Students vary immensely in their ability to focus and concentrate. Some students are fidgety and easily distracted while others have the innate ability to sit quietly and absorb every word the teacher says. It is important to acknowledge that not all children who find it difficult to focus have a learning disability such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In many cases, inattention may be caused by external factors which can be remediated.
Some factors that may contribute to lack of focus are:
1. Not understanding what is being taught
2. Not being challenged enough
3. Lack of sleep
4. Lack of motivation
5. Lack of practice
7. School anxiety
9. Stress from family life
As you likely already know, the ability to concentrate and to focus on tasks at hand goes a far way in determining good academic outcomes.
It is natural for the brain to wander, even moreso in children, but concentration, like any muscle, can be strengthened over time regardless of age and personality. The more you practice focusing, the better you become at doing it.
Tips for Improving Concentration at Home
1. Prepare a distraction-free environment — Ensure that all gadgets and devices are switched off during study and homework time. This includes televisions, radios, cellphones and laptops (if not required).
2. Feed children healthy food — Food is the body's fuel, so eating healthily improves all aspects of bodily function. Reduce sugary foods, junk foods and caffeine. Instead, food rich in proteins such as almonds, eggs and lean meat have the ability to increase focus. Greens and fruits give the body a boost of antioxidants which enhances brain power. Recent research points to the benefits of Omega 3's for brain function.
3. Allow free time and exercise — Regardless of age, students need time to play, exercise and relax. Providing that extra time for energy release before homework or study time allows their performance to soar. Thirty (30) minutes of exercise each day dramatically improves concentration. In fact, a study shows that exercise encourages the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus of the brain which is responsible for memory and learning.
4. Break down tasks — Some students find a challenging task daunting and can be afraid to actually begin. This is where procrastination finds a foothold. Help your child to break down the task into smaller, more manageable steps and focus on getting through one step at a time. The accomplishment of these smaller tasks will further act as a big motivation booster.
5. Establish consistent routines — The brain likes routines. Help your child to create realistic schedules which include a set time for homework, play and sleep. The same activity repeated every day at the same hour will eventually become a habit and less effort will be required for concentration.
6. Introduce focus games — Depending on the age of your child, simple focus training games make developing that 'focus muscle' fun. Crossword puzzles, jigsaws, and card games such as Memory and Uno are just a few examples.
7. Practise mindfulness — Mindfulness has become the new buzzword in education. Research has shown its immense influence on improving concentration in students. It involves becoming aware of the present moment. It typically involves breathing exercises, many of which are available online and are worth a try. These strategies also double as coping mechanisms in times of adversity and stress.
8. Make sleep a priority — A well-rested mind is the key to your child's ability to focus. It provides a recharge for your child's brain.
9. Positive feedback — Encouragement is never to be discounted. Words of praise and appreciation are invaluable to all of us, young or old. When we show improvement, we like to have that acknowledged. This serves as motivation to continue on the path of improved concentration.
With these tips, your child can build and bolster his or her focus skills and get on the track for outstanding success in life. Keep in mind that focus and concentration are not totally inherent qualities. It takes patience, practice and dedication, but with consistency and love, you can strengthen these qualities. No single technique is a cure-all, so try a combination of strategies and see what happens, and most essentially, give it time.
Dr Karla Hylton, UWI lecturer in biology, is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, firstname.lastname@example.org or khylton.com