Sara Pezzica
Psychologist psychotherapist PhD in developmental psychology
President of the Italian association of attention disorders and hyperactivity Aidai Toscana


“Attention and energy levels”

Attention is that transversal function that puts us in contact with the world and lays the foundations for knowledge and learning.
In preschool children, attention is closely linked to the body, to the sounds, images, colors, personal interests of the child and favored by stable routines (Pezzica, Caracciolo Perticone, 2019).

To learn a new concept or a new mathematical rule we must necessarily focus the attention on what we are studying ( focused attention ), stop it in order to process the information we have available ( concentration ) and inhibit all distracting stimuli ( attention selective ).

According to the two-way model (Fedeli and Vio, 2015), the fundamental conditions for all this to happen are the activation of organizational processes (flexibility and planning) and the acquisition of balanced energy levels (effort and commitment, persistence in the task and emotion management ) .

In this article we focus on some strategies that can help regulate the functionality of the energy pathway, that is our ability to obtain an optimal physiological activation level to start and then maintain attention on the task. In the study, the optimal level at which it is possible to achieve the best performance is the intermediate one as it is associated with the state of mental presence and active alertness. Low levels of physiological activation (sleepiness, relaxation) are associated with a greater tendency to distractibility and mental wandering while high levels of physiological activation (emotional or physical arousal) are associated with greater disorganization.

When the energy levels are too high the child has difficulty in stopping and making contact with conceptual learning. Let’s think about how difficult it is for a teacher to regain pupils’ attention after recess when the children have loaded their batteries. Or at home, let’s try to remember how complicated it can be for some children to start homework immediately after finishing a compelling game of a video game or after a run. In all these situations the physiological system is too activated and needs intermediate activities that help it to approach optimal activation levels.

Lower physiological activation levels
We build rites of passage and approach to the task. Let’s choose one of these activities and propose it before starting to work:
1. Organize – After playing the game you have 5 minutes to organize the materials. For the activity we have provided you will need the math notebook, the book and the pencil case.
2. Decorate – Before starting the work, let’s embellish this page with a small themed design. We will study the man Herectus who first discovered fire, draw a beautiful flame.
3. Play. We identify board or card games that last a maximum of 5 minutes. We will need them to bring the child back to the table, redirect cognitive processes and to organize challenges with calibrated times during subsequent breaks.

PeraComics - The sun shines again

When the energy levels are too low , the child struggles to get active on the task just as some Diesel cars struggle to ignite in the cold. One of the suggested activities for cars is preheating . We help children to increase their activation by offering games that stimulate the attention alert system: for example, pass the bomb or full bag, empty bag. It may seem strange but laughter is also a very powerful physiological activator . We find the opportunity and the excuse to laugh together before carrying out a cognitively demanding activity, we read a joke, a funny cartoon in which school themes are present (on the side we propose one created by Pera Comics perfect for grammar). These activities have the dual purpose of building a complicity between the child and the adult and serve to lighten the atmosphere.

In all cases, to support attention, it will be essential to plan activities so that children understand what they need to do and feel able to do it.

We help children improve time estimation

“How long do you need to do this exercise? Let’s try to measure it with the stopwatch and compare your prediction with what the watch will tell us ”.

We provide time boundaries

“You have 10 minutes to carry out this activity, at the end we will play a game of cards”.

We help children recognize that the duration of the commitment has a limited time (it is not infinite)

We use the analog clock to allow the child to view time as a space, a more concrete concept and therefore more understandable for younger children. “This activity lasts 5 minutes that is this mirror of the clock, when the hand arrives here, I am sure that you will have finished”.

Let’s try to ignite the motivation

We provide clues about the accessibility of the task for the child with respect to his / her abilities (if real).
“This task is very similar to the one you did yesterday, try to remember how it was done, do you remember how satisfied you were when you completed it? you can do it serenely, you are absolutely capable even without my help “.
The ability to maintain attention on the task in children is often linked to levels of self-efficacy that is, how well I feel able to cope with the task. So let’s try to organize tasks and activities that are accessible to the child but challenging enough to be able to compete with himself (“I can do a little better than yesterday”).


  • Pezzica Sara, Caracciolo SImona, Perticone Gianluca (2019) Scimmietta Attentina Strategies and activities to enhance attention to kindergarten. Giunti Edu Firenze
  • Fedeli Daniele and Vio Claudio (2015) ADHD. Hyperactivity and inattention at school. Giunti Edu Firenze