Focused: When You Just Can’t Stop Playing!

Nichole Polifika, Director of Learning & Innovation

July 26, 2016

It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen…..often. Your child will be completely engrossed in something when it is time to do something else. You kindly ask them to wrap up what they are doing, and their reaction appears as if they didn’t hear you. You remind them again. Still nothing. One final plea to finish up and this time, without even stopping what they are doing and looking up, they beg you for “5 more minutes.” As frustrating as this may be to us as parents for other reasons, this situation is also your child showing their ability to focus.

We live in a very busy, fast-paced, heavily stimulated world. Even as adults, our ability to focus is often compromised thanks to millions of options and distractions at our fingertips. The ability to focus on something specific takes continuous practice. Like so many other necessary skills children start acquiring, play is where it can be manifested. In fact, play actually provides two very different ways of leveraging and expanding the ability to focus. Allow me to explain.

Riding with intention.

Photograph by Bruce Silcox

Activity Immersion

When your child is playing and immersed in an activity they are interested in, that intense interest elevates their ability to focus effectively. This is straight up “practice” in learning how to focus better and for longer periods of time. The other way play helps improve focus is the opposite, by not concentrating and focusing so hard. Play also offers a break from other situations where a child has to focus a bit harder, maybe on something that is of interest to them, and maybe on something that isn’t necessarily, but is required- like specific lessons for school.

“In fact, play actually provides two very different ways of leveraging and expanding the ability to focus.”

Self-Control:  One of the 7 Powers of Play

At Minnesota Children’s Museum, we have identified seven skills we believe children need to thrive, now and throughout their lives, one of which is (self) control- the ability to effectively manage attention, emotions and behaviors in a bustling society. Focused is one of the museum’s identified dimensions of (self) control. It takes deliberate decisions and lots of practice to screen out distractions, hold attention and concentrate for periods at a time, in addition to keeping your “eye on the prize” by not losing sight of intention or self-initiated goals.

Encouraging Focus with Your Child

The need to focus and concentrate never goes away no matter how old we get, we just get slightly better at it with practice. Help your child improve focus levels first and foremost by recognizing it when you see it in them. Make a statement about how you see them focusing, and then provide a five or ten minute warning when it is getting close to time for something else. Provide breaks when you see they are getting distracted during activities that may not be exactly what they want to be doing at that time. You can also play games that require paying close attention to a several distinct details such as I Spy or Red Light, Green Light.

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