First thing this morning Mischief came up to me excitedly. “Mom, I found a puzzle that I want to do!” The puzzle in question was 500-pieces of a fairy sitting by a stream, significantly larger than what she’s used to. I tried to direct her towards something else – drawing, a different puzzle that’s more her size (100 pieces or so), reading, anything else. She insisted – it was going to be that puzzle or nothing. “Mom, I just want to spend quality time making this puzzle with you. Please give me this quality time.” I don’t know where she heard that expression, but when your kids specifically asks for quality time you don’t say no.
She decided that I would look for all the orange pieces and she would put them together. I started pulling pieces out and she tried to make matches. It wasn’t easy for her, not many pieces fit together, but it was wonderful to watch. She concentrated and focused on the task at hand – make a background. For anyone who thinks that small kids don’t have an attention span, watch one who is doing something that they care deeply about, it will change your mind. She put puzzle pieces together for an hour. How many she found that matched (maybe 20) wasn’t the point for her, it was all about learning the process.
I sell the kids short too often, assuming that I need to come up with another activity over and over to keep their attention. Maybe the reality is I come up with things for them to do that they don’t love or that they get the point of very quickly. To paraphrase my husband, kids don’t have short attention spans. They pay attention to something for as long as their brains can handle being focused only on it before needing a break. The activity seems to be kept it in the back of their mind until the new they learned has settled and they’re ready for more. Mischief’s brain could handle something she wanted to do for an hour before she needed time for that lesson to settle while she did something else.
That something else also was time consuming. She wrote all the names of the Disney princesses on separate sheets of paper and stapled them together to make a book. I helped her spell and she diligently printed the letters. After she finished the first book, I was informed that we were going to make five because she’s five years old. It felt tedious to me, but for her it was practice at both focusing on writing for a long period of time, and a way to incorporate something she loves into her day. This was another hour spent on one thing. I thought about asking if she wanted to break for snack at one point, it was when she normally eats after all. However, I realized that I would be annoyed if I were doing something I cared about that deeply and someone kept interrupting me. I decided to let her work. She meticulously wrote and stapled until she had her books made. There was so much pride in her eyes as she read them to me one by one.
This has been the benefit for me of homeschooling. I’m learning more about my children’s abilities than I feel like they are from me. I learned today to let them set their own pace and trust in their own abilities. I could dictate everything we do all day, but as long as she picks something within the bounds of play-learning (i.e. not a day of TV), why stop her? I need to trust that she will pay attention to the things that she gets some form of learning out of even if I can’t always see what that is. I need to trust in her attention to details. I need to be willing to be taught about concentration by my child.