As a new parent I seemed to constantly hear about the importance of making sure your child was surrounded by stimulation-bright colors, patterns, ect.in order to help their development. And while I totally agree with creating this type of stimulating environment for children, lately I have been thinking about the importance of, well, ‘under-stimulating.’
Kids today (I sound like an old person, these kids today!) are bombarded with stimulation-all day long. When I was a kid, many, many, years ago, their was a focus on teaching children to multi-task. But today our children, as well as ourselves, live in a world that puts us in a constant state of multi-tasking where we are almost always doing too many things at once. (try to think about the last time you did one thing as an isolated task…)
While multi-tasking is still considered a skill in many circles, especially in business, research shows that when people continuously multi-task they are essentially making more work for themselves in the long run. Why? Because while multi-tasking does allow people to get more things done in a shorter amount of time, it also causes each individual task to suffer because the tasks are not done properly.
Your brain is a powerful machine, but it does need focus to make it work to its best ability. Here’s a snippit from an article from Harvard Health Publications about the Hazards of Multi-tasking:
The hazards of multitasking
Many people take pride in how well they multitask. But new research suggests some big downsides to it.
I spoke with Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, a new book from Harvard Health Publications. They said that multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.
Instead of trying to do several things at once—and often none of them well—Hammerness and Moore suggest what they call set shifting. This means consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand. Giving your full attention to what you are doing will help you do it better, with more creativity and fewer mistakes or missed connections. Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility, say the authors.
I recently started reading a book by Goldie Hawn called, 10 Mindful Minutes, which focuses on teaching ourselves, and our children to, well, focus. (I still can only picture her in the movie Overboard while I’m reading the book, but that just seems to add another fun layer to the book as I read…) I’ll post a full review when I’m finished with the book, but so far, so good.
Following these insights, I took a good look at my son’s play area. WOW. Just a complete explosion of toys and stimulation. Now, his play room has always been organized, but before I started thinking about mellowing it out, it was more like organized chaos. Using the concepts of Reggio Emila, which stresses the importance of environment as an important ‘teacher’ for children, I re-organized my son’s play room and toys using these basic ideas:
- let as much natural light into the room as possible
- organize toys into groups: toys that always stay out, toys that go into rotation (store toys that are out of rotation in a “toy library” AKA, a bin of any kind out of the play area), and toys that are for supervised play only. Rotating toys not only clears the chaos, it also allows the toys to seem new again to your kids.
- make the space ‘his.’ There should be bright colors, things at his level, his own art work around the space. This tells children it is their space to learn, grow, and create in a safe environment.
- Create different ‘zones’. Our play room is not huge by any means, but I managed to create a space set aside for reading and relaxing by placing a soft blanket and a few pillows on the floor next to a basket of books.
Honestly, I can see a difference in the way my son is playing. He seems less frustrated, plays with things for longer, and has a bit more focus on the task at hand. He even sits in his reading ‘nook’ and ‘reads’ his picture books to himself. Sometimes he reads them out loud, which is so cute I want to vomit.
I think adults could really benefit from focusing on single tasking as well. I am making a conscious effort to focus throughout the day. Sure, I still find myself pushing a stroller, sending an email from my phone, and mentally making a grocery list at the same time now and then, it happens. But, I have found that simply thinking about slowing down has made me start to actually slow down.
Here are some inspirations based on Reggio Emilia- inspired spaces:
Have fun! And don’t forget to stop by Friday for our first Lil’ First Friday to check out November’s featured artist 🙂