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Staying Focused on Homework

Advice

Chances are, your daughter is already a multitasker. She plans her history presentation on the laptop while music videos run in another window on the screen. Texts blip onto her phone every few minutes, so of course she reads them. She’s thinking, “I can get my homework done and have fun and weigh in on everyone’s photos all at the same time. No problem!” Sound familiar?

She might think she’s a great multitasker because she grew up with a laptop and smartphone, so she’s had a lot of practice. But think again. Scientists have discovered that a kid’s brain can focus on only one thing at a time, which means it has to quickly switch back and forth between jobs, over and over again. Each time her brain makes this shift, it takes extra effort. The switching leaves a mental gap that allows important things to get overlooked. The result? She has a harder time remembering things, and she makes more mistakes. 

It turns out that people who make a habit of dividing their attention between phones and computers and tablets may feel more comfortable spinning lots of plates, but they actually get worse at focusing on one thing. They have a harder time tuning out things they don’t want to pay attention to—like dripping faucets or little brothers.
Here’s the craziest thing: The people who think they’re the best at multitasking are actually the ones who make the most mistakes! Multitasking is a trickster. It makes people blind to how they’re really doing.

Instead of texting her friends and doing homework at the same time, encourage your girl to try the 15-5 plan. Here’s how it works…

  1. Have her turn off any screen or close any window she doesn’t absolutely need. Set a timer for 15 minutes and let her zero in on her work. It will be easier for her because she knows she only has to work in short bursts. 
  2. When the timer rings, she can take a break for exactly 5 minutes to grab a drink, stretch, do jumping jacks, or check her phone. 
  3. When the 5 minutes are up, have her go straight back to the project. (No dillydallying!) On her own, she can keep alternating that way—15 on, 5 off—for an hour or so, or until she’s finished for the day. All those texts and posts will still be there on her phone, right where she left them.

Of course, it always helps to lead by example. In what areas of your life do you find yourself trying to do seven things at once? See if you can use the 15-5 plan at work or at home to focus on just one task or activity at a time. The plan might be as simple as silencing your phone and closing your email for 15 minutes while you finally patch that hole in the living room wall or make those multiplication flash cards with your girl. You’ll get more done, and your girl will take notice!

Adapted from Your Happiest You by Judy Woodburn. ©2017 American Girl.
©2019 American Girl. All American Girl marks are trademarks of American Girl.

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