lessons since she was four years old,” she narrates. “I think having to follow the teacher’s movements correctly has contributed to her paying better attention to things even outside dance lessons. She can concentrate on what her teachers are saying in class without them telling her to pay attention!”
Physical aspects such as balance and coordination are also important to a child's learning process. A study published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology reports that "motor coordination, is directly related to academic achievement." Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience says that exercises that aim to improve balance, coordination, and agility also help improve cognitive functions, such as concentration.
To help improve your kids' balance and concentration, preschool teacher Patricia Samaniego recommends a game that requires both mental concentration and using their bodies. "Make the child balance a cup on the palm with their arms stretched sideways," she suggests. "It may be a physical activity for balancing, but it requires a lot of concentration on the child's part.
Getting your child started on crossword and picture puzzles also helps improve their concentration. The Government of Western Australia Department of Health's Child and Adolescent Health Service says that jigsaw puzzles, matching games, board games, and other similar games "are a great way to develop attention and concentration and thinking skills, such as: recognizing, remembering, matching, sorting, and problem-solving."
"There is a kind of toy where children put rubber shapes on a template in order to form the picture on the template," adds Samaniega. "Toys like that require fine motor skills; they help kids develop their concentration through play."
Other puzzles you can let your kids try are crossword puzzles, which also develop their ability to recognize words, while jigsaw puzzles and card games like "Uno" and "Go Fish" increase a child's ability to recognize numbers and colors. Games that require a child to look for hard-to-find objects like "I Spy" and search-and-find books also help improve their attention to details. Remember, however, to choose puzzles that are age-appropriate for your children.
It is widely known that reading is one of the best ways to help boost your child's memory and concentration, as well as learning ability. In an article by Northcentral University, Graduate School Dissertation Chair Dr. Jennifer Duffy emphasizes the effects of reading to a child's overall development. "Reading is not only essential to a child’s verbal and cognitive development, but it also teaches the child to listen, develop new language, and communicate. Additionally, books open a child’s imagination into discovering his or her world,” says Dr. Duffy. Reading to children also helps to "to stimulate their thoughts and awaken their intellect."
Anne, mother of Andrea, 8, and Nina, mother to Denise, 5, have read to their daughters ever since they were babies. In fact, Anne says that her daughter "has developed excellent reporting and observation skills," while Nina says that her daughter "hardly throws tantrums over being bored with whatever task she has to do. She gets curious, but she's not sidetracked."
There are several studies that prove the importance of playing outdoors to a child’s brain development, from as early as three months old. In fact, research has shown that “free, unstructured playtime allows kids to exercise and helps them to focus better when they are in class.” It's been found that children followed instructions better, had more initiative to learn and solve problems on their own, and generally behaved better when given time to play outside.
For example, Michelle, mother to James, 7, says, “When we're doing homework together, we do one assignment at a time before I let him play on the swings outside for 10 minutes. After that, we do his next assignment. Letting him go on the playground for a few minutes in between tasks helps him focus better on his homework.”
As with any skill, concentration can be improved. The key is making it enjoyable for your kids, and for you as well.
*Names of mothers and children have been changed.