Anyone who has braved the perils of babysitting, or who has taken the giant leap into parenting or teaching children knows that keeping young kids attentive, engaged, and focused can be an uphill battle at times. In the best of conditions, research has shown that children between the ages of 6 and 8 have an average attention span of 15-20 minutes. For kids of kindergarten age (around 5 years old), that number drops to only 5-10 minutes. While these numbers might seem low, some researchers also believe that the maximum human attention span is only around 22 minutes, even for teenagers and adults. Compounding the issue of maintaining the focus of young students is the continued growth of ADHD cases in the United States.
As can be assumed, dealing with the struggles of short attention spans and ADHD in an educational setting can be extremely difficult. These days, teachers at nearly every level of education need not only to be well-versed in multiple teaching techniques, but also in how to keep students engaged in a lesson and how to bring them back should they lose their focus. School instructors and caregivers must turn to alternative methods to medication to keep the attention of young children—ADHD is a very real disorder, but more doctors are diagnosing more children with ADHD, even if symptoms are mild, and more medication is being prescribed. For some, medication drastically improves quality of life, but it’s not always the answer and can have unpleasant side effects.
Below we outline five methods that can help keep young students engaged in an educational atmosphere.
1. Implement Active Learning Techniques
In their book “Inspiring Active Learning,” Merrill Harmon and Melanie Toth set forth a plethora of active learning strategies geared toward keeping students thoughtfully and completely engaged in their own education. Some of the basic strategies of active learning include whole class discussions, debates, paired activities, and individual reactions and responses. The main goal is encourage an active, attentive listening and learning environment by making students accountable for their own learning.
2. Use Technology When Possible
The incorporation of multimedia tools to deliver educational messages continues to increase, particularly at lower levels where they can also be leveraged as methods to grab and keep children’s attention. These multimedia tools for educators include Voki, SoftChalk, Screenr, and SMART boards.
3. Have Students Practice Doing Multiple Things at Once
For very young students, this might be singing a song while tying their shoes or listening to a recording while coloring. It might seem counterintuitive to have kids focus on a several tasks at once, but giving them multiple simple tasks to do concurrently can help train their brain to focus more acutely on a set of given tasks. When they have two things to think about, they are less likely to become bored and lose focus.
4. Use Movement
Properly using movement to keep students focused can be an invaluable teaching technique. This is exemplified by our new SPARKabc’s program. SPARKabc’s integrates physical activity into the school day while maintaining an emphasis on student learning. It’s designed for busy teachers with little time, space and equipment to work with. Research by SPARK and countless other trusted health organizations shows an intrinsic link between physical activity student attitude, behavior, and academic performance. The evidence is clear: healthy students are better learners. SPARKabc’s is based on:
- Standards-based academics
- Brain development
- Quality recess
- Character and nutrition education
Sometimes we forget that kids are naturally inclined to move around and express themselves, and that it’s not something we need to combat—rather, we can embrace this quality and use it to increase the effectiveness of learning and foster academic success and growth in well-being.
5. Don’t Create a Predictable Learning Environment
If students know what to expect from your lessons day in and day out, they can start to disengage from certain parts of a lesson. Keeping students on their toes by mixing up lectures, hands-on activities, group and pair work, multimedia and technology, games, and physical activities will keep them actively engaged in the important information they’re learning.
Keeping students, especially the younger ones, engaged can be a challenge—especially as the number of ADHD cases is on the rise. There are many variables that could be contributing to this trend, but why not refresh our skill sets with techniques to keep kids engaged?