The ability to stay focused and pay attention is important for learning. Children with good attention skills have a learning advantage because they are able to stay focused, concentrate, sustain mental effort, block out distractions, multitask, and sit still. These children also tend to have strong executive functioning skills, which leads to competency in planning, organization, working memory, time management, and flexible thinking.
Attention is multifaceted and can be broken down into the following types:
- Focused attention: The ability to focus on one thing while excluding other things in the environment.
- Sustained attention: The ability to focus on one specific task for a continuous amount of time without being distracted (playing a board game).
- Selective attention: The conscious act of selecting what to pay attention to and avoiding distractions from both external (e.g., noise) and internal (e.g., thoughts) stimuli (listening to the teacher when classmates are being noisy).
- Alternating attention: The ability to switch focus back and forth between two different tasks that require two cognitive demands (e.g., listening to the teacher’s instructions and then executing the instructions).
- Divided attention: The ability to process two or more responses and react to two or more demands simultaneously (multitasking).
Executive Functioning skills are used to organize and act on information. Common executive skills include the following:
- Impulse control- The ability to stop behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts.
- Flexibility– The ability to come up with a new plan when another one fails and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation.
- Emotional Control– The ability to manage feelings by focusing on the end result or goal.
- Initiation– The ability to start a task or activity.
- Working memory- The ability to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.
- Planning/Prioritizing– The ability to come up with the steps needed to complete a task and to decide the order of importance.
- Organization– The ability to keep track of information and things.
- Self-Monitoring– The ability to evaluate performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected.
An important part of the kindergarten curriculum is to teach children to pay attention and organize themselves. Children who have persistent attention and executive functioning difficulties may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There are three common types of ADHD: Inatttentive, Hyperactive/Impulsive, and Combined (a combination of the first two types). Children who are inattentive are easily distracted and have poor concentration and organizational skills. Children who are impulsive take risks and interrupt others. Children who are hyperactive are constantly on the-go, talking, fidgeting, and have difficulty staying on task.