Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Attention Span

When I was training to be a teacher, I was told to always remember how short children's attention spans are. A good rule of thumb, so the experts said, was to assume a child could concentrate for the same number of minutes as they were years old. To expect a five year old to concentrate on one task for longer than 5 minutes was asking for trouble.

I have been wondering lately if these minuscule attention spans are something we develop in our children rather than something that is innate. Have you ever watched a tiny child left to their own devices? One action can be repeated over and over. Sometimes they are delighted by it, sometimes frustrated, but it holds their attention and for much longer than the minute or two I was told we could reasonably expect from a child of their age.

As adults, this is sometimes hard to bear. The value of a task as insignificant as putting pebbles in a jar or making finger trails through sand is hard to appreciate. We might smile at the action for a few minutes, but it soon becomes tedious. We've got appointments to keep, rooms to tidy, 101 more useful tasks to be doing. Even if we do continue to play, we all too often feel the need to alter the game, maybe introducing other elements to keep our interest. It isn't the child's attention span that is lacking - its ours!

I imagine it doesn't take long for the child to realise that flitting from one task to the next is standard. What a shock it must be when they are suddenly expected to concentrate for a length of time on a task that doesn't interest them.

Being able to apply focussed attention is an important ability. It is through this that learning naturally develops. It should be our aim to foster this natural skill in our children and allow them time to explore their world in their own time.

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