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Most people will agree that there is a serious problem in our world today- the problem of decreasing attention spans. We can blame many factors on this problem such as: chemicals and toxins in our environment and foods, television, and the video game obsessions. The fact is we as a society have been letting it happen. I believe the way to turn anything around is to start with you and your sphere of influence- your family.
Joseph Epstein in his book, In a Cardboard Belt said the following, “My own speculation is that our speeded up culture- with its FedEx, fax, e-mail, channel surfing, cell-phoning, fast action movies, and other elements in its relentless race against boredom- has ended in a shortened national attention span. The quickened rhythms of new technology are not rhythms congenial to the slow and time-consuming and solitary act of reading. Sustained reading, sitting quietly and enjoying the aesthetic pleasure that words eloquently deployed on the page can give, contemplating careful formulations of complex thoughts- these do not seem likely to be acts strongly characteristic of an already jumpy new century.”
Did you know that you have more brain activity simply staring at a blank wall than you do when playing a video game or watching TV? Can you imagine the healthy stimulating affects of reading for your brain?
“The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sadly, I’ve notice many appalling things in my life with the increasing use of technology. The first is a lack of quality friendships. (See my post on Are Facebook Friends Stealing Your Reality?) And second is the decline in the ability for people to have conversations with differing opinions. People simple do not know how to have, share, or debate opposing ideas without fuming under the collar, or getting angry, or just remaining mute instead of calming share points of view. Part of this, I believe is that our culture is becoming more and more insistent that we “accept other’s opinions or who they are” without argument or opposition, or in other words that we must become apathetic and have to learn to accept that everyone other than us is right and that we are wrong. And finally, the average person does not have a desire to read deep and life changing classic works or literature as their focus is intent on keeping up with pop culture.
We cannot change everyone, but changing ourselves is a huge start. It is said that that by changing something about yourself as the ripple effect is so large that you can affect 25,000 people. Just you making a change is powerful enough to affect tens of thousands of people.
We have autistic children in our home, children with ADHD and other learning disabilities, but we desire to not succumb to these difficulties. In the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, he shares hopeful and inspiring stories about how reading has improved not only intelligence and confidence in average children, but disabilities in those who have them.
Here are things we are doing in our family to change these things and to fight the attention span war:
• 10 Minute DEAR sessions- Jim Trelease suggests have ten minute “Drop Everything And Read” times at least once a day. We try to have several in addition to the assigned school reading they have.
• We read aloud to our children daily for 30 minutes to an hour.
• Taking breaks is important, especially for boys who have lots of energy. We try to take breaks every hour. Sometimes the kids will do their chores, other times just mentally regroup, and other times they will go for a run. All of my kids run ages 4-15 at least a mile. The older they get, the longer they run.
• We read classic books and the scriptures. We try to keep all books unabridged if possible.
• Television does not go on at all during the day. Occasionally in the evening, we’ll watch an hour’s worth of wholesome movies as a family. Some recent ones we’ve seen and loved are: Cranford, Return to Cranford, Larkrise to Candleford, and Marco Polo.
• We’ve rid our home of all electronic games with the exception of a few educational games on the computer which are played no more than 3 times a week or less.
• We encourage board games, puzzles, crafts, and games/play that use imagination.
• We encourage daily family discussion during mealtimes and other times to talk about our day, our thoughts, and to teach healthy debating while respecting other’s opinions and feelings.
• Our children play instruments: piano, violin, and viola. These help connect the right and left brain and therefore help with concentration and attention span.
Remember, above all, you are the parent and know what is best for your child. We are reminded in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Teaching them to master their mind, learn self-mastery in all areas of your child’s life, and how to respect others in their learning experiences are invaluable life skills. You too can make drastic changes and improve attention span and intelligence in yourself, in your family, and in the world around you through your example.
Read this article: The Closing of the American Mind: the students
Listen to the audio: Teaching Boys & Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day by Andrew Pudewa