Focus: The Big Challenge in Kindergarten
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Reading, writing, and arithmetic may be headline items in today’s standards-driven kindergartens, but there’s a crucial skill that underlies success in all of them. It’s a child’s capacity for focus, and without enough of it, a young learner can get into big trouble.
At least once a day, for example, a kindergarten class will gather on the rug for stories and learning activities. Teachers plan in 15 or 20 minute increments, expecting that little bodies aren’t going to sit still too long. But while a story is being read, or a calendar explained, they want your child’s full attention. For many children, this comes easily. But with television and electronic games offering so many quick sound-bite stimuli, and the pace of family life moving ever faster, many teachers say that a lot of kids struggle more than ever with the quiet, focused tasks of kindergarten.
So if your child would rather gaze at the fish tank than listen to the story, thinks that walking in a line means grabbing a classmate and splashing in puddles, you may be getting a call from the teacher. And even if your child is settling in fine, you can take some helpful steps at home to make focus a constant, comfortable part of your child’s learning toolkit.
Here are suggestions for nurturing focus in your kindergartener, from Joan Rice, M.A., an experienced kindergarten teacher from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who is also a mother herself and the co-author of What Kindergarten Teachers Know.
- Create schedules and routines at home. This may be the single most important step you take, whether it’s for starting the day, doing homework, or going to bed. If your child seems to fade in and out, you might even write up the routine, using little pictures if she can’t yet read. “Having a tangible schedule,” says Rice, “allows a child to focus on the tasks and have a way of gauging completion.”
- Consciously practice following directions. In kindergarten, teachers will often give multi-step directions, such as “Please sit at your table and pull out two markers.” Do this at home, says Rice, but then take an important next step: “Children should practice repeating the directions, then following through.”
- Be as consistent as possible. If your child dawdles over clothing, for example, “allow a predetermined time to dress: use oven timers when necessary.” And, cautions Rice, beware the old "floating five minutes" trick: “If you say ‘in five minutes,’ mean just that,” she cautions, because otherwise children won’t get an accurate idea of what five minutes really feels like.
- With projects, suggest extra challenges. Children this age often whiz through a project when kindergarten teachers hope that they’ll add all the touches. Let’s say, for example, your child is scribbling through a note to grandpa. “Ask,” says Rice, “what they could do with 5 cotton balls and 4 buttons on the card.”