A study by a team at Oregon State University led by Dr. Megan McClelland and published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly found that children who had greater attention spans at age four had an almost 50% higher likelihood of completing college by age 25. The researchers looked at 430 children and, after controlling for such variables as family background, gender, and early academic achievement levels, found that strong early attention abilities also predicted math and reading achievement at age 21.
That's all well and good, but if attention spans in young children are so important, can anything be done to build such skills in children who lack them?
The answer may lie in the games some of us remember from childhood -- games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light. An earlier study of 65 preschoolers found that when children who had low levels of focus played games similar to these they demonstrated improvements in both early language skills and self-regulation.
A review of this topic by New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope notes that the most effective way to to use games to build skills in young children is to begin with games with simple rules and to make them increasingly complex. For example, the games used in the Oregon research included a variation of Simon Says that started with copying the leader's movements but then required the children to do the opposite of what the leader did --such as touching toes when the leader touched her head. Other games that were found to build attention and executive function skills were singing in rounds and playing "Red Light, Green Light" using red for "go" and green for "stop." Try these. They are harder than you would expect.
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