The human brain can focus on a single subject for 20 minutes at a stretch. Beyond that, it switches off, or latches on to something else that is interesting and very different in genre from the previous subject. Therefore, expecting that children will learn more if they sit with their books for hours is pointless.
However, there are some simple ways through which you can help your child develop better focus and build concentration skills. Here’s how to do it.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Start with the basics. Does your child eat a healthy breakfast? Does she get at least eight hours of undisturbed, good quality sleep at night? Does she have some form of physical activity on a daily basis? Children who skip breakfast often feel sluggish, have weight problems, are unable to pay attention and become tired easily. Lack of sleep disturbs the delicate balance in the brain that is essential to maintain a high degree of focus. Without some form of exercise, your child can feel lethargic and unmotivated. Proper nutrition, restful sleep and an active body are essential for a child to function effectively at the cognitive (thinking) level. Focus and concentration are cognitive functions, and are, therefore, dependent on a healthy lifestyle.
Make sure to motivate
When a child is disinterested in a subject, he will find it hard to concentrate on it. His mind will wander, and he will be vulnerable to distractions. So, it is important that you identify specific areas or subjects that your child is not interested in, and work on ways to make it interesting. For example, many schoolchildren find maths challenging and easily get distracted during the maths class. As a result, they are unable to learn the basic concepts. But, as they progress to higher classes, the concepts increase in complexity and it becomes impossible for them to understand. To prevent such a scenario in the case of your child, you can use props, toys or other familiar and favourite objects in teaching concepts. By doing so, you will find your child being much more receptive and willing to learn.
Fix a routine
It always helps to have a study table or desk. In the absence of one, you can make it a point to get your child to sit and study in the same place around the same time every day. This would help build appropriate associations in her brain and make it easier for her to settle into the right frame of mind to learn quickly and easily. Also, having a set routine such as, having a snack after returning from school, playing for half an hour and then sitting down to study can be very helpful in making the process of settling into the learning mode easier.
Identify learning etiquette
This involves your child’s learning style, learning time and learning pattern. It is necessary to identify this.
Children may be visual, auditory or tactile-kinesthetic learners. Visual learners use their eyes to assimilate information when they read printed material or when they visually see pictures depicting the material to be learnt. Auditory learners grasp information faster and retain it for longer when they hear the information using their ears. Tactile-kinesthetic learners are experiential learners. Touch and movement help them learn fastest. By identifying your child’s learning style, you can help him prepare the necessary visual, auditory or tactile aids to support learning.
Is your child an early riser? Children who are morning persons tend to be alert and receptive to learning in the wee hours of the day. However, late risers, or the classic ‘night-birds’ are children whose brains are active and alert to receiving inputs in the later hours of the night. By identifying your child’s learning time and facilitating learning at that part of the day, you can help her optimise her efforts.
Does your child function better under pressure? Or, does he prefer to learn in a relaxed, well-planned, scheduled way?
Each child is unique and different. However, a certain amount of advance preparation can come in handy for everyone. Encourage your child to develop a regular study pattern instead of trying to cram everything just before exam time.
Educate yourself about study skills
Study skills are a set of habits and patterns of behaviour that can be acquired and developed. These include a wide range of tasks from creating a timetable, learning to manage time, having all the required study essentials at hand, learning and practising memory techniques and so on. Familiarising yourself with study skills will help you guide your child in learning and practising them as well. This can enhance the quality of learning and reduce stress levels.
Remember, marks and grades are not everything. Your child needs to hear from you that regardless of what she scores in the exams, you will always love her. In the absence of such assurance, a child might buckle under the pressure, which can lead to psychological problems.
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)