Attention Skills

Parent Wishes #15: Supporting Cognitive or Thinking Skills for Young Children

When asking parents if they had one wish for kids at school or daycare, one mom wished for more ways of supporting cognitive or thinking skills. Parents want what’s best for their children, phsically and mentally. An earlier post talked about some ideas to promote physical development. This post looks at how to encourage mental skills.supporting cognitive development

Learning and thinking involve input and output. Young children take in much of their information thru their senses. Babies put everything in their mouth so they can learn about it. They are collecting sensory data. Once brains have information, kids need to process it. This is called cognition or thinking.

We can support development of thinking skills by giving kids lots of sensory experiences. We say that ears hear, eyes see, noses smell, tongues taste, and skin touches. More accurately, ears collect the information and the brain process it. Noses might detect a smell in the kitchen, but it’s the brain that says, “Oh, I smell cookies.” As part of the thinking process, the brain also remembers cookies taste wonderful.

science fun cookies

Collecting, processing, and remembering are all part of the thinking package. Language is part of the package too. Brains need not just hundreds and hundreds of words, but millions and millions. A low input of words is about 3 million a year and a high input of words is over 10 million! This means as parents and caregivers we need to talk, sing, and share books and stories. And other family members and friends too.

We can help develop memory by talking with kids about something that has happened. What do they remember seeing and hearing?  When we create  memories, the brain forms new connections and builds on old ones. When kids are able, they might like to draw pictures of special things that happened. Photos can trigger memories.

Being able to pay attention and ignore distractions is part of processing information. As kids play, they are stretching their attention skills. Imagination is another aspect of thinking. Reading books, making up stories, and play are ways to strengthen imagination.thinking cognitive skills play

Play is the brain’s favorite way to learn. It’s both input and output. Supporting cognitive or thinking skills means ensuring kids have time and space to play. Can these ideas inspire some play today for your child?


Lego and Duplo: Building Concentration Skills

Young children seem to have amazing powers of concentration–when it comes to something they really want, but when it’s something we want, or they are not so keen on, concentration can be brief. However, concentration and focusing are skills that can be encouraged, practiced, and developed; they help with learning at any age and kindergarten readiness.

developing concentration and attentional skills with legoConcentration, focusing, or paying attention, are like 2 sides of a coin. One side is information we want and the other side is information that we have to ignore. For children to pay attention effectively they not only have to target what they want and ignore distractions, they have to figure out which is which. For example, if they are building a tower the clues that the blocks are tilting is important, but the color of the blocks is irrelevant. But it’s not always easy to know what is important. Kids have to learn this by doing, by connecting actions to consequences, by making errors of ignoring the wrong clues. For some children this is much easier to do than for others but playing with Lego and Duplo gives them lots of opportunities to explore, discover, and practice.

In a photo sent by a parent in the 1,2,3 Kindergarten community, the concentration and focusing of this young builder can easily be seen. He is holding his body still as his eyes carefully look over the choice of bricks. Often, kids–and adults–will hold their tongues out when they are deeply concentrating on a particular action. This is a trick to help the brain focus. He is ignoring if his shirt has a scratchy tag, the temperature in the room, and possibly the voice of a parent.

This ability to pay attention is something kids can develop and helps with learning. Playing makes this brain exercise way more fun! How long does your child concentrate when playing with Lego or Duplo?

Gardening with Young Children: Rainy Day Fun

Some days in the spring are just too wet for being out in the garden so here is an activity for fun, learning, and kindergarten readiness. Using flyers or magazines, let kids cut out pictures of what they would like to grow in their gardens. They can glue the pictures to big pieces of paper and grow a garden on a page.

photo by Vanessa Kelly McRostie
photo by Vanessa Kelly McRostie

When any of us either work or play we have to know what information is important and what we can leave out. Paying attention is like 2 sides of a coin. One side is information we want and the other side is information that we have to ignore. For children to pay attention effectively they not only have to concentrate but they also have to ignore. As kids look through magazines and flyers, they will see more pictures than they want. They will have to pick out the things that can grow in the garden and not bother with the rest. For some children this is much easier to do than for others but a fun activity like this gives them a chance to practice and will help all children.

This activity will appeal to children in varying degrees from only a few moments and one or two pictures all the way to keeping them busy for most of the morning or afternoon. Explaining what they have put on the page also provides an opportunity for children to use lots of language. Hands and fingers get some exercise cutting and gluing. In addition to attention skills, kids also get the chance to make decisions and to think about what they would like in a garden.

Paying attention is very much like growing a garden; some things are great to pick, some need to be weeded out and some come up as surprises. What kind of paper garden will your child grow?