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Is Your Child Struggling in School?

Your eight year old is sitting in a classroom struggling to concentrate. There’s a sqealing little girl giggling on the playground, right outside the window. Her friend is whispering something to her, and someone’s pen is clicking over and over. Filtering out all these stimuli and focusing on what her teacher is saying is called selective attention.

Focusing or refocusing after you’ve been distracted is a complex ability that develops as kids grow. How long the average grade-two student should be able to pay attention is hard to pin down. Experts say anywhere from one to five minutes per year of age. That means up to 40 minutes for an eight-year-old — pretty challenging for most kids.

Some of this is really a matter of maturity. There can be a year’s difference in age between the January and December babies. Kids who start out in grade one having trouble paying attention often show marked improvement as the year progresses and they adapt to expectations. By grade three, they’ve had two years of routine. This is when we start to identify the kids with more serious attention difficulties.

The ability to focus depends on other factors as well, including temperament and learning style. For example, an active child who learns best through hands-on activities may have difficulty concentrating on what the teacher is saying when lots of sitting still and listening are required.

For example, Sean is eight and home-schooled. He finds multiplication problems easier and more engaging if he’s got some toy cars or blocks to work with. Right now he’s able to sustain focus for about 15 minutes so his mom builds in lots of breaks when he’s working.

Research shows that attention can be improved with practice. How can parents help kids increase their attention span?