"Begin as you mean to go."
This is a phrase repeated frequently in The Baby Whisperer. As a young mom I was VERY concerned about academic and educational concerns. I was frustrated because older moms always focused on character and habits. Can't you just talk to me about what reading program I should use? Well, as usual they were right, habits and character are more important than reading skills at this young age.
First off, it is important to realize that we start with children paying attention for short periods of time - a few minutes - and then grow from there. Even adults can't pay attention for more than a 20 minutes at a time. So, as usual, have proper expectations.
There are some unusual things (to us anyway) that can help with developing this habit:
- Read things once. Say things once. This encourages children to pay attention the first time. I can pretty easily read things just once (this isn't talking about fun reads where you read Corduroy a gazillion times because it is your child's favorite story). My kids know they will miss out if they don't pay attention the first read. Saying things once - well I have no advice - this is not my strong point.
- Set time limits. At home when kids are completing their homework don't let them dawdle. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and ask them to focus and do their best work for that amount of time. Then let them play or do something else for a while and come back to it if they need to finish up. This can also apply to chores and other activities. If they can just focus for a short amount of time and give it all their energy a lot can be accomplished.
- Switch things up. Doing the same type of work for a long time can tire you out. If kids have done 15 minutes of math encourage them to try some reading next. It uses a different part of the brain and provides some novelty. Of course, it's always a good idea to help them get a bit of physical activity in there as well.
There are many more things to say about forming this habit. You can check out more here, here and here.