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Character Building - Attention Span

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IT would be difficult to exaggerate the value of ability to pay attention-to fix and hold the mind on a subject of thought, whether the matter of it reaches the brain through eye or ear. This is not natural to the young but must be cultivated, and should be sedulously taught because it is the most effective tool that can be placed in the student's hand. To the boy or girl of active intelligence the training of this ability into a habit is especially important, for their quick interest in all that is going on around them distracts them from the task in hand more than is the case with less imaginative minds. Without it a subject is only partly understood-merely its surface is scanned in a broad and indefinite way; the deeper significance and relations, essential to real knowledge, are not grasped. Thus the impression left upon the mind is vague, and precise observation and learning becomes more and more difficult. It has been found by animal trainers that beasts are teachable in proportion as they show this quality of mind; monkeys and birds can be taught but little, mainly, apparently, because they cannot be made attentive to the lessons. Samuel Smiles, in urging the importance of concentrating the mind at will, declares that the "difference of the intellect in men depends more upon the early cultivation of this habit than upon any great disparity between the powers of one individual and another." The art of memorizing rests largely upon the faculty of shutting out other facts and impressions while the picture of the things or words to be remembered is printed on the mind. This is only one instance of how attention is the very corner-stone of study, and should be the first and constant care of those who seek to develop a young intellect. One may begin almost as soon as the child learns anything, by teaching it to look closely at an object or collection of them, and then describe what it has seen; by repeatedly reading a short story, then requiring it to report what it has heard; by insisting that it take and deliver messages correctly; and otherwise proceeding from simple to more complex tests of attention until a faculty and habit have been formed.

Consult Volume I of the Library for the first lessons in attention under story guise, particularly "Discreet Hans," "The Sweet Soup," and "The Nail." Nothing could be better to rivet a little one's attention on the alphabet than Lear's "A Was an Ant" in the same volume. In Volume II the story "Why the Fish Laughed" suggests the importance of listening attentively to wise words, while the tale of "The Purple Jar," in Volume III, teaches the value of accurate attention to externals. Close watch on the wonders of nature is presented in Volume V, and we lay emphasis on the "Walks with a Naturalist" and "Nature-Study at the Seaside." Then read "Old Rotterdam" and "On the Road in Russia" in Volume VI, for the attention given to details of travel. Also we refer the student to the biography of Newton and to " Success in Business" in Volume IX. Good counsel on the subject will be found in "Lord Chesterfield's Maxims" and "How to Use Books," Volume X.

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