Why We Do What We Do: Nursery Rhyme Programs and Attention Span

Sustained attention: The amount of time that someone can focus on a task without becoming distracted.
Most educators agree that the ability to focus one’s attention on a task is crucial to learning.
The ability to listen and focus is developmental, but there are things that can help your child to increase that ability at a young age. Attending the library’s nursery rhyme programs can introduce your child to a group setting and help your child increase his or her ability to focus on the task at hand – in this case, listening to a story and learning some popular nursery rhymes and songs.
Here is how you can help:
• Listen to the story and recite the rhymes: Babies and toddlers tend to focus on adults more than on other children. When you, as an important adult in their lives, focus on the story and actively take part in the rhymes, it sets an example your child will want to follow.
• Give your child a snack before coming to the library: The ability to pay attention is hampered by hunger, so if it’s been a while since your child’s last meal, try to give a snack before you come to the library. Remember that no food or drink is allowed in the library itself.
• Choose a program time that best coordinates with your child’s nap time: Fatigue can affect the child’s ability to pay attention. We offer the rhymes programs twice on Thursday evenings and twice on Friday mornings to make it easier to find the time that’s best for your child.
• Be on time as often as possible: It’s difficult to plan for every little thing that can happen when you are dealing with babies and toddlers, but your child will benefit most from the rhymes program when he or she is present at the start. The program follows a plan that is repeated from week to week so that the routine becomes familiar, and each rhyme or song is chosen carefully to help your child keep or refocus attention on the librarian who leads it.
• If you do arrive after the program starts: Wait to enter between rhymes, and do so as quietly as possible. Sit in the back so that the other children are not distracted. A good time to enter is when everyone claps after each rhyme.
• Attend the program frequently: Children are able to focus their attention best when something is familiar. Repeated attendance at the rhymes programs will soon make your child familiar with the routine and help your child feel confident in reciting the rhymes and taking part in the actions.
How We Do It and Why:
• Gathering: We gather everyone from the public children’s area and enter the program space together. Why? Because it helps us all to start on the same page. We have moved from being individuals in a public space to being a group here for a purpose. By entering the room when it’s time for the program to start, the children have not had a chance to become too familiar with it or get bored or be distracted by the props and puppets waiting to introduce the rhymes. We can greet and welcome each person at the door as they enter, which helps your child connect with the librarian who is presenting the program.
• Repetition: Each rhyme is repeated two or three times.  Because repetition plays an important part in learning, this will help your child become familiar with the rhyme, and will help boost confidence in your child’s ability to recite and take part in the rhyme once he or she learns it.
• Following the “road map:” There are some rhymes that we always do. This gives the children a pattern or “road map” to follow once they become familiar with the program.
• Clapping: Research shows that no matter the age, we are able to sustain attention for only a limited amount of time, and then we either move on to another task, take a break, or refocus on the activity at hand. When we clap after each rhyme, it serves multiple purposes: It serves as a “break” that will allow the child to refocus attention on the next rhyme; it makes the activity of reciting the rhymes more enjoyable and thus makes it easier to pay attention; and it helps to build confidence in the child’s ability to recite the rhyme.  It’s also something that even babies can do successfully!
• Reading a book: By reading one book during the 15-minute program, the children begin to connect books with an enjoyable activity. The books for this program are chosen because they have bold illustrations that will stand out in a group setting; they are short with one story line; they have phrases that can be repeated by the children and parents; and they have some element of surprise or suspense.  (To see a list of some of the books we like to use, see additional posts below)

- material copyright Youth Services, 2011

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