The ability to focus grows along with a child’s ability to self-regulate, and is just as important for both social and academic success. You can nurture its development by providing fun and compelling activities that require children to focus and sustain their focus.
Remember – the act of focusing is a body-mind coordination and the process of maintaining focus is a skill. Our job, as parents and teachers, is to help children identify how the coordination feels in their own body-minds and to practice it – again and again and again – playfully with developmentally appropriate experiences that naturally inspire curiosity, observation, visual and physical control.
The best tool I know for helping kids experience and identify being focused as a mind-body state, distinct from being un-focused, is the water drawing board. You’ll be amazed at how riveting it is for most children. When children watch the drawing change as the water dries, they automatically slow down and focus their full attention on seeing the lines slowly disappear right in front of their eyes. They become like cats watching a mouse hole.
Once kids are engaged and focused, I ask them to name how they feel in their bodies.
How are you breathing?
What’s your “inner speed” or how fast do you feel you are going on the inside?
Do you feel relaxed, settled, centered?
What’s going on in your thinking?
What words would you use to describe how you are being right now?
I follow-up by explaining that the way they are being – is the way their parents and teachers want them to be when they are asked to focus and stay on task. I make sure I see the “ah-ha” in their eyes when they connect focus as an action they can do in their bodies.
And, so kids can practice returning to this way of being when they lose it, be sure to leave the board nearby. I invite anyone who feels scattered and unable to sustain their focus to go “watch the board again” to re-focus themselves. This empowers kids to practice regulating themselves and feeling confident about doing so!
I also use simple self-care techniques with children throughout the day to support their growing brains and bodies. The three exercises below with images from our Adventure Skill Health & Self-Regulation Flash Cards are adapted from Touch for Health, Yoga, and Brain Gym®, and especially helpful for focus. Each one has an accompanying chant that, like any kids song, makes the activity easier to remember and more fun to do.
Elephant Wisdom relaxes your body and wakes up your brain so you can hear and think more clearly. I use it when kids are:
- Sluggish and Tired
- Not listening well
- Wanting to tune in and pay better attention
All you do is gently massage your ears from top to bottom, using your thumb on one side and your first and second fingers on the other. The tingling warmth of this simple massage promotes calm, relieves anxiety, and can enhance alertness. When you are calm and alert it is much easier to listen and understand.
Elephant Wisdom Chant:
To think and hear clearly
I gently rub my ears dearly,
First on the tip top, “Oooooooh”
Then down I must drop, “Ahhhhhhhh”
Cobwebs are clearing
Now I am hearing
And ready to learn!
Infinity 8’s both relax and stretch the eye muscles to help kids see, read, and write more clearly and easily. This kind of eye exercise is really important to do while children’s eye muscles are developing the strength to focus for fine motor activities.
I do them every day and as needed when kids:
- Can’t focus
- Have tired eyes
- Feel head-achy
Hold one thumb up at eye level and draw a large infinity symbol, aka: an 8 lying on its side, through the air. Follow your thumb with just your eyes (head is still) as it moves counterclockwise for the first loop and then clockwise for the second loop. Trace the sideways 8 several times, stretching your vision, while chanting.
Vision 8 Chant: Repeat 2 – 3 times with movement
Up and down and all around
I’m tracing sideways 8
Up and down and all around
I love those crazy 8s
Monkey Wisdom energizes the body and activates whole brain thinking so I use it to prepare kids for doing well at fine motor skills such as reading and writing. The cross-lateral movement enhances thinking, comprehension, and learning by activating both the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously.
Use it to help kids:
- Clear confusion, frustration, or tension
- Find focus & Stay on task
- Do their best
Stand with feet apart and knees slightly bent. Lift your left knee and touch it with your right hand. Put it down. Then, lift the right knee and touch it with your left hand. Put it down. Continue to smoothly and rhythmically lift and lower your knees touch with opposite hand while saying the Monkey Wisdom Chant.
Monkey Wisdom Chant:
Swing like a monkey (left hand – right knee)
Flying through the trees (right hand – left knee)
Buzz like a bumble bee
Floating on a breeze
Criss-cross your arms
Touch opposite knee