PART 4: A ROAD MAP FOR SUCCESS
Below I share a practical and easy to follow plan designed to lengthen your young child's attention span.
Observe your child until you can answer these questions without hesitation:
- What does my child enjoy doing most?
- What does my child continually come back to, over and over again, as if it's on repeat in his mind?
- What currently holds my child's attention the longest?
PLEASE start with observation! Why?
Think about it... when do you concentrate for long periods of time? For me, it's when I'm passionate about something. And, study after study says it's the same for all people, big and small. So, what? This means that we MUST find out what interests and entices the child in order cultivate his ability to focus.
SECOND: PREPARE THE ENVIRONMENT
Make sure you have everything you need, including some tools the child has not yet seen, but that you feel confident he or she will enjoy. Also make sure there is enough time for your child to fully engage and focus. Interruption is the enemy.
For example, if your child most enjoys pouring, google some interesting pouring activities and then collect what you already have in your home to facilitate -- likely, this would include measuring spoons, measuring cups, different sizes of bowls, cups and ladles, etc... Then, go to the Dollar Store and get what you don't have. For pouring, I would get some inexpensive rice, beads, funnels, and food coloring.
Your goal is to encourage longer and longer periods of focus. So, you MUST have what you need on hand and immediately available. This will enable you to extend the activity as your child nears the end of his current attention span.
When you set up the pouring station, be sure to make it orderly and attractive. After all, you want your child to WANT to work there!
THIRD: PROVIDE A CHOICE
Let your child decide. In other words, give him or her a choice.
Let's continue with the pouring example. Ask your child something like "I see that you're enjoying pouring. Would you like to pour sand or water today?" (Be sure you have a bowl of each at the ready to whip out and add to your prepared station!)
In reality, the child's response to your question doesn't matter because all of the materials you offer him will be available should he change his mind or begin to lose focus.
FOURTH: DON'T INTERRUPT
Resist the urge to interrupt or comment. Just supervise and be the purveyor of tools, always respecting your child's need to learn and discover independently. Uninterrupted time is key to the Montessori approach.
FIFTH: EXTEND THE LESSON
As your child begins to tire of the activity, provide a new tool or strategy to refocus his attention on the original task.
Back to pouring: if my child chose to pour with water, and he was getting tired, I might offer food coloring in a dropper so that by pouring, he would get to do some color mixing. In this way, the child continues being focused on pouring (the original task) for a longer period of time. Be sure to get his buy in and ask: "would you like to pour with colorful water next?" Make it exciting and interactive: for example, "Would you like to start with blue or green?"
When your child finishes his work, praise him or her for achieving the goal and minimize the importance of the work product. Likely, there will be a mess. Who cares? You and your child can clean it up together. If you really did use water and food coloring, you will likely have nothing but black water. So what? The goal was for your child to concentrate. Praise for what he was able to do: "I really like the way you worked hard and focused on your pouring."
Give your child some unstructured play (which is so important anyway!) and give yourself a pat on the back. This isn’t easy! But, as they say, difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.
NOTE: When your child’s interests change, and they will, don't stress. Just begin preparing the next activity. Keep the first activity out in a tray on a low shelf, so that your child can choose to come back to it whenever he wants. In time, you will build up a set of activities your child really enjoys. It will be easy to see when an activity has outlived its usefulness, and you can then put something new in its' place. Again, this will be based on what your child enjoys at the time. And, you will start this process over again.