Helping children focus is such a struggle for parents and teachers. Usually the more children lose focus the more insistent we become to hold their attention—using all kinds of strategies.
Taking a break: a recent study on helping children focus
The recent study by Dr. Lleras which suggests that structuring a break at regular intervals may lead us to a better way to help our children maintain focus.
Psychology professor, Dr. Alejandro Lleras, from the University of Illinois headed the study. He claims that a drop in one’s “attention resources” is the cause of what is termed “vigilance decrement.” Vigilance decrement is the loss in focus we experience after doing a task for an extended period of time.
From sensory perception to thoughts
Lleras noticed that in sensory perception, the brain gradually stops paying attention to sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus is consistent over time. For example, we do not pay attention to the feeling of our clothing.
Lleras says: “Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness.”
“So I thought, well, if there’s some kind of analogy about the ways the brain fundamentally processes information, things that are true for sensations ought to be true for thoughts. If sustained attention to a sensation makes that sensation vanish from our awareness, sustained attention to a thought should also lead to that thought’s disappearance from our mind!”
Lleras considered that sustained attention to a thought should also lead to the thought’s disappearance from our mind.
Findings of the study
Lleras and postdoctoral fellow Atsunari Ariga tested participants’ ability to focus on a repetitive computerized task for approximately one hour. The task was taken under a variety of conditions. It was found that over the course of the task most participants’ performance significantly declined.
Once group, however, called the “switch group” saw no drop in their performance. The switch group were given two brief breaks from their main task. The result was they were able to remain focused throughout the entire experiment.
Lleras suggests that prolonged attention to a single task does in fact hinder performance.
“From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”said Lleras.
The same logic holds true for children. So simply factoring in break time into our children’s study regime could have positive ramifications. If you are a parent you may like to suggest this to your child’s teacher. You can also practice break time at home. As an educator you can try factoring in break time into your classroom schedule. You may find your students’ results improve dramatically.
Lakeside students take regular brain breaks
At Lakeside, we espouse regular brain breaks for students in their classrooms which include body movement and breathing exercises. We have seen that students do focus a bit better when we provide a break, which usually help them refocus on their academic goals.
We believe in brain breaks like the research suggests. It is something worth trying to help children focus.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network