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I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ready for School? Part II

Last week, I talked about what Gary Ezzo believes to be the most important school readiness "skills." The two from last week--sleep and structure/routine. These skills are more the product of the home environment ("nurture") rather than inherent traits however can be strengthened or weakened by general temperament ("nature"). Some kids are "born to sleep" and are just generally adaptable kids no matter what parents do. However, if kids are not this "sleep-wise" and adaptable, parents can have a large part in ensuring their kids get the sleep and structure they NEED.

The next two--attention span and focusing-- are the opposite. These are more inherent skills ("nature") but can be strengthened or weakened by by home environment ("nurture"). Some kids are just born with longer attention spans than others. Some kids have no problem focusing on objects. You can see this as young as 2-3 months when they are playing on their little playmat. Some kids--like Will--can just be down there playing and grabbing and cooing for an hour at age 4 months. Brooke, on the other hand, could not play on the mat for more than a few minutes without getting "bored." However, this does not mean that "nurture" or home environment cannot play a HUGE role in developing (or hindering) and child's attention and focusing skills.

Attention Span: Ask any pediatrician what the #1 prescribed medicine is (at least in MY school district) and it's ADD meds. It's rampant. I bet 50% of kids at my school are on some kind of ADD med!! Yes, some people have a longer attention span than others. By the look of things, my daughter is on the LOW end and my son will be on the HIGH end. :-) But Brooke does not suffer from ADD or ADHD. Some kids truly do suffer from it and it's a disorder that definitely does exist. But it does not exist in 50% of the population. For 48% of them, it's learned. Attention span can be weakened and strengthened by environmental factors.

Attention span develops in a structured environment and it develops at a very young age. When I was home with Brooke this summer, I did my best to have planned activities for her throughout the day. Some requiring my assistance, but many of them independent. For example, I would say--it's puzzle time! And she would choose some puzzles to work on for a set amount of time. Another thing I do with her is work on coloring. Which, done correctly, takes a lot of attention, focus and concentration. I would give her a picture and tell her to do her "best preschool coloring" which means everything had to be colored and colored within the lines (as much as she can at this point! just no aimless scribbling!). At first, she had trouble with coloring the WHOLE picture perfectly without wanting to move on to another picture, but as time went on she improved a lot. Just little activities like that once a day can definitely help build attention skills.

I also did "Roomtime" which Preschoolwise recommends. I gave her a choice of a few activities she could play with independently upstairs in her room. She would have to play independently for a set amount of time. Preschoolwise says 45 minutes but I think that is a bit much. I did 15-30 minutes. With younger children (about 6 months and up) you can do the same sort of thing but in the Pack 'n Play. Just have one or two "activities" in the PNP and allow him to play independently (without you in DIRECT sight) for a set amount of time. If your baby hasn't been playing independently I would start on the really low side (5 min!) and then slowly work from there. Babies, especially around 9 months when separation anxiety kicks in, need to know that you are coming back. Both Roomtime and Pack 'n Play time allow your child to focus on just one or two things at a time, instead of running around aimlessly from activity to activity. It is never too early to start developing a good attention span....think about those college lecture halls! And it is always easier to start early than to try and fix a bad habit :)

Focusing: This goes hand in hand with attention span. This is the ability to focus on something without being distracted by your surroundings or other things going on around you. In a school setting, this is vital as there are distractions EVERYWHERE! Other kids talking, the pencil sharpener, the door opening and closing, you name it.

According to Ezzo, the ability to focus is developed by giving children time to play by themselves when given a set activity and set time limits. Ezzo says this playtime needs to be in a place where they are not easily distracted. I'm not sure about this. I think focusing on something when there is other stuff going on around you is something that needs to be practiced. Preschool is a great place to practice! Another way to practice is having your older child do a worksheet (or coloring, whatever activity you choose) with their other sibling in the room or while you are making dinner. Try to see if she can stay focused with pots clanging and siblings talking around her.

When kids are about 3, you can talk to them about focusing and explain to them they need to concentrate on the activity they are doing. I definitely struggle with this one with Brooke. She is VERY easily distracted. At tennis, her teacher will be showing her a backhand and she'll be staring at the football players walking out of the locker room nearby. Gentle reminding works well with her, too. Kids at age 3 are in such "imagination mode" they sometimes need a reminder to be brought back to the real world! :-)

Given there are no other major problems such as a learning disability, children who get enough sleep, have structure, a developed attention span and focusing skills WILL, more than likely, be quite successful in school. These are not easily developed skills especially if your child isn't inherently born with one or all of these skills! However, with work and practice YOU, the parent, can "train" your children on ALL of these skills. Like anything else in parenting, it might be tough, but the payoff will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

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