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February 8, 2012

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Focus. Mindfulness.

Often hard to establish.

Often hard to maintain.

But how do we teach focus to children if we have trouble ourselves? How do we embrace them with mindfulness with others if we cannot obtain that ourselves?

I’ve been thinking loads about how to foster this behavior in children, but ironically, found myself having greater difficulty staying focused on teaching, writing, homework, and a handful of other duties.  I tried to bring my mind back to the task at hand, it occurred to me that one of the most obvious similarities between yoga and teaching young children,  is the teaching and practicing focus and mindfulness.

The trick is, most of us are challenged every day by a flood by multiple sources of information nearly 24 hours a day.  Despite all the benefits technology brings, our collective ability to mono-task is easily impaired.  Don’t believe me? Google “mono task” “digital age” “focus”.  Spare yourself the distraction and read  “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price.”

We’re all doing it – losing focus in an effort to do more.  For folks like me, it might be time to stop doing it – all of it – for ourselves and for the ones who are watching us on a more regular basis. Perhaps we need to practice those Executive Function skills related to focus and self-control so that what we model for young children serves them, and us.

(What the heck is Executive Function?  It’s set of skills your brain uses to do all the other stuff you do. The prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe tells all the other parts of the brain what to do – things you do every day like – memory, attention, focus, inhibition, problem solving,multi-tasking, monitoring of action.)

Science tells us that the maturation of the prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe occurs at age of 25 or later.  It’s also is a vivid reminder that we cannot expect our children to act rationally or logically nor even with much self-control.  But we can – and must – help them develop those skills beginning early on.

One of the best resources on this topic is Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making.  This is a research-rich book that reads much like a conversation with a trusted friend unfolds. Gallinsky’s research outlines seven “essential life skills” ranging from focus to engaged learning.   The book also supports the work of Tools of the Mind – a Vygotskian approach to early childhood rooted in provided children with the tools and practice they need to develop self-regulation and greater autonomy.  Both books offer ways to explore young children’s capacity to focus. Either are worth a read if the topic is on your mind, too.

Check back next week for 6 easy things you can do to teach and practice focus in young children, as well as more resources.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 4:26 pm

    love Mind in the Making – and great quote. Looking forward to next week. 🙂

  2. February 13, 2012 3:25 pm

    Lisa, I was so glad to see your post on mindfulness and focus. I can’t wait to check out Galinsky’s book, Mind in the Making. It’s so interesting that we often tell children to “pay attention,” but provide little concrete support or time for developing these skills in ourselves or our students. Mindful awareness experiences can be easy to incorporate into the classroom, leading to greater focus, self- regulation, empathy and a sense of well-being. I like to think of it as an important practice for all ages – teachers (and parents) need it as much as students! One resource that I’ve found particularly helpful is the work of Susan Kaiser Greenland (author of The Mindful Child and founder of the Inner Kids program). The practice of daily Morning Meeting also contributes to children’s capacity to attend fully to the present moment, and tap into the joy of learning. I look forward to reading your suggestions for teaching and practicing focus with young children.


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