Keeping children focused and concentrated in the classroom can be a mammoth task at times, especially when dealing with older children as they go through puberty or excitable primary school pupils. Lack of concentration is not just a problem for school pupils, and one study carried out by Stacey Stothard of Skipton Building Society found that British adults have an average attention span of just 14 minutes. With a lack of focus growing amongst all generations, because of technology and a faster pace of life, it is no wonder that children increasingly struggle to concentrate in class.
A lack of concentration in adults may result in missing part of a good television programme, whilst poor concentration in children can affect their education negatively. There are a plethora of reasons that a child may be struggling with concentration in class and some may be out of their control. For example, some children may have learning difficulties, are distracted by environment or are not being taught in a preferred learning style. Unfortunately, no matter what the reasons are for low concentration, a lack of engagement and focus can lead to poor performance and grades, a dislike of school and perpetuating disruptive behaviour.
Whilst one cannot expect to fully eradicate classroom distractions in order to achieve focus 100% of the time from students the 5 tips listed below could help increase concentration to some degree.
1. Diet & Water
Some methods for improving a child's focus need to start before they even enter that classroom and a child’s diet is hugely important to their levels of concentration as food works to nourish the brain as well as the body. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for everyone and feeding children the correct foods in the morning can be the trick to keeping them engaged for longer. Foods such as oat cereals, porridge and bananas release their energy slowly and can keep children going for longer so that they do not feel hungry again until lunch, as well as feeding their brains consistently throughout the morning.
On the other hand, less healthy options such as sugary cereals give children a burst of energy that fades quickly meaning that children’s brains will burn out quicker as well as leaving them feeling hungry well before their lunch break - and there is no bigger destroyer of focus than hunger. Another disadvantage to foods high in sugar is that it can give some children ‘too much’ energy with no place to release it and possibly resulting in distracting behaviour to classmates and teachers.
Interestingly, Omega Fish Oils are a beneficial supplement for boosting concentration, cognitive function and focus and is highly recommended for children to boost concentration at school, especially during exam periods. The Durham Trial, conducted by Dr Alex Richardson and Madeleine Portwood giving children Omega 3 supplements to improve performance found that 40% of participants showed some clear improvement.
Lastly, fresh and natural foods are greatly beneficial for children. A study by the University of Ulster showed that greens and fruits inject the body with antioxidants that boost brain power. As diet affects memory, focus and mental capacity, as well as concentration, it is crucial that attention is given to it, especially as children's brains are developing rapidly and require the correct nutrition.
It is not just what children eat but what children drink and how much of it they drink that affects their concentration levels and several studies prove that drinking water throughout the day is best for every child. With tastes changing there has been a trend for more children to drink caffeine and sugary, energy drinks at much younger ages than they previously have. However, these drinks provide children with sugar overloads and provide little to no nutritional value at all.
Many studies have surmised that exercise is incredibly beneficial to school children’s concentration and one Danish study carried out by Danish Science Week found that walking to school, rather than driving or taking public transport, improved student concentration levels throughout the morning.
As well as the psychological benefits of getting to school on foot, this form of exercise is great for children’s general wellbeing, especially as they are more and more enticing. The study found that time spent outdoors promoted positive mental health as 98% of teachers stated that time outside improved children’s social skills and 84% said that it made children happier.
In terms of student concentration levels, teachers also saw impressive results; 75% stated that outdoor play improved concentration. Providing children with space and time to run around and play means that they use up that physical energy before class begins again and are ready to sit and focus.
3. Sleep & Relaxation
Unsurprisingly, a good sleep routine will help children function better throughout the day as it gives their mind and body the optimal time it needs to replenish itself from a long day at school full of interaction, focus and play. School children between the ages of 6 and 13 require 9-11 hours of sleep a day for several reasons; firstly, sleep is needed for children to develop naturally and happily, secondly, poor sleep patterns can result in irritable and moody behaviour and lastly, because children are increasingly exposed to screen and technology and require breaks from these devices.
Periods of relaxation are another aspect of children’s routine that can facilitate better concentration later on and it is important to note that ‘relaxation’ is different from play or free time. For example, it is not very fitting for children to play on game consoles during ‘relaxation’ time as it should be considered play and requires a different type of concentration. Instead, many teachers and parents have taken to mindfulness exercises throughout the school day in order to calm students down and refocus their minds.
Whilst organisation could appear to be a superficial way to get children to concentrate more it helps declutter and distract students minds from the task ahead and there are two areas that organisation can be assessed; firstly, the student's ability to organise themselves and secondly, the environment e.g. the classroom set up.
If students make a concerted effort to keep organised notes by having colour coded tabs or separate subject folders, it can eliminate the time spent hurriedly searching for pieces of work or notes when they require them. This also allows children to take control of part of their learning process by finding an organisational method that best suits their way of working and information processing. As well as this, paying attention to note organisation can better alert children to missing work or incomplete notes, which is a big reason for lower performance. And it is not only their work that they can better organise but cleaning their private spaces such as desks with storage, lockers and backpacks can also help declutter students minds and focus on class. Clearing these spaces will make it easier for children to find their belongings and decrease time lost to searching for relevant materials.
Lastly, the classroom itself can sometimes be a cause for distraction and daydreaming, particularly in primary schools. Naturally, when teaching younger children, teachers want to expose them to the exciting aspects of learning such as colour and imagery, however, heavily decorated classroom walls can also serve as a huge distraction for children by almost becoming a “sensory overload”. Not all decoration is bad and can be beneficial, particularly if it helps inform children.
5. Seating Plan
One of the biggest distractions in the classroom are the children themselves. When they aren’t talking to their neighbour, passing notes or balancing on chairs, some children are being distracted by gadgets. An Ofsted report showed that 11% of teachers described ‘using mobile devices’ as a cause for lack of concentration in the classroom. However, whilst some dynamics could become a nuisance in the classroom they can be managed in a way that makes them beneficial for students and teachers alike and a carefully considered seating plan is the best way to constructively deal with these interactions.
When making a seating plan there are a few aspects to consider; girl-boy-girl-boy formats, avoiding creating a ‘naughty table’ and children who require more support. Firstly, although there are benefits to create seating plans by alternating students of the opposite sex it can disadvantage some students more than others. For example, if a boy is sat in between two girls who are more confident and able, he could become introverted, which can be an issue in secondary schools where girls become more vocal. A students concentration will not be affected positively if they feel that they cannot be heard or experience a confidence blow, instead, they may give up and turn their focus elsewhere.
Some children want to concentrate on their work but just need more attention and support than others to do so. If a teacher becomes aware of a child who would benefit from more attention, then the best thing to do is to seat them at the front of the class where they have easy access to the teacher and cannot be further distracted by what is behind them.
These tips are a great starting point for helping students and teachers create a more focused learning environment together and can be worked on further in the future!