How to Help Kids Be Focused and Productive with their Homework
Are your kids finding it hard to concentrate? Not just on homework, but on virtually anything? Welcome to planet distraction, where every age group is affected by 24/7 connectedness… where a device is always pinging, dinging or blaring content. Are there any solutions to help us focus in such an environment? –Actually, there are!
Should Kids Be Using Smartphones?
If So, From What Age?
Ask a group of parents what the appropriate age is for a child to begin using a cell phone and you will get a variety of impassioned responses. For some, it’s not until high school, whereas others see merit in having their child develop a relationship with technology earlier on. In any case, it’s not our job to tell you what devices to give your kids, but as soon as that Pandora’s box is opened, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle… to mix metaphors.
When kids – hopefully at least teens at the youngest – begin engaging with social media, a phone or iPad or laptop can become an addictive problem. Have you ever tried taking away a 14-year-old’s phone for even a brief period such as dinner? For many parents, it’s a battle royale. Digital distractions are – for a great number of kids, especially teenagers – clearly affecting the quality and productivity of their lives – and that definitely includes the quality of their homework.
How to Use Tech Tools
Blocking Apps to Teach Focus: For starters, eliminating digital distractions is key to help kids focus and build good study habits. Easier said than done as for one, the device may be needed for homework, and two, many young people say they’d rather go without food than without their phone and a Wi-Fi connection. We joke, but there is a solution to having a device, but not being distracted by it. Parents can quite easily learn how to block certain websites with a tech tool known as a blocking app. Now quite popular with office and home workers as well as college students, a blocking app syncs across all your devices and enables you to choose which sites to block at which specific times.
For example, a 14-year-old coming home from school at say 4:00 p.m. could have their phone and laptop set up so that social media sites are only available from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. All of these blocking choices would be up to you – and hopefully made in consultation with your child. A child who is persuaded of the logic of blocking digital distractions during designated times for schoolwork is getting a great life lesson on self-control. Obviously, a blocking app also serves as a sentinel against adult sites or sites with violent content and other unwanted material. And… perhaps mom and dad might also want to use a blocking app to reduce notifications and set an example of not being addicted to smartphones during homework, dinner, and other family times.
Understanding How Brains Works Can Lead to Better Cooperation with Limits
For kids old enough to understand, you might try explaining the science. Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Professor Earl Miller told The Guardian, “Your brain can only produce one or two thoughts [at a time]. We’re very, very single-minded.” In other words, our conscious minds are only capable of holding very limited amounts of information. Our cognitive capacity is tiny. We think we can do two or more things at a time but this is false.
Instead, as neuroscientist Miller explains, “They’re switching back and forth. They don’t notice the switching because their brain sort of papers it over to give a seamless experience of consciousness, but what they’re actually doing is switching and reconfiguring their brain moment-to-moment, task-to-task – [and] that comes with a cost.” That cost is the ability to focus on a single task and as a result, a huge fall in productivity.
In addition to a blocking app, which works as a digital distraction filter, any expert will tell you that children need a routine; they actually appreciate you setting one for them, even though they often vehemently claim they do not. Setting up a specific time that is “homework time” and is always “homework time” creates a routine that stops any debates over when homework should be done. Homework is done during homework time. Period.
Tidy Workspace Equals a Clear Mind
While not feasible for all families because not everyone lives in a large house, having a designated workspace for your child is, of course, ideal. Even if your house is too small for a separate room, clearing off the kitchen table and making it as tidy as possible along with setting up homework equipment is a good idea, as designated homework spaces contribute to a feeling of order and routine. Tidiness is also essential. A clean working area helps create a clean working mind.
Taking Breaks is Essential: Don’t forget breaks. The adage of ‘all work and no play’ being bad for students isn’t just a frivolous rhyme. The breaks don’t have to be lengthy and depending on the age of the child, perhaps even involve some sort of exercise. Brainpower is boosted by exercise so even a quick 5-minute “dance break” could be helpful.
Remind yourself that when kids are in school, they take their cues from classmates and perhaps sometimes teachers, but when doing homework at home you are the primary role model. You can demonstrate to them that you also do homework in your daily life. Explaining things such as a grocery list or some discussion at dinner on how you plan to organize a workday can instill the idea that everyone does ‘homework’ in their own way.
And finally, remember to tell your children that you’re proud of them whenever honestly possible. They need to know that their effort is appreciated and the simple phrase “I’m proud of you!” is a proven effective motivator.