Thinking Skills: Focus

What is Focus?

Focus is the thinking skill that allows people to begin a task without procrastination and then maintain their attention and effort until the task is complete. Focus helps people pay attention in the midst of distractions and setbacks and to sustain the effort and energy needed to reach a goal.

For example, a child would be using good Focus skills when sitting down to begin an essay and then diligently writing until the assignment is done without getting distracted by the television, Internet, or friends.

Video games can help improve Focus by allowing kids to practice their focusing skills while in the midst of a fun and immersive gaming experience. Many games, particularly fast-paced action games, require sustained focus, attention, and effort in order to “beat” levels and to be successful in the game.

Watch the video to learn more about how video games can help your child improve their Focus thinking skill.

How does Focus work?

What is Focus?

Focus is one of the most important thinking skills for academic success, as it helps kids begin tasks without procrastinating, maintain their attention in the presence of distractions, and continue tasks through to completion. Focus is very helpful when children are engaged in activities that require sustained practice in order to improve, and it is useful for developing the skills needed for playing an instrument or learning a new sport.

Kids with good Focus skills:

  • Are unlikely to waste time at the beginning of a test, chore, or other task.
  • Easily complete chores and homework without interruption.
  • Have little problem achieving long-term goals.
  • Can read a lengthy novel or write a book report.
  • Can sit and complete their homework in a timely fashion.
  • Continue to work on tasks that may be boring or dull, such as chores.

Kids with underdeveloped Focus skills:

  • Get up and down frequently while doing their homework.
  • Are easily distracted by noise and activities surrounding them.
  • Frequently complain about being bored.
  • Have difficulty sitting though an entire meal.
  • Procrastinate and have difficulties getting started on tasks.
  • Turn in incomplete or hastily-completed schoolwork.
  • Often don’t finish what they start.

Improve Focus Skills

Improve Focus SkillsThese are some general strategies and ideas for helping kids to improve their Focus skills.

  • Follow boring and mundane tasks with interesting and stimulating tasks. Your child may be more inclined to complete uninteresting tasks when they can look forward to doing something they enjoy after the task is completed, such as going outside to play after finishing their homework or having dessert after they are done eating their dinner.
  • Provide external support for your child that tapers off over time. This could involve coaching them through their first few homework problems or prompting them to start a chore at home. Support could also consist of helping them to form a list of the smaller tasks that each larger task entails, and to then assist them in identifying which of these tasks should be worked on first.
  • Encourage your child to participate in activities that require their full attention. For example, in baseball, have them play catcher, pitcher, or first base. These positions will require them to sustain his attention more than those in the outfield. In music, they should be encouraged to play instruments that are a regular part of the band or orchestra rather than something like cymbals, which are rarely used.
  • Reward stick-to-it-iveness. When your child experiences the rewards of sticking with a difficult task and completing it, they will be more motivated to do so again the next time. Offering treats, privileges, or simply verbal praise when chores are satisfactorily completed without prompting, can be very rewarding.

Focus and Academic Skills

What is Focus?

Focus is a core skill for learning academic skills and school-based information. If students cannot sustain their attention and effort on a task, they are likely to encounter a great deal of difficulty when learning complex material. Before students can ace their next test or apply other thinking skills such as Organization and Working Memory, they need to be able to tune out distractions and pay attention to what they are being taught in the classroom.


  • Focus helps children sustain their attention while reading.
  • Focus prevents kids from becoming distracted by their thoughts or external events.
  • Focus helps children to re-read text when necessary in order to fully comprehend the material.


  • Focus helps children to sustain their attention on a multi-step math problem.
  • Focus helps children to stay focused when solving a word problem so that they can recall all of the information and steps necessary to solve it.
  • Focus prevents kids from getting distracted in the middle of multi-step problems.
  • Focus helps kids be persistent when faced with difficult math concepts that require extended instruction.


  • Focus aids children with the process of putting thoughts into writing as ideas come to them.
  • Focus helps kids sustain their effort when doing physical tasks such as writing or typing.Focus helps kids to know where and how to get started on writing essays, book reports, and other assignments.

Focus and Digital Play

Improve Focus SkillsPlaying video games, searching the Internet, trying out the newest app, or Facebooking a friend demands a variety of Thinking Skills. Proficiency with any of these digital tools requires the ability to apply skills such as Planning, Organization, Working Memory, or Self-Awareness. For children, the attraction of video games and technologies makes them an ideal teaching tool for practicing game-based skills and learning to apply them to school and daily activities.

Focus is a helpful skill in many types of video games. For example, in fast-moving games such as racing or action games, players must often attend simultaneously to multiple events in order to avoid danger. In slow-moving games, players often need to pay attention to small details which may be relevant for success at later levels. Sustained focus and effort are also needed for many of the more complex, multi-layered games where players are likely to encounter obstacles to reach their goals.

Interactive digital media can be a great tool for enhancing focus in children who might otherwise find it extremely difficult. For example, some children are better able to focus on a reading assignment using an e-reader rather than a paperbound book. In other settings, a multi-media presentation of information, such as a website video, may also help to sustain a child’s attention.

Digital play can help kids improve Focus skills by helping them to:

  • Learn to ignore extraneous activities and attend only to elements that are important within the game.
  • Attend to multiple sources of information at the same time.
  • Shift their attention back and forth between items in a game in order to move to a higher level.
  • Sustain their attention to digital media-based academic content that might not otherwise interest them.

Focus and Executive Functions

What is Focus?The thinking skill of focus is a compilation of three executive skills identified in Dawson and Guare’s model. It consists of sustained attention, which Dawson and Guare describe as “the capacity to attend to a situation or task in spite of distractibility”; task initiation, which Dawson and Guare describe as “the ability to begin a task in a timely fashion”; and goal-directed persistence, which Dawson and Guare describe as “the capacity or drive to follow through to completion of a goal and not be put off by other demands or competing interests.” The Learning Works for Kids thinking skill of focus combines these three components into a skill identifiable by parents and educators as the capacity to get started on a task and sustain one’s attention and effort to complete the task.

As an executive function, focus requires the ability to avoid daydreaming and quickly become tuned into a task, knowing how and where to start on it. It then involves remaining attentive to the task and ignoring other distractions or interests. In order to complete the task, persistence and sustained effort are necessary. Focus helps children to get started on their homework, and also to complete it competently and in an efficient manner. It helps children to clean their rooms in 30 minutes, rather than in 6 hours. Focus is a primary and necessary component for learning in any environment. If one is unable to start paying attention and sustain one’s focus, one is unlikely to be able to learn effectively.

Assessing the executive function of focus involves determining how well children are able to begin tasks on their own and remain attentive throughout completion of the task. The LearningWorks for Kids Thinking Skills Assessment is based on the Executive Skills Questionnaire (ESQ), which measures focus primarily by assessing concerns regarding boredom, daydreaming, the capacity to transition from one task to another, and how effectively children are able to complete tasks such as chores, homework, or projects without interruption.

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