Overcoming My Short Reading Attention Span

One of my favorite podcasts is Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It. In his opening, he describes it as “a series of mysteries for the curious mind with a short attention span”. That tag line always grabs me because I so strongly relate to it, but also because this wasn’t always the case. I used to be able to read long books, listen to long recordings, sit and stare at the world, and do many tasks which require sustained concentration.

In recent years, however, my mind seems prone to wander. I can stay engaged a little longer than it takes to get through one of Mike Rowe’s short mysteries, but nowhere nearly as long as I used to focus. I wonder how much screen life has affected my concentration, how much is increased responsibilities and competing mental demands, or if some of it is simply the passage of time.

One book I have picked up, loved, and yet never gone the distance to finish is Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I usually have some reason I temporarily set it aside to pick up something more concise, and less demanding, but the truth is that my attention span is shot.

While my follow-through needs some exercise, my determination is still active, so I’m reading it again. This time, one of my daughters is going to read it with me, as we treat it as a book club of sorts. She really enjoyed Crime and Punishment, which I did not, so I figured she’d not have any trouble at all making her way through this book. It really is one of Dostoyevsky’s best. At least, that’s my opinion based on repeatedly reading the first quarter of it.

I’m still deciding whether I want to do a series of posts as characters in this book are so rich and multi-faceted. I’ll let y’all know how it goes. In other news…

It’s July 28th, which means the start of the 2020-2021 school year is right around the corner. For us, that means purchasing books, gathering curriculum, meeting with tutors and all the things that come along with educating one’s children outside the traditional paradigm.

It’s quite an undertaking, but once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes a little less daunting. This year there are lots of parents doing this for the first time against their wills. They would like nothing more than to be attending meet the teacher events and walking through Walmart or Target with the school-issued, grade-level supply list in hand. Instead, they have to figure out how to juggle part-time school with part-time homeschool with virtual school, depending on what individual districts have decided across the 50 states that make up the formerly United States.

Because I know how hard this can be when you’re starting out, I thought I’d offer a few tips. These work well, even if kids were going to school full-time as usual, but they are crucial now.

  • Communication: Keep the lines of communication open with teachers. Email frequently and call when you’re not sure the message is being properly conveyed in writing. Generally, the more engaged parents are with their teachers, the more teachers respond to the needs of the kids represented by that engagement. It’s not politically correct, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease in schools the same as everywhere else.
  • Schedule: When educating children at home, a schedule is indispensable. If kids are doing all of their classes via Zoom meetings, which is a horrendous option, then the schedule is probably already set beforehand. This can be good, but is mostly bad. A break between the screen meetings is essential. Push to get one if possible.
  • Sunlight: Don’t forget that being outdoors sometimes is healthy, especially so in Covidtide.

Those are the things that will be helpful if you stay plugged in to the public school matrix, but for those parents choosing the homeschool or micro school option, there is more freedom, but also more work involved. This is where those of us who have been homeschooling for years can give you a leg up.

  • Community: If you try to do this all on your own you’ll get burnt out, especially if you’re trying to hold down a full-time job while doing it. Find people on a similar journey. Even if it’s only to commiserate and bounce ideas, it’s invaluable.
  • Make a schedule and make it a sensible one. For instance, don’t cover every subject every day of the 5-day school week. Some things need to be tackled daily, such as reading, math, spelling, and writing. Others, such as history and science, can be handled twice a week; Tuesday and Thursday, for instance. Keep in mind that schools can graze a little on every topic every day because they have several teachers doing the work as they pass your child from person to person every 45 or 50 minutes. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way. You cannot replicate the traditional school experience at home. It won’t work long term.
  • Life as Education: My kids learned the basic, foundational fractions (1/8, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3) in the kitchen. It wasn’t a replacement for doing the hard work of adding, subtracting and converting fractions the old-fashioned, but it was a start. Try not to miss out on opportunities to learn while doing the routine activities of life. Since you’re stuck at home anyway, make the best of it.
  • Read excellent books, since very few schools bother to do that anymore. Currently, one of our girls is reading Pride and Prejudice on her own. Another is reading Tom Sawyer. Together, we are reading a biography of George Washington Carver. I think Jane Austen is still held in high regard in schools, but I’m not sure about Twain, and despite going to an all black elementary school as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, we rarely learned about any black historical figures besides MLK. All I recall about George Washington Carver was about his work with peanuts. He was to be credited with so much more!

Because we are in a part-time school, the curriculum is already chosen by the council, but it is in line with our educational values. I’m thankful not to have to pick it. What we’re doing now is gathering the materials (shopping for the best prices) and getting ready for the year, which begins in a few weeks.

How are you preparing for this unorthodox school year? What is different about where you are? What is the same?

5 thoughts on “Overcoming My Short Reading Attention Span

  1. hearthie says:

    Shoot me now. “Real time” virtual learning. I literally JUST got the email.

    School days will be a blend of synchronous “real time” classes and work assigned through (virtual learning) platforms
    Each week targeted support will be offered
    Each week intentional time will be devoted to building community and making student connections

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    So Hearth, does that mean doing the regularly scheduled periods but on Zoom? If so, have they at least composed a sane schedule?

    I hope you have the option to choose something more modified while still allowing your girl to get all her credit for her work so long as she gets it in and does it well.


  3. hearthie says:

    Yes, that’s what it probably means. I won’t have the schedule for another couple of weeks, aka right before school starts.

    Honestly, she’s going to HATE it, but…. it’s going to be good for her, because she wilts without the human contact. I was focusing on the “oh Lordie, this is going to be virtual school without flexibility” but I should have been focusing on “Oh! It’s what she needs if not what she wants!”. Mea Culpa. My only defense is that I answered your question within 5 minutes of getting the email!


  4. Bike Bubba says:

    On the light side, I was able to get a ton of good reading done about 12 years back when I was in the hospital waiting for gallbladder removal surgery. 3 days when all you do is go to the bathroom, sleep, and read will do that for you. I also once brought “War and Peace” to a dental waiting room just for the kick of it–and darnit, that’s when the dentist was actually early!

    I don’t know that I’m finding that age is getting in the way of reading and such, but being busy sure does!


  5. Elspeth says:

    Carving out the time to read the way I’d like is a real challenge for me as well.

    To be honest, I’ve been hard on myself using the metirc that since I can carve out several 10 minute chunks to check email or even 20 minutes to churn out a blog post, I should be able to find time to read, but those aren’t really the same things, are they?

    Liked by 1 person

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