Three techniques to improve a child’s focus

Three techniques to improve a child's focus
On a recent park outing, my two-year-old was playing by a puddle near the playground, tossing acorns, rocks and leaves into the water. He was so engrossed in his project—watching which items sink or float, wondering why certain items plopped while others didn’t—that we stayed crouched by the puddle for an hour and a half.

This isn’t the first time, either. When we visit children’s museums, he’s perfectly content staying just a little bit longer at a particular exhibit instead of hopping around every few seconds. Sometimes he’ll play with his door puzzle for 45 minutes straight. And just yesterday, he sat by the bookcase, pulling out books and flipping through them for an hour.

One of the ways we encourage focus is by letting him decide how to play. We often lay out toys and books and allow our toddler to decide what to play with, when, and for how long. We sometimes have a general agenda and even make suggestions (“Let’s finger paint today,”) but still enable him to determine the course of play. He gets to decide that for now he’ll play with his stuffed bunny, and maybe later stack some blocks. We’re also careful not to cram too many commitments in a day so that he has an opportunity to decide what to play. I notice that when he has a choice, he’s more likely to stay interested and hopefully develop a longer attention span.

We also sit in the sidelines and don’t interrupt too often. Imagine you’re at work, concentrating on your assignment when a coworker pops up asking if you could send them the file you worked on yesterday. “Sure,” you reply, stopping your work to look for the file to send. Then five minutes later, another coworker swings by and starts talking about her day. More interruptions. You get the idea.

We let him stay focused. We still ask questions and motivate him along, but there’s no need to hover over every minute of the activity or decide what to do all the time. When my toddler was reading for an hour yesterday, I sat nearby and answered a few of his questions, but generally I gave him time to be alone, even getting up to chop vegetables in the kitchen. Otherwise, he’s pretty good about letting me know when he wants company (and of course he always wants it when I’m busiest!).

And we promote activities and toys challenging enough to ignite effort but not so difficult as to cause frustration. Some toys are too difficult for my toddler that he can’t help but get upset and give up. Conversely, easy activities or toys he has already figured out won’t keep him interested for long.

I’m not sure what my toddler learned during that hour and a half at the puddle. Maybe he realized that leaves float while rocks sink. Perhaps he found new ways to play with water that he can try during bath time. Or maybe he just liked looking at the reflection of the trees above him. Whatever he got out of it, he loved every moment, so much so that beeping trucks and yelling kids and even a Mama trying to coerce him to let’s-go-home-already-it’s-getting-cold didn’t deter his focus.

How do you encourage your kids to focus?

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How to encourage early literacy with toddlers

We started reading to our toddler very early so that from the day he was born we’ve yet to pass a day without having read a book. Literacy—or rather, the love of reading and knowledge—remains a priority in our family. Below are some of the ways we’ve encouraged reading:

Reading in a relaxed environment
The kid isn’t going to want to read if it’s regimented and forced on him. We try to promote positive associations with reading by cuddling with him as we read, making funny noises and faces and treating reading as something enjoyable, rather than a chore or task.

Surrounding him with letters
One of the best toy purchases we ever made was a set of magnetic letters and numbers that we stick to our fridge. Before he could talk, our two-year-old liked moving the pieces around, and as he did, we told him what the letters were and the sounds they made. He started off saying the sounds of each letter, and as he gradually learned to speak, he began to say the letters themselves. The speed in which he learned his letters, numbers and sounds increased exponentially as soon as we introduced those magnets. We also have an alphabet rug, alphabet links, blocks with letters on the sides, and even block crayons with letters and numbers.

Setting his books so that they are visible and within reach
In our living room, we dedicate the lowest two bookshelves of our bookcase for his books and toys so that he can easily access them. In his room, one of his cubby shelves in the changing station is stocked with books. I still wish we had a forward-facing bookcase so the books seem even more attractive!

Making reading a part of his routine
His routine includes reading four books before bedtime and nap time. He also reads during bath time.

Labeling items and fixtures around the house
This is something I started doing just recently. I printed out large words such as “Door,” “Chair” and “Bed” and taped them to their appropriate items. My toddler noticed them and right away asked, “What’s it say?” before running to another label and asking the same thing.

Leaving crayons and paper lying around
What better way for an impromptu word-fest than to write whenever and whatever you want? We usually leave crayons on the floor or by his desk so that he not only develops his writing and motor skills, but we can also write words easily and sound them out for him. My toddler also likes his Magna-Doodle because he can erase what he writes.

Letting him see us read
We often read our own books (currently reading These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner) with him around so that he knows how much we enjoy it too.

Pointing out words not just in books
We might be taking a walk around the block and we’ll point out the stop sign and how those letter spell “stop.” Or we’ll be in the car driving and he notices the “55 mph” sign and say, “55.” Words are everywhere: tags, t-shirts, food packaging, at the grocery, coupons (he now grabs our Bed Bath and Beyond coupons and says, “20% off!”).

Moving our finger under words and sentences as we read them
When a kid starts learning how to read, he usually does so by moving his finger under the words and sounding them out slowly. We do the same with our toddler while we read to him. This helps him understand the basic fundamental of reading: that the letters are simply symbols for sounds. Nothing makes this clearer than moving your finger under a word and saying the sounds out loud.

The research on the benefits of reading is astounding. We want to impart a love of knowledge and present the immense opportunities and experiences that reading offers.

What other ways do you encourage reading in your home?

Things that make you go, “aww…”

One of the perks of parenthood is having a constant dose of cuteness—and it never gets old (well, at least for the proud parents)! So in true C&C Music Factory style, below are LO’s things that make you go, “aww…”

My little prankster
So I’m walking with LO towards the kitchen and decide to make a quick stop at the front door closet to grab a coat. Thinking that LO had walked ahead to the kitchen, I followed him but can’t seem to find him. “Hey, where are you?” I asked aloud. I checked into our breakfast nook area thinking he might be crouched behind the table, but nope—not there either. I peeked into the living room; no luck.

All of a sudden I caught movement at the end of the hall and heard stifled giggles. That’s when I noticed that LO’s bedroom door is suspiciously closed almost all the way but for a small crack—small enough for a little guy to peek out from and watch his mama search everywhere for him. I walk over there and he opens the door wide, laughing at his apparently hysterical prank on mama.

My little singer
LO has always been big on singing. He’s memorized so many lyrics that I’m amazed he even knew these obscure songs. But while he’s often sang, for instance, all the words to “Kookaburra,” he’ll do it in a way where it’s more of a recitation rather than actually pitching his voice to particular notes. Recently though I started singing to myself, “A sailor went to sea sea sea…” and he followed with, “…to see what he could see see see.” Except this time he actually sang the notes, as in he sang different pitches that matched the notes. And you could tell he was using his vocal cords. So cute!

My little learner
LO has this toy drum that for each time you press the top, a letter of the alphabet shows up. The letters are all lower case, but if you were to wait three seconds, the upper case version of that letter will show up. So for instance, you press it once, and “a” will show up, but if you wait three seconds, “A” will show up as well. If you press the drum before those three seconds are up, it goes to the next lower case letter; in this case, “b.”

Wow that’s a lot of explaining for a kid’s toy! Anyway, sometimes LO will notice that the lower case letter turned to upper case, but he has no idea why. Plus he wants to look for particular upper case letters, usually the letter “Y.” Even though we tried explaining how to do it to him (“Just keep pressing the drum until you get to the lower case ‘y’ then wait three seconds then the upper case ‘Y’ will show up!” Yeah… real clear there), he understandably couldn’t figure it out.

Recently I took his finger in my hand and we kept pressing the drum until we reached “y.” And just as he was about to press it again, I held his finger back and voilá—upper case “Y” showed up. Something about physically holding his hand back made something click in his head, so now he understands the workings of this drum. He’ll find all the upper case letters now and say, “There’s upper case ‘G’!” I always thought that the drum was a bit odd, but for our purposes it taught LO a little bit about delayed gratification.

Why I save for LO’s college education

I saw this graph online the other day about the average unemployment and average income for people depending on their college education:

I was raised with the mindset that you go to college, and that’s that—no reasons were needed. Nowadays online I hear a lot of people bashing college education as a waste, especially when you see people (usually billionaires) who dropped out of college and started their own companies and are richer than most college grads. But on average, the higher you go up the education ladder, the less unemployment you will have, and the more income you will make. Of course you will have the billionaire who didn’t graduate, or the Ph.D. who still can’t find a job, but in general, you’re better off having a degree.

I’ve been saving money for LO’s college fund. I don’t set aside a fixed amount; rather, whenever I have extra money leftover each month, I put a quarter of that into his college savings. So far I’ve saved $6k or so. I was fortunate that I didn’t need to pay for my own college (scholarships plus financial aid) but I’d rather be prepared when it comes time for LO to pay for school. I doubt we can cover all of his expenses but at least he won’t graduate with excess debt, or he won’t be limited to where he wants to go because of the high costs.

College savings is definitely one of the biggest ongoing expenses for LO, but I think it’s worth it. We’re saving for retirement, we have fun money, we have life and disability insurance and every other savings you can think of (can you tell I’m addicted to saving?) so why not put that money into his education? And they say the sooner you start saving, the better.