We live in an age of divided attention. It wouldn’t be much exaggeration to call multitasking an addiction pandemic, and not just one that affects adults: three-fifths of kids under twelve are already using smartphones.
Don’t despair for your own household, however. There are still ways to teach children (and yourself) the skill of concentrating on one thing at a time.
The first step is to believe that concentration and single-mindedness are worth the effort. Internalize these truths:
Accepting the challenge of problem-solving is more rewarding than living for intermittent rushes of instant gratification.
Everyone is responsible for maximizing the use of their own unique skills—and for not letting other “opportunities” steal time and energy from that mission.
A “necessary” evil is still an evil, and multitasking is never as necessary as it seems.
Simplify, Declutter, and Organize
A pile (or screen) of unused items is always a distraction: get rid of the excess or schedule it for set times.
Purge your calendars of unnecessary, uninteresting activities.
Turn off computer and smartphone notifications, and make a habit of keeping apps closed when not in immediate use.
Allow everyone (yourself, too!) time to play and daydream without feeling obligated to be “productive.”
Practice as a Family
Every family needs time together—and shared TV-viewing hours don’t count! Try some of the following activities to strengthen family relationships and improve everyone’s concentration skills:
Play games that engage the brain, such as Twenty Questions, Concentration (!), memory games, trivia games, or chess.
Do a mindfulness meditation together.
Spend time outdoors just appreciating your surroundings.
Share fond memories and dreams for the future.
Also, challenge everyone to hold everyone else accountable for concentrating on one thing at a time. Kids love having permission to correct their parents!
Give Children Your Undivided Attention
Finally, remember that your children will only believe in the value of concentration if you demonstrate it yourself. And they’ll be especially skeptical if you can’t listen to them, or take them anywhere, without keeping half your attention on your smartphone. A most important aspect of concentration is granting others the respect of being fully with them.
Note to Teachers
Interestingly, parents with limited education are twice as likely as college graduates to buy children their own smartphones—so if a primary-school student shows up with a phone, that may indicate a home with little time or experience to prioritize learning. Rather than simply demanding that phones be turned off or left at your desk during class hours, consider this a challenge to show everyone how much fun real learning can be. Encourage regular student participation. Emphasize active learning and group projects. And definitely: maintain a learning-friendly classroom environment; be an example of focused attention; and include concentration-building and mindfulness activities in everyday class routine!
CONCENTRATING ON WHAT COUNTS
At Shady Oak Primary, we know there’s more to success than reading, math, and science. Our 6 Pillars purposeful-education program also focuses on the skills kids need to become all-around-effective human beings: collaboration, committed problem-solving, communication, connection, creativity, and critical thinking. Contact us to learn more or ask about enrolling your own child.