Have you ever seen a kid go from drawing a picture, putting together a puzzle, pushing trains around a track, watching a video, and looking at books, all within a five minute period of time. My four year-old is like that sometimes. Children with short attention spans are easily distracted by noises, smells, feelings, or sights around them. They also have trouble sticking with activities and following directions. What makes them this way?–possibly organic or genetic factors related to attention deficit disorder, an inability to screen out irrelevant stimuli, a need to have someone else involved in whatever they do, a disposition to giving up easily, or, in Nathan’s case, age.
o Train children how to focus on the important aspects of a situation or problem by giving them exercises like picking out the word that doesn’t belong in a sentence, discriminating the figure from the background in pictures, and remembering the order in sequences.
o Teach children relaxation skills, so their attending processes become more natural and efficient.
o Give children written instructions on the blackboard or on paper. This makes it hard for them to say, “I forgot what you said.”
o Insist children finish every project they start. Make a rule that no new projects are started until the last one is completed or cleaned up.
o Use easy-to-understand words and don’t talk too much when you give your instructions. Start out with a clear statement, followed by a procedure, and finally specific details. For example, “In science class today we are going to plant our watermelon seeds. I want you to watch me first, as I plant my seeds, and then I want you to do the same thing with yours. First…”
o Organize a Good Listeners Club. Ask children to make a name-tag which they can tack on the club’s bulletin board. Everyone starts out as a member. If, however, children show poor listening skills by not following directions or talking while another person is talking, they must remove their name-tag from the board. Children are allowed to re-instate their name-tags at the end of the day.
o Implement Grandma’s Rule–children’s special activities or treats come only after their schoolwork is finished.
o Some children stall on their work because they’re afraid their finished product won’t be good enough. Give these kids tasks you know they can do, and be sure to reward them when they finish.
o Ask children to monitor their on/off task behavior, and compare these daily totals to a pre-set goal. They can do this by ticking a card every time they don’t pay attention, or checking a “yes” or “no” every time a tone goes off. This helps children become more aware of what they are doing, and encourages more on-task behavior.
o Before you give instructions make sure children are listening. Follow these four steps: (a) bend over or squat down and look into their eyes; (b) wait until they are looking into your eyes; (c) give your directions; (d) ask them to repeat what you’ve said.
o Motivate children to spend longer on what they’re doing by doubling up on activities they like, or pairing one they like with one they don’t like. Music is usually a good motivator, so long it doesn’t become the main event.
o Arrange to have children’s hearing checked. They may not be hearing you.
o Ask children to start out their lesson by making a contract to themselves, specifying what they want to accomplish, how long it will take them, and what their reward will be if they accomplish it.
o If children are easily distracted by noises or alluring objects, build up their resistance by gradually adding interferences like a ticking clock, music, or a toy.
o Use a stopwatch to keep track of how much time children spend on-task. Every time their attention diverts, stop the clock until they get back on task. After the clock runs out children are allowed to change their activity.
o Simply stop talking until all the children in your class are paying attention. If you smile while you do it, they may even pay attention sooner.
o Role-play scenarios with children talking while nobody is listening to them. Discuss how a child feels being ignored, and how other children feel ignoring him.
o If you see a child gazing off into the wild blue yonder in the middle of your lesson, call out her name. This will bring her back down to earth.
o During your lesson interject directions like “Touch your nose,” or “Raise your hand.” All those children tuned-in will follow through, and earn a reward.
o Younger children sometimes pay attention better if their instructions are given in a new way. Try a hand puppet.
o As you’re talking to children suddenly walk off and look at something else. Explain to children that when they get distracted in the middle of your lesson, you feel the same way as they just did when you ignored them. P.S. Save this for children who deliberately choose not to pay attention.