When it comes to education of children, less is more. That sounds like a bold statement. How can that be? You might ask, "Don't they need six and a half hours a day, or more, to learn all they need to learn, to prepare them for college and life? A child can get a quality education in less time than you think!
How we came by our current system, may surprise you. Many parents and educators may forget that the public school day was patterned after the factory work day. The idea was to keep children (of working-class parents) off the streets and to prepare them to work in the factory. So, the time was set first and then the content was decided, filling the time and preparing the students to work in the factory.
Our factory-based system ran into issues. Children are not widgets. There are many variables that go into learning readiness. Our system was set up to move children forward uniformly by age, so they can graduate at eighteen, together. Yet, children do not develop at the same rate, by age. Each child develops at a different rate. When we move them all forward together by age, a few are ready for the new lessons, many need review, and many may not be ready to learn the new lessons.
Neither the time spent in school, nor the age/grade divisions respect how children learn and develop. When we fall into this trap, we can shift our attention from meaningful education to hoop jumping and an environment not conducive to optimal learning. Thankfully, most of us in homeschool have the latitude to make decisions that prepare our children to learn. We can help them develop, learn to love learning, and prepare them for a productive life. We can do this in less time than you might think. When these areas are address, it is easier for children to learn, less of a struggle, and can result in more learning.
When children struggle with attention span and other executive functions, learning and working independently can be a battle. They may seem to want to play all the time. Some children go into tantrums, because they do not have the executive function development or skills to communicate their difficulties. They may not have developed emotional self-regulation or impulse-control. In our time, screens and devices have reduced the time children have to develop their executive function through habit training, physical and imaginative play. Make sure they get the habit training, vestibular activity, and imaginative play time. Help them develop the skills to communicate their situation appropriately.
What are ways to help children maximize their learning experience?
5 Ways "Less, is More" Can Magnify Children's Learning
Less time in early academics and more time in building attention span, can mean more learning. Often we get the cart before the horse. We jump into early academics before attention span is developed. In fact, we often devalue and set aside the very activities children need that would help them be better learners.
Understanding attention span and how to help it develops, can result in learning in less time. Children engaged in self-directed activities, generally have an attention span of 10-15 minutes. When engaged with other interested children, perhaps an attention span can be up to 30 minutes. However, their attention span for engagement in activities that are an assignment from another person is usually about 5-10 minutes. This can be so, even for a child with a high IQ. Most schools ignore this. Many homeschool parents do not understand this and far exceed this and home education can become a battle for them. Many parents often conclude that their child can do the work, because the child is bright. Many parents insist their child is defiant or that their child must have an attention deficit, because their child lacks focus, wants to play, or is easily distracted. Yet, the child is often quite normal and the expectations may be the problem. Attention span is a developmental issue, not necessarily an issue of IQ. Development is not a obedience issue. Attention span develops through habit training, sensory rich, vestibular activities, imaginative play, and varied shorter lessons.
Less time in academic busy work, means more time to develop sound habits. Habit training helps develop the brain and the will, giving children a pattern to follow. As an activity is repeated it strengthens a pathway in the brain and builds muscle memory. When children are systematically habit trained, they can bring that structure to their learning. Through habit training children learn to approach things systematically. Habit training is in the trenches, working alongside the child. Habit training is a lead, guide, walk beside, and help the child find the way. It is not simply handing them a laminated pictorial list of what to do. As the child works with you, they observe how you plan and go about accomplishing that plan. They observe the order, attention to details, timing, pace, quality, and finishing. They also observe a growth mindset. For habit trained children, academic learning can be magnified and less is more.
Sensory Rich Vigorous Vestibular Play
Less early academics, means more vigorous physical play. More vigorous play in the elementary years, means more development, and can mean more learning. What about sensory rich, vigorous vestibular play? Children's brains grow through their senses. Vestibular deals with the balance areas of the brain. Sensory pathways and balance are developed as children move their body through space. These kinds of activities can happen while playing on playground equipment, climbing, crawling, balancing, sliding, brachiating, swinging, spinning, running, and more. Playground equipment was designed to mimic activities children often found in their natural environment like climbing trees, balancing on fences, crawling on the ground, spinning or swinging on rope swings, and swinging on branches, but in a safer environment.
Besides attention span, this also helps develop healthy risk taking, visual pathways for reading, and many other executive functions. Their brains and balance grow and develop through the five senses and need sensory input to develop properly. When the brain and body are balanced and developed, children are prepared to learn more, in less time.
Less time in academics, provides more time for imaginative play. THis builds self-regulation and better risk management skills. Consider unstructured imaginative and dramatic play. It is through this play that children come to make sense of their world. As they play they reproduce what they understand. This can be hero and fantasy play. This also includes, playing mommy, family, teacher, kitchen, grocery store, or other adult roles. Here they bring into play their understanding of social rules that guide their actions. This helps them develop goal setting, planning, attention to detail, quality work, follow through, finishing, attention span, self-regulation, impulde control, risk management, and many other executive functions. Developing these Executive functions prepare children for learning and prepare them for less is more.
Less time in busy work and in long lessons, makes room for more learning. Consider having shorter lessons. Stop while the children are still interested. Leave the children still wanting more. British Educator, Charlotte Mason, encouraged a variety of shorter lessons, no more than 15 to 20 minutes, often much less. It is easier to learn from and recall shorter lessons than longer ones. She did not let children dawdle over lessons. If she saw them dawdle, she changed it up and shifted their attention to something interesting. Later when they were fresh, she would return to the original lesson. She kept it short, hands-on, and focused on tasks the child could do successfully. Charlotte also avoided busy work, workbooks, and worksheets. Miss Mason wanted the children to connect with what they were learning. Miss Mason wanted children to know they could learn through their own observation and doing. She did not want the children to be passive learners focused on adults being the source of knowledge. She wanted each lesson to end in victory and learning.
When it comes to learning in the elementary years, consider the above preparations. We need to understand the needs of children, help them develop, and know that the less is more principle can magnify their learning.
Enjoy the journey.
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