Divided attention and how this affects my child in the classroom

kids in the classroom

Most classrooms are accommodating up to 30 – 40 kids in the classroom thus making the classroom environment more noisy as well as visually disruptive. Children struggling with concentration/attention/focus thus finds it more and more difficult in the classroom.

So what is divided attention?

Divided attention is the ability to focus effectively on more than one tasks at a time = also called multi-tasking.

We see problems in divided attention when our brain can only process a certain amount of stimuli at a time.

Successful learning in the classroom needs divided attention. E.g. you have to listen to the teacher while reading the sum on the board and writing it down in your book.

But multitasking decrease our ability to process and retain information. For example these days we nearly always have our cellphone open and in our hands. Now we pay less attention to our children as we are playing on Facebook or answering a WhatsApp message at the same time.

How can I tell if my child struggles with divided attention?

  • Daydreaming
  • Struggles to work on 2 tasks at the same time doing both effectively
  • Struggles to copy from the blackboard while the teacher is talking
  • Struggles to work when the tv is on/radio is on/someone is talking nearby
  • Fidgets/restless
  • Looks up at the slightes sound/movement
  • Tries to avoid doing a task
  • Loses focus easily

How can I help my child to improve his/her divided attention

Remember that divided attention is a higher cognitive function and develops later.

It is important that lower building blocks (visual perception/auditory perception/etc.) are intact before a higher cognitive skills, like divided attention, can be attained.

The brain has neuroplasticity which means that skills can be retrained / learned / remediated / improved / strenghtened.

Try the following:

  • Involve your child in a game e.g. building a puzzle and then ask him unrelated questions e.g. what sound does a cow make. The child is not allowed to stop playing the one game while answering
  • Read a story to a child while they are playing another game e.g. Lego (according to instructions). Ask the child questions after each page to test their divided attention and comprehension. The child is not allowed to stop the game while listening to the story
  • Play games against time. Start with what the child is capable of and move the time up to 30 minutes
  • Priase your child for the effort they put into a task – not always the result
  • Encourage your child while they are busy with a task to try their best
  • Start with easy goals and increase this as the child can divide their concentration more effectively
  • Incorporate physical activity during break-times. E.g. when you see your child is losing concentration while doing homework, give them a 5 minute break where they can go and jump trampoline
  • Decrease your child’s screen-time
  • Improve your child’s visual and auditory memory. E.g. You say 5 words and your child has to repeat it/you show your child Lego block of 5 colors and he has to copy it
  • Remove visual and auditory distractions as far as possible. E.g. let the child sit in front in class thus not being able to see other children / remove all pictures from the wall in front of the child’s desk at home / close the window when the lawn is being cut
  • Help the child to organize their work space thus reducing visual input that can cause distraction
  • Break big/difficult tasks into small steps. It is easier to solve a few simple problems than one big problem
  • Remove background noise if possible
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