Sunday, 16 November 2008

Can attention be improved?

When we understand what attention is and how it is brought about, we can address its absence or suboptimal presence with a more positive mindset.

An object that is paid attention to if it is found interesting. In other words, attention is automatic if the object is of interest. It is logical, therefore, that the foremost requirement of attention being invoked AND kept on an object or a task is to arouse enough sense of adventure in it... and sustain that sense.

Attention is passive and reflexive when the object is intrinsically interesting. This involves bright colours, movement, sudden impact etc. for human beings. This kind of attention is elicited irrespective of the individual.

Bright blocks that can be arranged in various ways, brightly coloured play dough that can be moulded according to the child's little hands and big minds, glossy picture books, cartoons- these are all examples of what the children find intrinsically interesting.

Sensitivity to the immediately exciting is a major characteristic of childhood attention. This is obviously correlated to the fleeting nature of this attention because teh immediacy is lost as soon as it is presented. This poses one of teh major problems in early childhood education.

The children have tremendous energy and few, if any, organised interests to hold their attention. Thus, the children are easily attracted by a colourful and bright object and equally easily attracted to another one presented to them, distracting from the previous one. This makes early classes extremely difficult.

The first thing that early childhood educators need to do is excite the children.

The next is ... to keep them excited!!!

This is possible only by connecting to each individual child.

My daughter was very musical to start with and whatever was presented to her as a song/ poem was easily memorised and required almost no active attention. It was the very basic, the very instinctual and primal drive in her. She was lucky to go to a preschool where lessons were indeed sung. It was effortless. In my son's case... he is very fond of cars. We taught him the alphabet by telling him AND showing him A for Audi, B for Bentley rather than A for apple, B for Bat. The easy words were not so easy for him to attend to and the cars had a basic instinctual appeal to him.

Parents can and often do travel that extra mile so their progeny can take the first step toward fitting into the world of formal schooling without upsetting the apple cart too much. They take the pain to make instruction fun because they know their child. For a teacher this is infinitely more difficult. Parents and teachers need to work together and develop a method/ protocol they can follow with the children which is individualised and that addresses the child as if his/ her interests are important and can drive the learning process.

Having CAUGHT the attention how can a teacher or a parent KEEP it?

Constant movement, change, motivation, pleasure are a few things children instinctively understand. The teachers, then, need to include multisensory methods in their teaching and inculcate a sense of wonder with each of their study/ teaching aids. My daughter's preschool teacher actually brought a salad bowl and lots of fruit to teach the students the nursery rhyme... Salad... A fruity fruity salad... She tossed a fabulous salad right there in the class and passed the paper plates around. She gave each child a helping of the salad and made them feel teh texture of the fruits BEFORE they actually ate it.

She SANG the poem ( auditory input), she tossed the salad like a professional ( visual stimulus), she passed the salad around and took a deep breath ( olfactory stimulus), she made the children appreciate that the apple was hard and crunchy while the banana was soft and gooye! ( tactile inputs) and finally she encouraged the children to eat it ( gustatory stimulus).

How many teachers would do that?

The basic brain physiology requires that the care givers recognise that children are attracted to things that EXCITE, their attention CAN be captured by varying the stimulus and including multisensory inputs and the children may ALL have their individual interests which need to be known to the teachers in order to keep the attention of these tiny minds.

It would seem, then, that Attention deficit is rather a failure on the part of a teacher rather than the child! It is the responsibility of the trained educator to be able to reach, connect with and stay connected with each child they take on.

Attention CAN be improved. It requires very simple but dedicated effort.

Attention deficit is a lable that needs to be invoked only after VERY careful consideration...

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