Katja Rovers, M.Sc.
Clinic Manager, Psychologist
There are many expectations placed on school-aged children. They must listen to
teachers, sit still on their chairs, and tune out distracting classmates who squirm, speak
out of turn or stare out the window at birds or other distractions. Further, children have to
maintain this attention as they look at blackboard, read books and write exercises, or
perform any of the dozens of other tasks they encounter in a school day. In fact, learning
to direct attention is among the most important things children can learn at school, and it
is among the most difficult things they can master over the course of an education. There
are several kinds of attention, which depend on
Sustained attention is the ability to focus on a specific task continually. A basic start-stop
experience can help children to learn to maintain focus effectively. In this intervention, a
child simply begins to play or work on a given task, and stops when a teacher says to.
This intervention allows you to adjust the difficulty of the children’s task. You can make it
a movement-based experience or an instrument-playing one. Group participants can
take turns being the “leader.” There are no limits for creating variations.
Selective attention is the ability to focus on certain stimuli while ignoring distractions. A
classic example is being able to focus on a conversation in the middle of a loud room. It
can be a difficult skill to develop. Some children are so easily distracted that you have to
begin trying to get them to focus at all.
With alternating attention, children learn to shift focus between two different tasks with
different cognitive demands. For example, a child is given a drum as the teacher has a
guitar. The teacher alternates between two accompaniment patterns to a song: one
strumming and one fingerpicking. The child is instructed to play the drum when the
teacher picks, but to move to the music when the teacher strums.
Divided attention is the ability to respond simultaneously to multiple tasks. This is the
highest level of attention. Driving a car is an excellent example from adult life. The
demands on our attention skills are quite high when we drive, so it becomes dangerous
to write text messages or talk on a phone as we drive, because the demands of
performing both tasks at once are too high. For children, this is a very difficult level of
attention to master.