When I taught 4th grade, common refrains in the classroom were, “Pay attention!” and, “Focus on what you’re doing!” And then it hit me – of course the kids’ attention was scattered everywhere. With 20 other kids fidgeting and making noise, shenanigans in the hallway, windows promising a beautiful day after school, and (let’s face it) an often less than thrilling assignment, I wouldn’t be able to focus either! My students didn’t need to be reminded to focus, they needed to be taught how to tune out the world and tune into the task at hand. When outside stimuli are muted, kids can calm their mind and let go of the internal noise, too. So, we began to become Spiderman (or Spidergirl, Spiderlady, whatever title they chose).
Spiderman has several superpowers, and one of them is his “spidey-senses”. To become like Spiderman, we had to magnify our sensory perceptions. We started with our sense of hearing. The children sat tall and imagined that they were going to use their ears to listen, just as a magnifying glass is used to see. Their ears were to become extremely sensitive, so much that should listen for butterfly wings or their neighbor blinking. For about 30 seconds, they were to choose one sound they could hear – the air conditioner humming, cars driving by, a teacher next door – it could be any sound but they had to choose only one. Using a stop watch, I gave the kids 30 seconds to really collect their chosen sound. At the end of the time, I gently asked them to make a memory of their sound. Then, I asked for a couple volunteers to share their sound. After each shared, the entire class took about 10 seconds to listen for that sound. This activity can be repeated regularly and in different locations. Encourage the kids to try the sound collection at home with their families.
Another way to grow super hearing like Spiderman is to use tingsha bells. Tingsha bells are like tiny cymbals joined by a leather strap that, when struck, produce a lovely lingering tone. This time, I had children sit up tall on their chairs (or on the floor), eyes closed, palms up on their laps. I told them their palms acted as extra ears, sensitive to sound waves (a science lesson, too!). I rang the tingsha once and as long as they heard the sound, their palms remained up. When they no longer heard the tone, they turned their palms down. Try this a couple of times. Then, you can use it to quiet the kids throughout the school day. When they hear the chime, they turn on their spider-sense ears and listen for the end of the chime.
The next activity grows several Spiderman powers at once. Each child needs a flower (a real one, not plastic or silk). Kids hold the flower gently. Explain that when you ring a bell (or tingsha), they should use their sense of touch to explore the flower – gently touch the petals, stem, and leaves. Remind them to use their super spider senses to really feel the flower, and only the flower. Is it soft? Furry? Smooth or sticky? Heavy? The next time you ring the bell, kids are to smell the flower. Breathe deeply and notice any fragrance. Is the smell the same near the petals as the stem? The third chime will turn on the students super spider eyes. They should really look at their flower, starting at the center and notice the colors, the shades, patterns, and textures. Don’t forget the stem and leaves! All of their visual attention should be on their flower – super focus! A fourth chime ends the activity. Kids could then use their observations to write about a flower from a a spider’s point of view (a language arts and science lesson rolled into one fun activity!).
Finally, Spiderman needs a super sense of taste. For this, you pass out any piece of food (cereal, raisin, chocolate chip, etc.). I liked using grapes. They start by using all the other spider senses they’ve developed to observe the grape – look at it, smell it, and feel it. Then, kids place the grape in their mouth. Does it have a taste right away? How does it feel on their tongues? What temperature is it? Then, they can slowly begin to chew the grape, noticing the juices. How does the texture change? Is there a sound when you bite? Try to chew as slowly as you can. Does the taste change? Children eventually swallow the grape. Can they still taste it? Can they feel it moving down their throat?
With enough practice and modeling, focus will become easier for your children. Just have them turn on their Spiderman powers to focus on the task at hand.