I can keep looking and listening or…
the ability to focus on one thing to the exclusion of others.
The ability to switch the focus of their attention at will allows the child to learn. The distractible child has their attention switched against their will and cannot spend enough time on anything to learn. Attending is hard work, and, even with good intentions, a child without the attention muscles to keep themselves on task will fatigue much faster in the classroom.
Children’s early imaginative play in the family setting helps a child undertake the work of being able to focus on one thing. Mum and Dad’s compellingly funny faces and antics draw an infant or toddler to keep looking and listening for longer and longer each time. The work of bringing attention under voluntary control is considerable, however, and babies are left worn out at the end of such sessions!
In kindergarten it is the storyline of the imaginative game that compels children to keep on looking and listening in a far more distracting setting. For the child with poorer attention such games present a second chance at bringing attention under their voluntary control – but they frequently need help to keep their attention on the game by an adult. Imaginative play moves fast, and the child whose attention has lapsed will miss important information.