Many parents forget that the public school day was patterned after the factory day, with the idea of keeping children of working 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. Also, our system was set up to move children forward uniformly by age, so they can graduate at 18 together. 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 help our children develop and learn to love learning.
Homeschooling Tip: Less is More
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 their attention span 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 it is a struggle for them. Many parents often conclude that their child can do the work, but insist on being defiant or that their child must have an attention deficit. When the child is normal and the expectations may be the problem. Attention span is a developmental issue, not necessarily an issue of IQ.
The things that can grow the attention span can include: Habit training, sensory rich, vigorous vestibular play, and non-structured imaginative/ dramatic play.
Habit training helps develop the brain, giving the brain a pattern. When an activity is repeated this strengthens a pathway in the brain.
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.
Then there is 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 attention span and many other executive functions.
When children struggle with attention span and other executive functions, learning and working independently can be a struggle. 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 the problem. 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. May have even shorter attention spans. Also, help them develop the skills to communicate their situation appropriately.
What else can be done while including these activities that promote the development of attention span?
Consider having shorter lessons, stopping while the children are still interested, and while the children still want more. Early, modern educators, such as, Charlotte Mason, encouraged shorter lessons. When it comes to learning in the early elementary years, less is more.
Enjoy the journey.
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This week's newsletter will be available via email through Monday, 9 April 2018, when the next Newsletter is scheduled to be released.