I was a bit worried about my kid when she started kindergarten. You see, my kid is not the most focused child in the world. She has the ability to pay attention. If she's watching her favourite television show, I can change into a two-headed monkey, and she probably would not notice. Essentially, my daughter is selective in what she decides to pay attention to and focus on.
Recently, a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology suggests that paying attention in kindergarten means more than just a kid's ability to learn their ABCs and 123s--it may also help predict how well your child develops 'work-oriented' skills in the future.
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"For children, the classroom is the workplace and this is why productive, task-oriented behaviour in that context later translates to the labour market," said Dr. Linda Pagani, one of the authors of this paper.
The study from the University of Montreal followed 1369 children from kindergarten through to Grade 6 from schools in lower-income areas of Montreal. Teachers noted how well the children paid attention in kindergarten. Later, homeroom teachers rated how well the children worked by themselves and with their classmates.Teachers also observed and recorded how well the children followed instructions, directions and rules, as well as the children's level of self-control and self-confidence.
Using this data, the researchers were able to place the children into three groups: those with high, medium, and low classroom engagement. They found (though not really shocking) that kids who paid attention in kindergarten were more likely to belong in the medium and high classroom engagement groups.
"Children who are more likely to work autonomously and harmoniously with fellow classmates, with good self-control and confidence, and who follow directions and rules are more likely to continue such productive behaviours into the adult workplace. In child psychology, we call this the developmental evolution of work-oriented skills, from childhood to adulthood,” said Pagani. Aggressive children and children with lower cognitive skills in kindergarten were more likely to end up on the low engagement trajectory.
"There are important life risks associated with attention deficits in childhood, which include high-school dropout, unemployment, and problematic substance abuse,” Pagani said.
The study did suggest that if the kids were able to improve their attention spans before they graduate from kindergarten, they may be able to improve their level of classroom engagement later as well.
"Our findings make a compelling case for early identification and treatment of attention problems, as early remediation represents the least costly form of intervention. Universal approaches to bolstering attention skills in kindergarten might translate into stable and productive pathways toward learning,” said Pagani.
As a mother who is easily convinced that most of the decisions she makes will somehow screw up her child's life, this study does not add to my confidence level as a parent. Does this mean I should start 'tiger momming' her now, and tie her to a chair to teach (make) her to pay attention?
I am pretty sure my kid is like most other four-year-olds, though. If she's not interested in something, air molecules will distract her. I personally think the issue here is that we have to find a way to make school both educational and fun for children so that they want to pay attention (which is the next step in the study for the authors, to see what in the classroom affects children's attention spans).
If you think your child needs help with her attention span, speak with her teacher as a start. How is your child's attention span and when did it settle down? Chime in now!
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