Building focus requires practice in settling one’s nervous system, in strengthening one’s eye muscles, and in mylenating the neural pathways in one’s brain. To help children build the ability to focus, we must give them opportunities, through playful, meaningful activities, to explore and master the skills needed to do so.
#1 WATER DRAWING BOARD
If sustaining focus is a challenge for your children or students, don’t get frustrated or feel like a failure. The ability to focus is a mind-body integration pattern that must be experienced, named, and reinforced for kids to actually understand what you want from them and how to do it. Don’t assume they know how. Instead, help them learn through the following steps and then practice, just like you would any other muscle:
- Identify what they need to do in their mind-body to focus
- Play with and practice how to move into a focused state from other states
- Reinforce the self-regulation steps or activities that work for them to focus
For # A, I use a water drawing board (aka: Buddha Board) because it offers a fun and compelling experience that requires focus. After you draw on the board with water, children watch the drawing change as the water dries. They organically become very focused, like cats with a mouse hole, as they watch the lines very slowly disappear.
Once they are focused, I ask them to identify how they feel in their bodies by noticing …
How are you breathing?
What’s your “inner speed” or how fast do you feel you are going inside?
How does your body feel?
What’s going on in your head?
What words would you use to describe how you are being right now?
I explain that the way they are being – is called: Focused. This “state” is what your parents and teachers are asking for when they say: focus and stay on task. I love seeing the “ah-ha” in their eyes when they connect focus as an action they can do in their bodies.
For #B and #C, I leave the board nearby and invite children to watch it again any time they feel scattered and want to re-focus themselves. The water board becomes a structure that kids can use to practice the skill of focusing when they lose focus. Giving children a way to build this skill, without shame or judgment, empowers them to discover what works best for them, to reinforce as needed, and to develop confidence in their own self-regulation!
#2 Drink Water
Humans are 60% – 75% water. Hydration is essential to the health of every function of our body and for conducting the mind’s millions of electrochemical messages. You would think that we would naturally prioritize drinking water throughout the day so we can feel, think, and do well. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
So, this is an important reminder. Just drinking more water will have a powerful positive effect on your health and your child’s ability to focus. Think about it, for little or no expense, and minimal effort, you and your whole family could think more clearly, digest better, move more easily, feel less stressed, get sick less often, experience fewer headaches, have more energy, improve your memory , and enjoy life more. So why not START.
How much water? The Mayo clinic astutely notes that every individual is different but recommends roughly 3L for men and 2.2L for woman. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/water/NU00283
The layman’s rule of thumb is basically half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 100 lbs, you should be drinking 50 ounces of water. That’s a little over 6 cups – so figure a glass of water 6 times throughout the day. Ideally, however, the best way to consume the water is by sipping every 20- 30 minutes. The body can better absorb it when taken in frequent small amounts. Also, be advised, other fluids do not count. Water is water. It is irreplaceable in the body for the following reasons.
- Energy. Water generates electrical and magnetic energy within every cell and so will significantly reduce fatigue.
- Digestion. Water is the body’s essential solvent and transportation system. It delivers oxygen, supports digestion, and enhances the absorption of nutrients.
- Detoxification. Water is the body’s main vehicle for eliminating toxins and metabolic waste in the blood, liver, kidneys, bladder, bowels, skin and lungs.
- Heart & Circulation. Healthy blood, which is 85 – 95 % water can efficiently remove toxins and fatty deposits in arteries to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Dehydrated blood is thick and prone to clots and poor circulation.
- Brain. The brain is made up of 85 % water. Staying hydrated is vital to all its functions. Drinking water not only helps focus and thinking, it can help prevent ADD and other nervous system issues.
- Immune System. Drinking water daily improves immunity by supporting the healthy function of the colon, intestines, blood, and bone marrow.
- Joints. Water cushions and lubricates the joints and spine while removing acid waste that can cause inflammation and pain.
- Eyes & Skin. Hydration supports healthy skin and eyes.
- Hormones. Water helps regulate hormone the production to prevent menstrual discomfort as well as loss of libido and impotence.
- Sleep and Mood. Research shows that drinking plenty of water can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and decrease anxiety and depression.
# 3 Practice Proper Posture
Alignment matters. Practicing proper posture means that you pay attention to the alignment of not just your spine but also your head, neck, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis, knees, ankles, feet, and toes. How you hold yourself, send your weight through your joints, and move any part of your body has impact overtime – not just your physical health but also your mental, emotional, social, and professional health. If you are not properly aligned, if you have poor posture, or knocked knees, or hunched shoulders, you’ll pay for the misalignment with an injury, an illness, sluggish energy, less enjoyment, maybe even loss of a job. How we perceive and are perceived by others is directly related to the non-verbal messages given by posture. How you stand and move communicates who you are and influences how people feel about and with you.
Given the world we live in, proper posture is something you really have to work at – learn about, perfect, and practice. It’s not going to happen naturally because so many aspects of our lives work against it starting with birth trauma which can remain unresolved in the body constricting alignment. Then there’s the fact that unconsciously, your posture habits develop from the images you see in your family. That’s why kids stand the way their parents do. Other negative influences on proper posture are fast food nutrition, furniture, cars, sedentary activities and long hours of sitting during growth spurts. And finally, there are our mobile devices, which keep us rounded forward, looking down for way too much time a day. It’s no wonder that slumping is an epidemic – killing off focus, fun, connection, and vitality. When we are stooped or slouched, our muscles and ligaments struggle to keep balanced. This then leads to fatigue, back pain, headaches and lots of other problems. On the other hand, when you stand up straight and walk tall, you actually think, focus, and feel better. Practicing proper posture actually helps you feel calmer, more relaxed, and more physically and mentally able and stable.
Spinal health is the basis of balance and stability not just in our bodies, but in our minds and feelings, too. So, how do we help our children practice proper posture and in so doing, lay a foundation for wellness and the unfolding of their full potential.
- Have your child checked out by a pediatric chiropractor or osteopath.
- Notice how your child moves and relates to the world physically? Are they open and receptive, competent and curious, or withdrawn and worried, closed and careful? Understand that movement and posture are not just physical, they represent one’s mental-emotional state as well.
- Support them in activities that help them feel strong and capable in their bodies, which then translate to feeling confidence in themselves as learners and contributors in the world.
- Model good posture. Discuss good alignment in all the joints of the body and why it’s important. Notice other people’s posture and invite your kids to mimic them to play with how different postures feel and make them feel.
- Check out the ACA’s Tips for Good Posture:
- Check out the article by David Newbound of the Children’s Seating Centre: http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/Subjects/Articles/The-Importance-of-Good-Posture-for-Children for his tips on how to preserve natural body usage to maintain healthy muscles and bones.
- Be a Rainbow – the best way I know to get kids to practice and sustain propoer posture and a positive attitude. http://vimeo.com/33815681
- Make an Origami Rainbow: http://vimeo.com/33570349
#4 Cross-Crawl + Balance
If you want to help kids focus – prepare them to be successful with two activities.
First, get them on their feet for 1 minute of doing a cross-crawl movement (We call it Monkey Wisdom ‘cause it’s more fun!).
Second, follow up with 1 min of a balancing pose or some other slow, intentional movement activity that requires mindfulness and focus. Examples: Yoga poses such as Tree, Dancer, or Down Dog; a breathing exercise such as Humming, Hissing, or Balloon Breath ; or a simple side stretch or walking slow motion or standing like a Mountain.
Why? Because the cross-crawl movement diffuses stress, energizes the body, balances the brain, and stimulates positive chemical and neurotropic messengers; and the slow, intentional movement grounds the body, resets the nervous system for alert receptivity, and focuses the brain.
This is not magic or rocket science, it is simple physiology. While you rhythmically shift weight from one foot to the other, you are using your core muscles and lighting up your neo-cortex, which controls movement. You are also activating your spine, and your vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which forces brain and body to both integrate and coordinate. While you touch opposite arm and leg, you stimulate the two hemispheres of the brain to work together for whole brain thinking. And finally, with slow, mindful movement, you ground and center all that energy for optimal brain – body function.