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Concentration at School

An adult’s attention span is only twenty minutes long. Even then, most of us must learn tricks along the way, so we can focus our concentration for longer. For teenagers and school children things are even harder! This guide will help you to boost your child’s concentration.

If your child can’t concentrate, it is often a symptom of another problem. For example, are they having trouble concentrating because they are too tired?

You can help by ensuring that your child has had an adequate night’s sleep; has a nutritious, healthy diet and by helping them to be stress-free and eager to learn.

Sleep and Exercise

Tiredness accounts for a lot of problems. It’s a bad idea to drive if you haven’t had enough sleep, so make sure that your child doesn’t drive their brain without rest, either. Sleep helps with brain function, memory and concentration – all essential for learning.

Some sleep facts:

  • Two-thirds of children suffer sleep-deprivation
  • Sleep Council research suggests that around 30% of 12-16 year olds get only 4-7 hours’ sleep per night
  • 70% play video games at night
  • 23% fall asleep with TVs, music or other technology still switched on, more than once a week
  • The light from screens is said to interfere with the body’s sleep patterns

So do try to limit technology usage before bed.

Exercise also helps to keep the brain healthy and active. Getting oxygen into the lungs, through the bloodstream and feeding the brain, helps memory and understanding – vital for the school day!

Diet and Nutrition

Children need a healthy, nutritious and well-balanced diet. This provides essential fuel for the brain to function. Fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, vitamin and mineral-laden protein foods like oily fish are valuable.

However, eating a heavy meal requires more energy to be directed to the stomach for digestion. This steals brain fuel, which can lead to afternoon sluggishness. So, eating light, regular meals is best.

Sometimes, a food sensitivity can lead to ‘fuzzy’ thinking, tiredness, or affect Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Notice if common foods affect your child’s ability to concentrate.

Food additives, or even commonplace items like bread and sugar, can affect concentration.

Since our bodies are 60% water, your child needs to drink water – which aids concentration.

Stress

Upsets and changes in circumstances; problems at home, at school, or with friends can cause children to lose focus in class.

If they are anxious, their ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ instincts set in – and learning becomes impossible. They can’t retain information.

Sometimes low self-esteem can cause children to feel anxious. If a child feels they can’t do something, they may either panic – which makes learning impossible – or lose interest.

Your child might be going through something you don’t know about. Encourage them to talk to you about any problems.

Try to establish a positive relationship with their teacher/s. Schoolwork could cause them stress, too, making it hard to concentrate.

Work

Is their schoolwork too hard for them? Or too easy?

Children often become distracted…

  • …if they aren’t interested in what they are learning
  • …if they can’t understand it
  • …if they’re bored and don’t find it challenging enough
  • …if the teacher’s methods do not suit their learning styles

Talk to your child / teachers about any areas they’re having difficulty with.

If they find the work too easy, speak to the teacher about setting them more challenging work.

Belief

Your child’s beliefs affect the way they learn, how they perceive their own intelligence, and how resilient they are to failure.

Some children have a ‘fixed mindset’ – believing that their intelligence level is fixed and cannot be changed. They may think themselves ‘bad at Maths,’ or ‘just average’ or ‘not clever’. Such beliefs block progress.

Help your child to develop a ‘growth mindset’. Intelligence grows with practice. Teach children that through determination and hard work they can achieve anything. More information and guidance is available on the BBC website.

Concentration tips

Help your child to find the best way to maintain their focus. If they can engage and interact with what they are learning, they are better able to take in information.

You might need to explain your child’s strategy to teachers if they want to do these in class… but suggest that they try the following:

  • Make notes - Writing things down as key words, or later, making flashcards or revision-cards, will help them to remember information
  • Draw - Doodling can help some people to concentrate – especially if they are visual learners (who like to see pictures) or kinaesthetic learners (who like to do things, or move). Or they might draw diagrams. It helps to visualise and make things memorable
  • Ask questions - They don’t need to interrupt the teacher aloud. They could jot down questions to ponder, for themselves. Or to research later, or ask someone
  • Lists - Listing tasks or items to remember can help focus. Ticking off tasks achieved can motivate them, too
  • Outline - Writing an outline helps to structure concepts into headline sections, for details to be added. Grouping together information makes it easier to remember

Distractions

Make sure your child knows that distractions, talking in class or bad behaviour won’t be tolerated. Praise your child for good behaviour or positive achievements.

Some children spend a lot of time on social media. Even in 2012, 75% of children aged 10 and 91% of children aged 12 had a mobile phone. Limit their use and ensure they are not sneaking mobile phones or tablets into class, especially if school policy is against it.

Attention Deficit

Sometimes, an inability to concentrate is caused by a learning disability.

Children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can struggle to focus at school. If you suspect this could be the reason, talk to the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) at school, or your GP.

And finally…

When children enjoy what they are doing, their focus and concentration is high and they take an active interest. Give your child plenty of opportunities to try new activities and expose them to different ways of working. Encourage them to set achievable goals to work towards.

  1. Around a third of teenagers aren't getting the recommended 9 hours of sleep. What effect does a lack of sleep have on us?
    The benefits of a good night's sleep (and the problems caused by a lack of one) are many. Those of us who are well rested think more quickly, learn more easily and enjoy better physical and mental health. Sleep is probably the most important path to an alert mind
  2. Studies have shown that children who exercise have better memories and higher academic performances than those who don't. What is the best form of exercise for children?
    As long as the it involves aerobic exercise (darts or snooker wouldn't work!) any activity will do - and the best way to get children to exercise is to make it fun. Climbing trees and hide and seek work just as well as karate or dancing classes, so it needn't cost a penny either
  3. A balanced diet is important for brain function, but so is water. How much water should we drink every day?
    The amount of water we need depends on many factors, such as our size, the temperature, how much exercise we've had, our health... etc. Even very mild dehydration can affect our brains - studies show that fluid loss of less than 2% causes fatigue and irritability, impaired concentration and memory, and increased anxiety and depression
  4. The average attention span is around 20 minutes. Which age group has the longest attention span?
    Young children can only concentrate for 5 minutes at a time but by our late teenage years we can usually keep it up for up to 20 minutes - though attention spans are shorter in the younger generations. This is thought to be due to both technology (TVs affected previous generations and the internet more recent ones) and stress. Stress has a major effect on our ability to concentrate so try to ensure that your child comes to you with any worries they have
  5. Children may fail to concentrate if they are bored in a particular lesson. Here are four reasons children might be bored - which should you NOT talk to their teacher about?
    Being under or over challenged is the main reason children get bored. If the work is too hard or too easy for them then talk to their teacher about moving them to a different group.
    Sometimes a child may have no friends in a class and not like the teacher. If they feel unconnected they might also feel bored. Again, talking to their teacher is the best way to tackle the problem.
    If your child is simply not interested in a particular subject then, if dropping it is not an option, you must try to motivate them. Try reading books at home on the topic, setting problems or going for relevant day trips to inspire them
  6. There are many tricks we can use to help us concentrate. Which of the following does NOT help?
    Believe it or not, wiggling our toes when we notice our mind wandering is a proven method of bringing it back to where it should be - in the present moment. As far as coffee goes - our brains can come to rely on it to keep us alert. Without it, addicts find they can't concentrate very well at all
  7. Distractions, such as mobile phones, can hinder children's concentration. How many children have their own mobile phone?
    A recent study by the National Literacy Trust found that more children have their own phone than their own books! It's a good idea to make sure that your child knows that phones are off limits during lessons and when they're doing their homework
  8. Children with ADHD struggle to concentrate. ADHD symptoms come in two categories - inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Which of the following is a symptom of hyperactivity?
    The other three options are all symptoms of inattentiveness. Other signs of hyperactivity include being unable to sit still, excessive talking and little sense of danger. If you feel that your child may be suffering from ADHD, talk to both their school and their GP
  9. We all have a particular favourite style of learning which best holds our interest. How many main learning styles are there?
    The four main learning styles - visual (sight), auditory (sound), reading and kinaesthetic (interaction) - are known by the acronym VARK. In addition there are three sub-styles each of us prefer - learning on our own, learning in a group and using logic or reasoning. If your child is being taught via a method they don't like it may affect their concentration. Find out which type of learner they are and use this style to help them at home
  10. A lack of self-belief can bring about a lack of interest and inability to concentrate. Children who think that they are no good at something are said to have what kind of mind set?
    Children with a fixed mind set tend to give up more easily and avoid tasks they’ve failed at before. Those with growth mind sets, on the other hand, quickly get over their failures and are more likely to practise in order to get better at something. To help your child develop a growth mind set encourage their efforts and praise them for trying something even when they don't succeed

Author: Linda Innes

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