Want Children To Pay Attention? Make Their Brains Curious!
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced parents, educators and school systems to think about educating their children in new ways. Some parents are taking the educational reigns more than they expected, and for many, more than they’d like. Whatever the circumstance, this unprecedented time reiterates a truth that child development experts have touted for years: parents are a child’s first and most important teachers and the home can be an educational hub.
When parents find themselves engaging more directly than anticipated in their child’s education whether it’s supervising online learning or attempting a full-fledged homeschool curriculum, how can we help our children maximize their educational experience…from home?
Inspire A Love of Learning
We often reduce educational experiences to test scores, fact memorization and other checked boxes. This form of education, however, doesn’t induce a love for learning or a sense of wonder. It’s product driven, instead of process driven and children, whose brains are hardwired to develop through play are more likely to joyfully engage learning when we capture their imaginations.
Inspire a love for learning by helping them engage the world around them. When possible:
- Pull them away from their screens and tablets and point them to the outdoors.
- Fill clay pots with dirt and grow something together.
- Make the project a science lesson.
- Pick up trash together at a nearby public space and on your drive home.
- Discuss how pollution and waste impact the environment.
- Make your way to the nearest body of water and see how many different forms of life you can spot.
While these experiences may not place your child at the top of his class, they will activate and awaken wonder for the world around him. In so doing, he learns that the information is not something to take hold of and dominate but something, instead, to engage and uncover.
Make Learning Fun
It’s nearly impossible for a child to pay attention when the “lower part” of the brain (the part responsible for the fight, flight or freeze activation) is so activated that the higher part of the brain (the pre-fontal cortex responsible for executive functioning and reason) becomes hijacked.
The lower part of the brain activates in times of stress or perceived threat.
Example: A child will be unable to listen to the mechanics or floor hockey if he is terrified by the thought of getting picked last for the team. If a child awakes each day dreading the drudgery of a school day, an unkind teacher or bullying classmates, paying attention becomes more difficult as the emotional experience snowballs.
With parents and caregivers more actively deploying lesson plans and staying on the front lines of a child’s learning experience, you have the opportunity to set the emotional tone. Help your child set up a work station or school station that inspires her.
Keep the home environment as spacious and clutter-free as possible. If too much sensory input like loud noise is a source of stress for your child, respect that limitation and invest in noise cancelling headphones or move her area to a quiet space.
Lastly, check your own attitude about the current educational climate. It’s tough for sure, but our children take their lead from the adults in their life.
Ask questions that show you care and believe learning is interesting. Say:
“I wonder what you’ll get to learn today?”
“When I was in school, I remember how much I loved learning about stars and planets, let’s make sure to stargaze some this weekend.”
Stay as positive as possible and reiterate to your children that you love seeing more of them so they don’t feel like a burden.
Don’t Be Afraid of Boredom
It’s been said before that all geniuses spent time being bored. It was in this white space that people like Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin and Michelangelo cultivated free thinking, artistry, imagination and mechanical prowess.
While parents today dread the words,
and subsequently scramble to find a toy, a game or a screen to fill time, what if your answer was open-ended and ambiguous:
“I bet you can find something to do! I can’t wait to see what you figure out!”
It might not work right away and your child’s irritation might increase before she settles into a project or task, but discipline yourself to wait it out with optimism.
A child’s growing brain is hardwired to play, discover and imagine. It’s these mechanisms that in, turn, make a child like a “sponge” ready to absorb information and ask questions with wide-eyed curiosity and intrigue. They can’t learn to absorb and grow, if their default way of being is to consume information and seek entertainment rather than explore.
When we cultivate a curious posture in our children, “paying attention” becomes less of a task to master but rather, a natural consequence of growing and learning in this wild, wonderful world.