Thursday, August 19, 2010

Speaking of Paying Attention

I am gearing up for another year of home schooling.

For those of you who don’t know, I have three daughters. Oldest and Middle are in 3rd grade and kindergarten, respectively. The Tiny is only 2.5 months old and this fall will probably be learning about rolling over, without any assistance from me. But all the school planning for the big girls is exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time. I’m not sure how I’ll juggle teaching with the presence of the Tiny. (The Tiny does not take regular naps yet and the Tiny has difficulty falling asleep at times.) This summer, with three kiddos in the house all clamoring for my attention at the same time some days, it was tempting to send Oldest and Middle off to entertain themselves. Since the Tiny was born, they’ve been entertaining themselves with lots of video games. Define lots? Often two hours a day. Once, when I was so desperate and sleep-deprived and couldn’t move off my bed, they played for three and a half hours.

Because Spouse was recently diagnosed with ADHD, it’s got me thinking a lot about brain health and the girls’ ability to pay attention to the non-media parts of the world they live in. In July, Iowa State University came out with this study, suggesting that attention problems in the classroom are related to the amount of “screen time” (video games/movies/tv) children have and that in fact, video game playing is a likely factor in the development of ADHD. I was telling Spouse the other day that I think I like our kids better when they aren’t playing video games so often. Ever since they started, Middle seems particularly agitated and has more difficulty sitting still and paying attention at dinner time and other moments during the day. She’s only 5, so this is sort of developmentally normal. Yet, it seems worse than it was before we started letting them play so much. According to this article the brain is “trained” by the sort of stimuli it becomes accustomed to. When stimulated for long periods of time by quick edits, flashy lights and fast, jarring sounds it becomes difficult to pay attention to the quiet, austere print of a book. Dear lord!—maybe this explains why Oldest has claimed disinterest in all the new library books I tossed her way this summer. I don’t believe she’s read a chapter book for three months and this kid used to devour books written at advanced reading levels.

We’ve taken a hard line in the last week, making her read at least the first ten pages of every new book she starts (after that, she’s given them back). But today I took a harder line as I prepped for the coming year’s schooling and wrote her the following letter, which I gave a special place in her home school binder:

Dear [Oldest],

Below is a list of books that I would approve as part of your reading for 3rd grade. Some of these stories you are familiar with, such as Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, but you have not read the books themselves—only seen the movies. Also, most of these books you have already or will come into contact with because they are used for the Writing with Ease books we’ve done together. You expressed interest in many of the excerpts I read aloud to you last year, so I bet you’ll enjoy the books in their entirety. If you are curious to know what a book is about, you can go onto the computer and go to This is a book web site. You can type in the particular name of the book in the “search” field and hit “enter.” Then you will see a list of books that might match the book you are searching for. Click on the correct one and you will see a picture of the cover; a paragraph or two will let you know what the book is about. Once you decide you are interested in something, we can either check it out from the library or buy it on Amazon.

I will ask you to read at least one of these books each month and write a very short book report when you are finished.

Happy reading!


So that’s my strategy and I’m sticking to it. But I’m curious—did your kids have extra screen time this summer? And do you think the correlation between screen time/attention deficit exists? or not?

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