The Honolulu Children’s Discovery Center is probably Lucien’s favorite place on the island. We spent three consecutive mornings (nine whole hours) there this week. I love taking him there. The only downside is the frequency with which large preschool groups also visit. Think gaggles of children making lot of noise, ping-ponging between activities, spending a few moments at one exhibit before (literally) running off to another.
Contrast that with Lucien; when we visited on Thursday he discovered the baby dolls in the nursery during the second half of the morning. He spent over an hour taking care of them, giving them medicine, checking their heartbeats with a stethoscope, taking their temperatures. He worked with them until we had to leave. When we arrived Friday morning he immediately returned to he nursery and again spent over an hour taking care of the dolls. Now I am not saying that he never energetically bounces around, but more often than not he is concentrated on a particular task, and he has an hours- or days-long attention span.
Our experiences this week got me comparing Lucien to other children his age and slightly older, and thinking about traits like concentration and attention span, to what extent they are in-born, and how we might nurture or discourage them.
It might be a synergistic effect – put a large group of kids together in one preschool classroom, and chaos will most likely ensue. Even I found it difficult to concentrate with all of the activity going on around me – it must be darn near impossible for a young child to maintain focus in the face of all those distractions.
I also wonder if the way preschools typically operate might also contribute. Whereas I allowed Lucien to explore at his own pace (for multiple visits, we never even made it out of the first room of the center, he was so happily occupied exploring) these children are on a tight schedule. They see the whole building in 90 minutes. Soon after they are allowed to enter one area I hear the adults calling “5 more minutes,” and then they have to stop whatever activity they may have been engaged in so that they can follow along with the group.
It was the same experience that I remember in school; I had to stop whatever reading, study, art, that I might have found thoroughly engrossing because the bell rang, or reading time was over, and I had to move along with the group.
I wonder to what extent the myth that “children have a short attention span” is simply a self-fulfilling prophesy. If caregivers hurry them through their exploration or keep throwing new distractions at them lest they get bored, it seems like a shorter attention span would be the logical result.
I am Lucien’s mother, so as part of my job description I of course think that he is wonderful and exceptional, but I still wonder if he is really that far to one end of the spectrum in terms of his concentration. Perhaps I just have refrained from doing some of those things that tend to shorten a child’s attention span. As much as is in my power I allow him to concentrate on whatever activity interests him, complete whatever task he wishes to complete, instead of hurrying him along to fit into whatever schedule I deem appropriate. Maybe it is some combination of nature and nurture, since both his father and I tend to be ruminators, and single-minded as well, when something captures our attention. End musings. Insert cute picture.