I’d like to share an observation, but before I do, please know that I share this observation not from a place of judgment but from one of shared struggle. A couple of weeks ago, I took one of my children to the doctor. It was not our first trip this school year and certainly will not be our last. As we were in the waiting room, I looked around and noticed that every parent, myself included, was staring at their phone. Now, I know the time for high quality parent-child bonding is not often in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, particularly during an evening sick clinic. What struck me about this observation was that we often want our children to be present, to hear us, and to tolerate non-preferred activities.
So, how do we model this for them in our everyday actions? How do we set loving boundaries around the ways in which we distract ourselves, and in the ways we allow our children to distract themselves from discomfort? In our ability to wait patiently, to tolerate stillness, to be present in times of frustration and boredom, we send messages about what we value, but we also help our children to build stamina. Stamina in how they tolerate frustration, sit with discomfort, and in their ability to focus without relying on fast-paced distraction.
Technology is a wonderful tool and one that can be used to enhance our instruction at school. At Powhatan, I have always been impressed with the thoughtful and balanced use of technology across grade levels. Our innovation and technology department does a masterful job of leading an effort to support innovation in the classroom, using technology as one way to do that, while also supporting the use of devices in limited and intentional ways. For example, a lower school teacher set a goal last school year to collaborate with our technology department in order to support student map skills by utilizing our campus to conduct a geocaching scavenger hunt. Our library is currently working toward building an interactive story walk on the Crocker Conservancy. Often, lower school grade levels partner with upper school grade levels to use virtual reality to enhance understanding of content (e.g., the solar system). We use devices strategically as a literacy station in several classrooms during our language arts block to enhance instruction.
Intentional use of technology is key and can lead to creativity, innovation, and new ways of expression. When technology becomes a distractor, rather than a tool, it can limit our childrens’ ability to shine their “attention flashlights” (see article below for reference). Coming out of the pandemic, our children are doing well. Let’s continue to support their ability to tolerate non-preferred tasks and focus on one task at a time. We want them to cultivate healthy relationships with technology and that starts with us. What we model, and the intentionality in which we enter into setting healthy parameters for its use.
In doing so, our children have the space to think more creatively and imaginatively, to better sit with the uncertainty that comes from a complex problem, and to think more critically. There are many reasons children may struggle with attention and some of those reasons we have no control over; however, intentional use of technology in and outside of school will only help to improve attention spans and learning capacity.
During this time of the year, everyone is rushed. There is much to be done. The professional and personal to-do lists are plentiful. It can become easy to go through the motions, to try to zone out or numb whenever there is a free moment. A challenge for this season: focus on one task at a time for as much of the time as you realistically can, even if the task is simply waiting.
Dr. Cait Gosnell
Lower School Director
A Few Resources:
How to Help Kids Focus | Parenting Tips &… | PBS KIDS for Parents
How (and When) to Limit Kids’ Tech Use – Smarter Living Guides – The New York Times
Finding Focus and Owning Your Attention – Brené Brown