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Homeschooling in the Age of Distraction
published on 10/9/2017 by Keith A. Howe
The ability to focus is one of the key drivers of future success. Career success, financial success, and health are determined more by our ability to focus than by our IQ or socioeconomic status. This was true before the internet, and it is even more true now. The best minds in our society are fighting over our attention, and it is not a fair fight. With a new school year upon us, here are some practical tips that you can use to help your children hone their ability to pay attention. This is a skill that can and must be developed in the brains of our growing children.


Focus on Play and Work

Make focus a habit. Give your full attention to whatever it is you are doing. When it is time to play, put all of your energy into play. When you are talking with another person, give him or her your full attention. Whatever work you are doing, put all of your attention into it. Model this for your children, and expect the same from them. It will improve your experience with play and work, and it will teach your children to do the same.

Take Breaks

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a break. Our brains developed in an environment that required us to be aware of everything going on around us, and focusing on just one thing for a long period of time is challenging. Taking breaks can help keep us from getting bored and enable us to refocus on our task later.

Another great reason to take a break is to let your mind wander. Our brains don't go dormant when they wander. Rather, they make connections and solve new problems in the background. If you have ever been struck by a solution to a problem as you are driving down the road or taking a shower, you know what I am referring to. Our brains have two different modes, focused and diffuse. When we are focused, we actually block access to this diffuse mode, and the diffuse mode is often what we need to solve difficult new problems.

Be Intentional

Many people find that it is helpful to be intentional about breaks. One method is to use a timer and work hard for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break. Working in small increments like this will help get rid of distractions since there is always a break right around the corner. If your children are able to focus for longer periods, the time can be increased, but it should always be less than 90 minutes. One company that makes time-tracking software has found that the most productive individuals work for 52 minutes with 17 minute breaks. Whatever time frame you end up with, being intentional about the breaks can help because work times are treated as sprints that come before a resting period.

Here are some ideas for how to spend a break:
  • Take a walk
  • Daydream
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Read a non-fiction book
  • Listen to music
  • Take a nap
  • Exercise
  • Play around online

Conclusion

Skill and intelligence are meaningless if you can't focus and pay attention. The more you are able to focus on a task, the more you will be able to achieve. Our children's brains will be developing well into their 20s, and learning focus and attention now will be much easier for them now than it will be in the future. This focus is learned through practice and encouraged through frequent and planned breaks.
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