A rarely discussed contributor to ADD-like behavior can be day care, where many children, starting at age two, follow a rigid schedule initiated by teachers. Frequent changes from one activity to another mean a child can’t focus for long periods or get involved in something interesting without constant interruptions. The schedule basically trains him not to pay careful attention.
Here’s a typical day for a young child in a day care program. He may wake as early as 5:30 a.m. so his family can leave home by 6:00 to get to day care by 6:30. He’s rushed as he gets dressed, and there’s no time to play before driving off. Once he arrives at the center, his schedule is packed (only naptime lasts longer than an hour).
6:30 Arrives and says goodbye to his parents, whom he won’t see again for ten to twelve hours
7:00–8:00 Table games, puzzles, quiet activities
8:30–9:15 Art activity
9:45–10:30 Outdoor play (with a lot of time spent sharing equipment: “You have five minutes to ride the bike, and then it’s Ben’s turn.”)
10:30–11:15 Circle time (teacher directed lessons)
11:15–11:30 Song and movement activity
2:30–3:15 Outdoor play
3:15–4:00 Free play (coloring, play dough, cutting, and block building)
4:00–4:30 Learning centers (reading, weather, holidays, and science)
5:00–6:00 Table activities, puzzles, cleanup, and preparation to leave.
At 6:00 p.m., the child is picked up and taken home or on an errand. His family arrives home between 6:30 and 7:00, and he plays or watches TV until dinner from 7:00 to 7:30. Then he plays for a short while before bath, story, and bed at 8:30, or later if he had a long nap at school.
Children do this day after day, often for three, four, or five years. While the day care schedule may seem to keep them busy and enriched, it actually operates counter to their needs. According to developmentalist Erik Erikson, preschoolers have important tasks at this developmental stage: they need a lot of time to initiate ideas; plan, discover, carry out, and persevere in activities; and set goals. This is how children learn to focus, concentrate, and follow through.
Yet children in many day care programs are not focusing and following through enough. All day, they’re required to stop, share, or give up whatever they’re using before they’re done. They often don’t have time to finish what they start before teachers interrupt to get them ready for the next activity. The constant starting and stopping and the lack of flexibility keep children from learning to concentrate for extended periods, a necessary function of the developing brain.
The frustration of not being able to finish what they start or having to share before they’ve finished using something can make children uncooperative and fidgety. By the time a child gets to kindergarten or first grade, his teachers may be pointing out his ADD-like behavior.