Saturday, February 5, 2011

Attention Spans

When my wife and I welcomed our son Kazuo in 2007, we were given a lot of kids' books by friends and family. Included in this tidal wave of children's literature was a collection of picture books from a "Book of the Month Club" program my wife's aunt was a part of in the early 1980s. She had joined the club when her two sons were young, and the books have been kept in immaculate condition. We were delighted to inherit the set!

Kaz is quickly approaching 4 years of age, and I've noticed his attention span for books has increased significantly in the past year. Age certainly plays a factor, though Kaz also understands that the longer we read, the longer he gets to stay up. It's hard to deny a cute kid more book time, but sleep is important, too!

It's been really fun to read through all those "Book of the Month" titles, most of which have withstood the test of time and are still wonderful today, even if some titles like James Marshall's delightful Mary Alice, Operator Number 9 are a little out of date technology-wise. But what's most intriuging to me is how long many of the books are.

In fact, even with my son's increased attention span, I've noticed him start to fidget as we get further into some of the longer books, despite my best efforts to be interactive and include him in the storytelling process. It dawned on me that times were simply different back when most of these books were written. Today we live in a world of instant access and constant stimulation, which was not necessarily the case back when the likes of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Curious George Takes a Job were written.

I really like the idea of being in the moment, cutting out all other distractions, and focusing on what's before me. Easier said than done, true, but it's something I want to strive to become better at. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel was originally published in 1939, a time when kids weren't constantly bombarded with the types of sights and sounds they are today. By contrast, our world today is filled with continual stimulation and multitasking is the order of the day. Watching kids and teens at my library use the computers and seeing how many things they're able to do at once is mindboggling... and perhaps even a little scary! Realizing this, I'm going to do my best to try to teach my kids how to relax and focus on one thing, even if just for a short period of time.

When I conduct my library storytimes (and it's a small victory even getting kids to come, given all the other distractions like computers and video viewing stations in our library!), I realize that the attention spans of attending kids vary, and I'm continually mixing things up in order to keep them engaged. However, now I'm considering ways to try to increase their focus and hold their attention on one story longer. Finding ways to remove other distractions, including those bouncing around in their heads, is difficult, but maybe quick meditative moments and other similar activities hold the key.

Experimenting with a storytime formula may not always yield optimal results, but learning from mistakes and building upon what works in order to build a better program is worth straying off the established tracks. I think I'll have some type of relaxation exercise at my next storytime and see how it goes. Who knows? Maybe before long the storytime attendees will be asking me to read longer books!