In an increasingly overstimulated and distracted society, children need ample opportunities and appropriate support to develop focus and self-control. These skills are fundamental building blocks for other forms of learning, and they are absolutely essential to the setting, and achieving, of life goals. Research has shown that focus and self-control, otherwise known as attention skills, are as important as IQ in determining long-term learning ability.
Giving children the time to explore something deeply—to care a lot about what they're doing—helps them develop focus. If you visit only one exhibit on a trip to the Museum because your child is fascinated by it, consider that a sign of success!
To support focus and self-control, we can encourage children to pretend and to make up stories. Give them time to get lost in their imaginations! While pretending, children often use themselves to represent different people, use objects to represent something else, and adapt to changed circumstances. Each of those actions requires “cognitive flexibility,” an important skill.
For very young children, consider introducing puzzles or tactile building challenges. As young children turn the pieces around in their hands, trying to find the way one part fits with the others, they concentrate closely, expanding their ability to focus and problem-solve independently.
**Focus and Self-Control is one of the Seven Essential Life Skills described by Ellen Galinsky in her book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (2010), available in the Museum Store. We have also created a brief handbook to provide information for you to explore at home.