Updated: Apr 10, 2021
If my experience in education has taught me anything it is that the difference between children who achieve academic growth and success and those who don't can more often than not be attributed to focus.
Two questions often arise for education professionals and parents on the topic of focus. One, why do some students experience difficulty with focus both in the classroom and when learning at home, and two, how do we fix it?
Firstly, focus or lack thereof is not something to fix, the child lacking focus is not broken. If we view learners in that way; broken, fixed, strong, weak, slow, fast, we are not accounting for the many factors that impact young learners. When it comes to the focus of children, teachers the world over will tell you that the focus level of a student can differ from day to day, session to session, or even minute to minute.
Focus is not something we must fix, it is something we must teach!
Just as we teach a subject such as English or Science, we must also teach children how to focus. There are varying theories on just how long we should reasonably expect a child to sustain focus and it is important to remember that each child is different. Just like any area of learning, some children experience greater difficulty than others to remain focussed, BUT, this is something that we can teach and change.
There is a depth of research in the field of neuroscience that tells us we can train ourselves, and our children for that matter, to have a greater ability to focus. When this is achieved, even in small increments of progress, it has a profound effect on a child's ability to learn and retain new information.
The work of American neuroscientist, Dr Andrew Huberman, highlights the fact that we can create the optimal circumstance in our brains for learning. Work coming out of the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine indicates that the first step in the process of learning something new, in this instance learning to focus, is the awareness that we want to change something about our behaviour. Therefore, if we a child to learn something new, we must bring an immense amount of attention to what it is that we have as the goal for that particular bout of learning.
Now, children are at a distinct advantage when it comes to learning new things and we should aim to capitalise on this advantage to maximise impact. All of us were born with a nervous system that was designed for change, and the availability for our brain to change is at its peak in childhood. In infancy, our nervous system is made up of a bunch of wires that aren't particularly connected and as we mature these connections are either reinforced or lost. This is why it is more difficult for an adult to learn a new language than it is for babies, who pick up language without having to draw direct focus to it.
The sooner we teach our children how to focus the more we are providing them with the opportunity to strengthen the connection in their brains that make focus a reflexive behaviour- a behaviour that happens without them having to think about it.
Consider this, if your child wants to learn how to dance do you turn the music on, leave the room, show up to the concert and expect them to perform a flawless routine? No, they must train and bring an immense amount of focus to the processes involved in learning the sequence of steps or movements that make up a routine. We must approach teaching our children to focus in the same manner as we would teaching them how to dance, play the guitar, or kick a ball.
As I mentioned above, the first step in learning something new is the awareness of what we are trying to learn. Below are some tips on how to develop focus as a reflexive behaviour in your child. I would approach this in small steps and think of this as a process that will grow over time.
- Draw your child's attention to focus as the goal.
- Unpack the word focus - What does it mean? Why is it important? What does it allow us to do? (This will differ greatly depending on the age of your children) - Explain that you will be working on this learning for x amount of time. (Again, start small!) - Create the right environmental circumstance to allow this learning to take place. Initially, you will want a space where distractions are minimal and your child can be present without external influences. - Focus does not have to be an intense exercise, start with something as simple as quiet meditation where your child is focussed on your voice. - Afterwards, speak with your child about the intention of what they were just learning. - Build this into a regular practice without it becoming a chore.
These are but a few practical processes to implement with your children to begin developing their ability to focus and initiate change for learning. The most important thing to remember is that focus is a skill that must be taught and practised just like any other new learning. When we teach our children how to focus and build this into a regular practice we are strengthening the connection in the brain that promotes focus as a reflexive behaviour. As a result, children are more able to bring direct focussed to their learning for longer periods, a key to their academic growth and success.
The FOCUS phase of The Mindhsift Method, our innovative approach to individualised learning, is designed to develop in students this ability to focus. Click here to book your complimentary initial interview with Mindshift Education Coaching