Find the Flow

Pandemic parenting is tough. In addition to everything else, we are trying to homeschool our children and keep them motivated. I don’t know about you, but I find the latter one of the hardest tasks on my plate, and the one over which I have least control.

It has helped in the past couple of weeks to recall the primary goals of Spark Studio. Our chief aim lies not in academic progress, though that comes in time. Instead, it’s to help children expand their ability to find focus and joy in their work, and to concentrate on a task for longer and longer periods of time. Does it matter whether they are getting equal amounts of math, reading, and writing, or even whether they are doing any of these things at all on a given day? Nope.

Kids can find themselves in the concentration zone (or “in flow,” as it’s also called), when they are doing something that especially interests them in that moment. It’s especially common with hands-on work. They might be building with blocks, creating art, exploring an instrument, or playing a game. Those periods of flow, when heroes become lost in their task and are intensely focused—yet are completely relaxed and enjoying themselves—are the Holy Grail of learning. These are the times when the deepest learning occurs.

Why? Because that’s when learners are most curious and interested, which makes them hungry to go deeper. Key here is to give heroes the freedom to choose what they work on. (Within limits, of course. They can’t watch movies all day.) Kids have this wonderful innate love of learning that keeps them seeking novelty in their activities. We aim to preserve that intrinsic motivation by following those interests. Where will they take us today?

Aside from that, they can set the stage for periods of flow by choosing activities that are challenging but not too hard. They can set realistic goals that they know they have the skills to accomplish. And activities don’t have to come from school-related materials, but they certainly can. You as a parent can then keep an eye out for any periods of deep concentration and try not to interrupt them if you can avoid it.

Chasing those periods of flow and allowing them to linger has become my focus, which has shifted my thinking about what homeschooling should look like. I still have to remind myself several times a day, but I now have less pressure to check things off a list and more room to observe and enjoy the moment.

Does this mean heroes will ignore their at-home materials? Probably not. There may be days when they happily take out their grammar books, breeze through some math sheets, or tackle a few challenging Bob books. And on those other days (and there will be lots), as long as kids are getting outside and being read to, that’s plenty. There’s so much learning that takes place with just reading and unstructured play. The rest is completely optional and icing on the cake!

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