Home education; learning to learn. Can you teach memory and concentration?

For children to learn they have to have memory skills and they need to have a concentration span that is greater than a goldfish. But are these things inherent or must they be learned; and if they are learned are they acquired naturally or do they need to be taught?

Neuroscience is not my favourite topic, especially as I almost need an epipen to see a neurologist these days, but having Heleyna is making me wonder.

P1020304She’s five and will be six in April. She’s bright, talkative and obviously intelligent, but her memory and often her attention is pretty dreadful. Now I am not suggesting she has ADHD. She is very active, but not hyper, and sometimes she can pay very good attention. But it’s so variable and she’s so distractable that it can get frustrating trying to work with her.  She obviously needs quiet to focus.

Knowing her attention span was/is a bit too short I’ve looked at low stimulus approaches to her education, as there is some suggestion that high stimulus, fast moving images are either adding to attention span problems or causing them. I printed up the Starfall Books so she had plain black and white versions. All the worksheet type stuff from Starfall and other sites are black and white so I thought this would help.

She certainly works well if she can use her hands. The Montessori resources suit her well but recently I’ve let things slip a bit and as we’re using READING EGGS I’ve let her read from the Starfall site as well. Both are brightly coloured but there isn’t a lot of image shifting, and fast movement. None of this should be a problem if we keep it at a little at a time.

To be honest I am not even that convinced by the “anti-screen” rhetoric. The research is not convincing and leaves way too many questions unanswered as there is no differentiation between “bad” screen time and “good” screen time or even the nature of screen use from passive (TV) to interactive (computer and consoles) let alone between influences, type of images, sound and the nature of the content.  Some research suggests that high colour is good for brain power, while other stuff says exactly the opposite. I have come the conclusion I must see what works and what doesn’t with Heleyna by just observing her.

We had two weeks break from the structured learning while we prepared for and recovered from the wedding. In that time I kept Heleyna reading because I had already seen how difficult it is for her to remember what she has already learned. But she was moving forward in maths and geometry without a hitch.

But when we went back to learning this week – she’s forgotten so much she couldn’t even recognise the number 10.

This was a bit of a blow, to be honest.

The question is what do I do now? Do I let things slide and wait until she’s a bit older? Do I carry on regardless, go back over stuff or shorten the lessons or lengthen them…?

At the moment I am not sure how to approach this. I think I will make lessons shorter and try and plan them when the other two don’t need me at all; as the distractions, questions and interruptions are not helping her.  But that does mean working later in the day, which might not suit either of us. (I tend to crash pretty regularly around 4 or 5pm and frankly I’m not much use to anyone then).

The Montessori approach allows her to try things out. I think I’ll do more presentations and then see if she can “play” learn for a while.

She does tend to have sudden “eureka” moments when everything drops into place, but I think we’ll need to do a lot of repetition and some memory games to try and build up her concentration and memory skills.

While the research on the use of computers is somewhat messy there is some better defined work showing that memory is a skill as well as innate. Learning how to remember is part of learning how to learn and being able to concentrate is probably a skill that needs some teaching as well as acquiring.


4 responses to “Home education; learning to learn. Can you teach memory and concentration?

  1. There are different types of mnemonics to aid memory training. I guess you’ve to find out how Heleyna learns – is she visual, auditory or kinesthetic? I have 2 kids with different learning styles so I’ve to adapt my teaching methods so they will remember better…

    • She’s very kinesthetic which is why I went to look at Montessori. But I think there’s some strong aural leanings in her too. She has a bit of everything but perhaps that leads to more sensory overload…I can’t tell yet. We;ll see.

  2. Jude is similar, and as Cana has an almost photographic memory he is much harder work. I noticed that he’s not good with breaks either, so we do very small chunks every day, just 15-20 minutes the same everyday – and we sometimes even do this at weekends. He just has to have the same stuff loads more often than Cana did, and in smaller bits too. I don’t know what Heleyna’s like but Jude is a very creative, emotional boy so is very affected by moods. He will totally forget spellings he has learnt over and over but then, another day, he will remember them. He needs lots of incentives to help him concentrate, when I taught him to put his trousers on (at the age of 4! Lazy boy) I got a tube of smarties and said, “everytime you pull them up yourself I’ll give you a sweet” and we did it over and over again. He was able to focus with a visible treat and it helped him overcome his “I can’t do it” attitude. So now we have reward charts for everything. I don’t know if this is an educational technique, it just works for him.

    • Heleyna is creative – lots of pictures and long complicated stories (orally).
      And where does that “I can’t do it?” come from? I thought it was school induced in Alex but both Ronan and Heleyna have it and they haven’t done school.
      Avila has the opposite problem. She is so independent she refuses help even when she needs it and then gets frustrated and angry when it all goes to pot. I think a lot of that is rooted in how very ill she was for the first three years of her life.
      I am doing with Heleyna like you are with Jude, a bit each day.
      They all learn so differently.

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