Learning and Sharing

Paying Attention and Being Mindful

on July 14, 2013



I had a conversation last week, with the parent of one of my preschool students, about attention and what parents can do to help young children learn to pay attention.  We exchanged some ideas and then I came home to consult with some experts.  I asked myself “What does it mean when we ask kids to pay attention?” and “What are we really asking when we ask kids to pay attention?”.

In my heart and mind, Dr. Jean is Queen!  I went immediately to to read and re-read what Dr. Jean Feldman had to say about the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of young children.  She says that we “learn on our feet not on our seat”.  I love that and apply it every day.  In her article It’s All About Play Dr. Jean writes that “Play develops the executive function (impulse control, task initiation, delayed gratification)”.  Impulse control is necessary to be able to “pay attention”.  In this same article Dr. Jean refers to Gwen Dewar’s Cognitive Benefits of Play in which Dr. Dewar reports that kids pay more attention to academic tasks when they are given frequent, brief opportunities for free play.  Studies show that PE classes are not as effective as recess for cognitive benefits.  PE is too structured, but a recess break can be truly playful.  (





In a post at I read this:  When we ask children to “pay attention”, what we’re really asking them is something closer to the concept of being mindful.  What is mindfulness?  Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches that “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”.  It’s developing awareness of what’s happening both outside and inside oneself and one’s physical being in the world.  I also read in this post “Attention is the gateway to learning”.  Wow, that powerful statement makes me want to know more!

I think we need to be good models and show our students what it means to pay attention and to be mindful.  Here are some of the tips that I learned during my investigation:

  • Give limited choices. Selective attention is common and limiting choices can help focus a child’s attention on the present.
  • Be consistent.  If a child knows what the rules are and they are consistently enforced then he/she is more likely to be responsive the first time he/she is asked.
  • Encourage children to use their words to plan and control their behavior, for example, “what do we need to put on before we go out to play when it’s raining?”.   Language is a major route to good social relationships, which are often jeopardized because the impulsive child  can be annoying to peers in play or cooperative learning situations.
  • Use words along with actions when showing or explaining  something new to a child; language is the ultimate mediator of attention.  (my personal favorite)
  • Let attention span develop naturally by also allowing time for a child to become actively engaged in a task without interruption.
  • Practice what you preach!  If your idea of winding down is watching TV for hours while your head is buried in your smart phone, your child will probably adopt the same habits.  Be good role models.


My Best,

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