Can Kids Learn to Pay Attention? New Science Suggests “Yes”

New research suggests that children can learn how to pay better attention and increase their powers of concentration through memory training, meditation and by using new software designed for classrooms. Some scientists believe “attention lessons” should start in preschools.

The new theory of “attention” is that it functions like an organ system of the body. Like circulation or digestion, “attention” has its own anatomy, chemistry and circuitry. Theorists identify three networks in the “attention system” – focus, awareness and “executive attention.” Executive attention governs planning, high-level decision-making and organizing time and work.

Neuroscientist Michael Posner along with his colleagues at the University of Oregon spent years trying to determine how to train children’s attention networks. They have come up with a five-day computer-based program for six-year-olds that produces significant gains, particularly among children who were at the lowest levels of attention at the beginning of the program.

Torkel Klingsberg, a Swedish neuroscientist, invented a computer software program called “RoboMemo” to help impulsive children become more focused and compliant.

Professor Lidia Kylowski of the University of California, Los Angeles, is using meditative techniques to help teenagers with Attention Deficit Disorder learn to sustain attention and obtain better visual discrimination.

No one knows if the gains made by training children to pay attention will last over a long term or which techniques are the best to use. Yet many educators are excited by the prospect of using these new lessons and software programs in their classrooms.

“Attention is such a basic skill that children need,” said Dr. Kylowski. “To be able to impact that skill, to teach them how to redirect their attention and how to become more aware of themselves, their bodies, emotions and thoughts – it’s an exciting thing. It’s also critical.”

For more information, see Maggie Jackson’s article in the June 28, 2008 edition of the Boston Globe, posted at
http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2008/06/29/attention_class/.