Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Attention

Today we painted using fall leaves, went the park and the library, read books, and built things using a given number of legos. Except for a few books read at bedtime, all of this great stuff happened before about one in the afternoon. After which I was exhausted and by three or four I was counting the minutes until bedtime. While trying to make dinner, Luke's questions and comments on everything I was doing were non-stop. I finally said, "Stop! Just relax and be quiet for a minute! My brain is going to explode!" About 10 minutes later, with genuine concern, the poor kid asked if my brain really might explode and if it was better now. Oh man!

One other interesting thing today, I read an article, "Attention Span: Our National Education Crisis" by Oliver DeMille. (http://www.tjed.org/2011/09/attention-span-national-education-crisis/) It's a good read. It talks about the attention span of the general public during the time of Abraham Lincoln and the attention span that dominates our present society. Entertainment, computers, television, and prevailing attitudes about work and fun are all implicated. Attention and focus are definitely traits I want to be a key part in the education of my children. In my disorganized notebook of things I want to remember about education, I found scribbled notes about Socrates, Plato, and Charlotte Mason that relate to ideas in the article I read today.

Socrates said, "wisdom begins in wonder." Plato was student to Socrates and had a school in Athens. The word school comes from Ancient Greek and meant leisure. Plato's school had a garden and the purpose of the garden was to provide a tranquil place for deep thought, pondering, wondering. Real thinking is hard work and it requires time, leisure time. Dictionary.com defines leisure as "time free from the demands of work or duty." Ancient Greeks valued leisure time as purposeful time for valuable activities, such as thinking. Charlotte Mason wrote about the importance of teaching children to really see things, to observe and focus. She said this comes naturally to young children who see a new bug or something else in nature for the first time and are completely engrossed. As adults we are often too quick to rush children along because after all, the new discovery is something commonplace in our minds. We should take advantage of and nurture this intent focus and curiosity. Back to Socrates' quote, this wonder is how true learning happens. Cultivate that attention span; point out details or relationships; let children develop a habit of observation and deep thought. I hope that my children will not be afraid of hard work (mental or physical) because they experience a joy that comes with it. I hope that keen skills of observation grow out of time spent watching a butterfly or walking through a field that will one day benefit all of their studies. And I hope for more book time, less screen time, and attention spans of Lincoln's day. And none of this sounds easy to me! I read it all and love it but it is not the habits my mind has been trained in and I have a big aversion to hard work!

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