Paying Attention

I’ve had a topic on my mind a great deal lately, one that originated with a negative comment about a friend overheard at church, then developed further through recent reading from Pema Chodron, and then flowed over into thoughts about parenting. I wanted to tell the full story — fascinating as my ruminations are! :-p — but since I can’t seem to find the time, I’m starting at the end. No doubt more will bubble up later.

My kids have an annoying habit of moving on to the next pleasure, entertainment, or sensation before they’ve even finished with the current one. This manifests itself most frustratingly after mom and dad have knocked themselves out to provide a Super Fun Awesome day that is quickly forgotten when they ask for one more treat and the answer is no. Then, there has been no Super Fun Awesome day, only the incredible disappointment of being denied yet another wonderful thing.

I have always interpreted this as a lack of gratitude – interpreted may be too nice a word – I have often gotten really mad and said, sometimes aloud, that the kids are failing to be grateful, and ought to be glad for what they have, and would be if they weren’t so spoiled.

But my new insight is that they are probably moving on to the next thing because they aren’t even paying attention to the thing right in front of them. How can they be happy with what they’ve received if they aren’t really receiving it?

I’m starting to see that I build this into the day: during breakfast we talk about what we’ll do next, during a lesson I prod the daydreamer by building anticipation for some excitement later, during lunch we may talk about what we’ll have for dinner. To some extent this is the nature of Mom Mind: macaroni for lunch means no pasta for dinner, which means deciding on dinner, which means considering the day’s activities in order to assess how much time is available for food prep and when it can be completed. But I’m trying to stop speaking this aloud to the kids, so that they aren’t swept along in the thought train.

Instead, I’m encouraging paying attention when I notice myself encouraging the conversation in a “What’s next?” direction. So far, that takes the form of asking questions – ‘What flavors do you taste in the beans?” “Is your drink cold?” “Did you know that Victoria helped make the dinner?” “How does this sausage compare to yesterday’s?”
Recently Violet chimed in with a discussion about the qualities of the potato chips we were eating and what we think makes a good chip. (Meals are a really good time to pay attention, because there’s lots of good material for all ages, and because that’s when I often try to spur discussion with anticipation and planning.)

I know from personal experience that the fast-moving brain needs to shift from automatic to manual in order to do this. Kids who get answers to math problems without knowing how, kids who speed read, kids who bombard you with a torrent of ever-evolving ideas and plans — anyone you know? — are not always kids who are practiced in paying attention to one thing at a time. I heard Walter Isaacson talking about Einstein (another homeschooler) on NPR, saying that while the slowness of his mind was not an academic advantage, it was the foundation of his thought, because his mind would stay with things most people take for granted and really turn them over. (Look for a future post on the mechanical, attentive mind of Victoria.)

I’m still developing my Mindfulness for Children ideas, but I’m pleased with our beginnings so far. I think adding more sensory/tactile experiences to the day and really dwelling on this will be a good start, even before working on things like attentiveness in listening or reading. I’m mostly happy to think that working on this will help to learn better and to live more contently.

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5 Comments

Filed under Gifted Heart and Soul, In the News, Learning Styles, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

5 responses to “Paying Attention

  1. Excellent, profound post.

  2. Great food for thought, here! I think you are right on the money about needing to focus on the present more, in order to better appreciate it. You’ve given me something to ponder!Thanks!

  3. it took me awhile to get to this post. I could tell that I would want to think about it for awhile.

    Z does the same thing of asking “what’s next” after a fun event and I also would get annoyed and feel she wasn’t being grateful for what we just did.

    But she also has the ability to really take her time and get deeply into whatever it is she is doing. In fact, that is her normal and natural way. I am the one that wants to hurry on to the next thing. I have a hard time when she wants to look at ants on the sidewalk for thirty minutes.

    I am trying to slow myself down so she can do things her way… but it is hard for me.

  4. Pingback: A Little Reader « Red Sea School

  5. I think this is a characteristic of our society in general. Think about when people first get in a relationship — they worry about where it’s “going”. When they get a job they are wondering what it might lead to. When they are working they are planning retirement.

    You are right to try to work against this powerful impulse though. We all need to live more in the moment.

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