The modern world is especially full of opportunities to get distracted. This is probably the most unavoidable truth of our time. An endless stream of information and entertainment is available to us with the click of a button and that has changed many things about our lives.
With all of the undeniable goods that modern technology has given us, there’s also many challenges. As a matter of fact, our attention spans have been steadily getting shorter.
In an effort to contain the emotional and physical harm of constant distractions, let’s take a closer look at what an attention span is and what we can do to improve it.
Table of Contents
- Short Attention Span
- How to Increase Children Focus
- How to Improve Kid’s Attention Span
- Advantages of Improving Kids’ Attention Span
- How Much Attention Does Kids Need?
- Average Attention Span by Age
- How to Help a Child Focus in the Classroom
- Help Children Focus Better in Different Age Stages
Short Attention Span
An attention span is the amount of time a person is able to concentrate on one task before losing focus or decreasing productivity. It can vary quite a lot depending on the task and the individual.
Some people are naturally better at concentrating than others, but it’s also true that it’s easier to focus if you enjoy the task you’re doing. Your attention span can also vary according to your emotional state or environment.
For example, high levels of anxiety will decrease your attention span, while a peaceful and organized environment will increase it.
Causes of a Short Attention Span
Developmental and Neurological Deficits
If some areas of the brain are underdeveloped, processing information may become a struggle. This prompts the brain to avoid the task altogether or get tired very quickly and be unable to pay attention. This is particularly true in people with ADHD or learning disabilities.
The modern brain is constantly bombarded with large amounts of information coming from different sources, such as smartphones, televisions, ads and computer screens.
The rapid onset of information can overwhelm the brain and prompt it to skip rapidly from one thing to the next without being able to focus on one task for very long.
People are naturally predisposed to different activities. Some are naturally more impulsive and find it difficult to pay attention to just one task for long periods of time. On the other hand, others are more reflective and capable of persistence.
Natural temperament cannot be changed, but there are exercises you can do to increase your attention span, even if yours is not naturally the longest.
How to Increase Children Focus
Have An Organized Work Space
Having a messy work station is a factor in decreasing concentration, according to researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute who conducted a study on this topic.
If the environment around you is cluttered, your brain will become distracted by the mess and will have a harder time staying focused on the task at hand.
It’s important to take some time to keep your workspace neat and tidy and to have all the supplies you need where you can reach them. When you get up to go get something, the risk of you getting off track increases significantly.
Be Mindful of Your Priorities
Our lives are organized (or should be) in a hierarchical order: there are super important things, important things, semi-important things and onwards, until we get to the really trivial details.
It’s important to know what your priorities are and to set out clear goals each day related to them, so you know what needs to get done and you can see your ends more clearly.
Having a vague sense that “important stuff” needs to get accomplished leaves a lot of room for wandering of the mind.
Divide Goals into Manageable Chunks
Because the important goals we mentioned before are most likely large projects or areas of your life, considering them as wholes can make them seem daunting and impossible to approach.
It’s best if any complex undertaking is divided into parts, each of them clearly defined. As a result, they are easily conquerable in a short amount of time.
Reaching manageable goals can also give a surge of accomplishment and hope, which propel further movement forwards in attaining the ultimate end.
The important thing to remember is that feeling overwhelmed is an easy path towards distraction, as it can produce uneasiness and a sense of loss of direction. That’s why it’s important to take steps to avoid it.
How to Improve Kid’s Attention Span
Take Care of Your Body
There are many factors that go into sustaining brain activity and one of them is optimal physical health. If your body is in good shape, then your mind is going to have more energy. In turn, your attention span will be sharper and capable of more sustained efforts.
Regular exercise is an important component of this equation, as physical activity releases beneficial chemicals in the brain that boost mood, memory and performance. Equally important is nutrition and hydration.
The latter is especially tricky, as it is easy to go into a state of mild dehydration without noticing that it has happened. The latest medical conclusions are that women should be consuming about 9 cups of water a day, while the average man 12.5.
Don’t let this seemingly small detail be the cause of your descent into lack of focus and procrastination.
Meditation is specifically designed to increase focus. In its most basic sense, it is a form of attention training.
Learning to sit still and focus on breathing or mental images for periods of even fifteen minutes a day can really make a difference in the long run on how deeply you can focus and for how long. Try making it a part of your daily routine to reap the most benefits.
Learn to Persist
If you are not used to focusing for long periods of time, you will struggle with the task at first and find it frustrating. In fact, you might even get a headache initially. It can be tempting to just give up, but persistence is key.
Attention is just like a muscle, it needs to be exercised. When you reach your limit, push a bit further and you will find that the limit itself will move further and further on.
When you catch yourself drifting or reaching for your phone, make a concrete effort to focus again on the task at hand. Such shaping of your willpower is crucial and will be the defining element in deepening your attention span.
Advantages of Improving Kids’ Attention Span
Think about the last dinner conversation you had: you might have noticed that you were more focused when your friends or family was talking about a topic that interests you.
Energy has a correlation with interest. Studies have found that there is a rise of norepinephrine and dopamine levels for people with short attention spans, meaning that the level of focus is increased.
Hence, if you have a short attention span, try to make use of your energy and work on something that you are interested in.
People with short attention span usually pay attention to what matters to them the most. This means that they are more committed to their goal.
In order to be more adaptive to changing circumstances, decluttering the mind is a good idea. By being selective with what you give your attention to, you will not trap yourself in a dead end.
People who have short attention spans are able to connect with different ideas, bring different types of people together and engage with various fields.
For those who cannot focus well, skimming and scanning might be what they usually do. A study has found that browsing and skimming websites are related to the increase in human intelligence.
A majority of the respondents believe that behaviors relating to a short attention span can improve reading and writing skills.
Being more self-aware helps people stay focused and chase their dreams. People with short attention spans know precisely what they want and they cannot easily be persuaded. At the same time, they do not work to get people’s approval.
Therefore, you may notice that they are successful in business.
More Good Ideas
As mentioned above, people who have short attention spans can be more connected with others, which enables bigger and more innovative ideas.
How Much Attention Does Kids Need?
Attention span can be measured by the time continuously spent on a task. It is common that as children grow older, they will have a longer attention span compared to their peers who are younger.
Regarding how much attention you need, it depends on the type of attention that you need. For transient attention, it refers to short-term attention that pays towards a stimulus. However, the exact duration of how long this attention should last remains debatable.
As for focused attention, it means the attention you spend on a target stimulus for a period of time. Typically, the attention span of a healthy teenager or adult is about 10 to 20 minutes. However, attention can be increased in many ways.
As mentioned, people tend to have a longer attention span when they find the task interesting or motivating. Attention can also be enhanced when the person is skillful at performing a certain task.
Other factors such as tiredness, hunger and stress could affect the person’s focus, which also affects the attention span. If you ever find yourself losing attention, you can always restore it by changing your focus or taking a break.
Average Attention Span by Age
As mentioned earlier, people’s attention span increases by age. Some studies suggest that children’s age can be used as a guideline to show their attention towards an assigned task.
In other words, a 5-year old can focus on a task for 5 minutes, while an 8-year old will be able to work on the task for 8 minutes. Here is some information about a human’s average attention span by children’s age:
3 Years Old
Interest is the key element relating to a preschooler’s attention span. At the age of 3, children typically spend 3 to 8 minutes working on a task alone. They may be able to finish the task if they find it easy and exciting.
When children reach 3.5 years old, their attention span will gradually increase. When working by themselves, they can focus on a task that they are interested in for about 15 minutes.
4 Years Old
Although interest is a big motivation that children need to stay focus, 4-year-olds can be distracted by the environment or their thoughts. They are more likely to remain focus in an environment that they are comfortable with.
Besides, they will also have a better attention span for tasks that they can achieve and be successful in. At the age of 4, children are able to ignore distractions and work on a new or interesting task on their own for about 7 to 8 minutes.
When they are working on a task as a group, 4-year-olds can focus on an activity for about 5 to 10 minutes. When children reach 4.5 years old, they are able to work on a task selected by an adult, in which the children can spend around 2-3 minutes on it.
5 Years Old
Most children at 5 years old are able to ignore distractions and focus on an assigned task for 4 to 6 minutes. If they are working on an interesting task, they are able to spend 10 to 15 minutes on it by themselves.
However, if 5-year-olds find the task uninteresting or difficult, they can only spend 5 to 10 minutes on a task when there is no adult to provide guidance. When 5-year-olds are playing with their peers, they can work on the same activity uninterruptedly for 10 to 25 minutes.
How to Help a Child Focus in the Classroom
Previously, we talked about the role of interest in attention. That is why you need to keep class activities short and alternate between high-interest and low-interest tasks.
Introduce a Variety of Work
Students tend to be more focused when working in groups, so creating opportunities for students to collaborate is helpful. Also, there are different learning styles in class: visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learner.
Try to incorporate a variety of approaches to cater to the diverse learners in your classroom and support your students to excel in the best possible way. For example, if a visual learner in your class is struggling, try to use bright colors like yellow chalk to bring visual focus.
For auditory learners, a teacher might clap his or her hands before he or she brings up an important point. As for kinesthetic learners, you can have them watch a demonstration instead of listening to a description.
Give Attention Breaks
Set up a timer and ask your students to focus on that particular period. Once the timer goes off, children can enjoy a break. By doing so, you can train your students to understand attention and practice how to focus and disengage.
Encourage your students to engage with some physical activities such as running outdoors or doing a quick stretch before doing a difficult task. Children will be more focused after some active play.
Children might find it difficult to focus when there is clutter in the environment. Before getting students to work on a challenging task, you may want to remove any clutter or visual distractions such as wall decorations.
This is particularly helpful for elementary students because they might be tempted to play with or touch the materials in the classroom. By doing so, your students can be more engaged in the task at hand.
You may also allow students to use some distraction blockers such as earphones and dividers.
When you notice some students having difficulty focusing, keep them close to you and have them sit in the front of the room. This will help reduce distractions from other students or things happening outside of the windows or doors.
Redirect Your Students
Scolding or punishing a distracted student may be a common thing to do. However, you can encourage your students and bring them back to focus by asking them a question that they can answer.
You can also give them a note without embarrassing them, such as standing close to the student.
Break Tasks into Smaller Tasks
This point is very similar to the one we mentioned previously. You probably have heard of students complaining about how long a task is, making them not want to complete it. You can help these struggling students to stay focus by breaking the task into pieces.
For instance, ask your students to complete part of the task first, then take a break before finishing the rest.
Help Children Focus Better in Different Age Stages
Many children struggle to pay attention. At the same time, parents and teachers are trying hard to find strategies to help children focus. It is commonly believed that having a short attention span is a deficit.
However, we discussed that children with short attention spans do better in many different areas. These benefits include being more intelligent, more committed and more flexible. Also, children’s attention spans are not a fixed cognitive ability.
Previous studies already showed that children’s attention spans would increase as they grow older. What parents and teachers need to do is to pay attention to what their children needs and they can help them focus better through different strategies.
For instance, keeping things interesting will be an excellent first step to keeping your children focused on a particular task.