Pupils spend 25% of their time daydreaming about football, eating and Harry Potter, study suggests


Why children struggle to listen at school: Pupils spend 25% of their time daydreaming about football, eating and Harry Potter, study suggests

  • A survey of 100 children aged six to 11 tested how much they daydream each day
  • The children were read to and asked every two minutes if they were listening 
  • The subjects admitted to their mind wandering a quarter of the time
  • For one boy, daydreaming occurred as much as 83 per cent of each day

If your children are easily distracted, they are not alone.

Schoolchildren spend about a quarter of the time daydreaming when they should be listening, researchers have found.

A study of almost 100 children aged six to 11 tested how much their mind wandered while being told a story.

A study of almost 100 children aged six to 11 tested how much their mind wandered while being told a story

Asked every two minutes if they were thinking about something else, the children admitted daydreaming 25 per cent of the time. For one boy, the figure was 83 per cent.

Jessica Cherry, who led the study from Queen’s University in Belfast, said: ‘Popular subjects the children reported thinking about instead of the story included going out to play football and snacks like sweets which they could see in the kitchen and wanted to eat. Children also thought about the rain outside, Star Wars, Harry Potter, watching television and TikTok.’

The study, done online over video, played children a story. At six separate points, they were asked: ‘What were you thinking about just now? The story or something else?’ They were then asked what they had been thinking about instead.

Rates of daydreaming were found to be broadly similar in girls and boys, and in different age groups.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Parents might want to encourage their children to focus, as numerous studies have found older children and adults who daydream tend to do worse at tasks, and may struggle more academically.

Each time someone’s thoughts drift, they miss out on knowledge someone is trying to give them.

The study found daydreaming had more of an effect on how much children remembered of the story than how much they liked the subject matter.

Dr Agnieszka Graham, senior author of the study and a lecturer in applied developmental psychology at Queen’s University in Belfast, said: ‘In school, often children can get in trouble for mind wandering, it is sometimes viewed as a sign of disrespect or misbehaviour if they are not paying attention.

‘However, our research has found that children, like adults, are unable to fully concentrate all the time – it’s likely that their minds will wander for a substantial proportion of a typical school day.’

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