By Julia Vinokur

Everybody knows how irritating it is to be disturbed or interrupted while we are deeply concentrated on some task.  You just got something in your mind, and here it is: somebody is there with a question or comment, and then your train of thought is lost and it takes forever to go back to the same point, if even possible.   You probably also experienced a situation when your child is sitting and building lego project when we try to call him for dinner.  You may call once, twice, and the third time you are irritated and screaming: “I called three times, did you hear me?”  You get an answer: ”Did you call me? I did not hear… Look at the train that I built (proud of himself).”

On snow days or weekends, when there is more free time than usual, I started to notice that I jump with my daughter from one thing to another.  Piano, reading in Russian, reading in English, then, just as she is settled with her drawing, I remember that we forgot to practice some math… At the end of the day we realize that we did something the whole day, but did not accomplish much.  And she is more tired than ever.

How our brain works in order to finish the task.

How anything gets accomplished?  First of all, we set a goal for ourselves.  Then we think how we are going to accomplish it, and then we do what was planned and get the result.   Here is what happens in our brain:

First, area of the brain responsible for this specific task starts to work, as the rest of the brain that is not involved just rests.  This allows more concentration on the task.  When the task gets accomplished, responsible part of the brain rests and “reloads” with more power, while we move to another activity.

Multitasking

Multitasking, on another hand is very stressful.  Researchers have imaged human brains using MRI and watched them try to multi-task as subjects performed a set of variously interrupted tasks. The brains can divide resources fairly easily for two tasks, but have a much harder time juggling three or more.

When single-tasking, researchers found subjects used both of their frontal lobes to manage the work. When there were two tasks in play, each half of the brain was devoted to managing each task. However, when a third task interrupted the second task, subjects’ brains started crashing: error rates increased and response times delayed. Researchers say this suggests a strong physical limitation on how many things we can think about at once, namely, how many brain hemispheres we have. The study’s authors note the results may clarify many of the limitations in our decision-making and reasoning abilities. [1]

Multitasking and interruption bring a lot of stress to children.  Tasks accomplished without it,  on the other hand, bring more energy and creativity.

Uninterrupted work

5633335_mI looked at my daughter’s Montessori school setting and found logic in uninterrupted work periods.  Each child sets several goals at the beginning of the day, and then accomplishes them one by with their own pace, mixed with lunch break, recess, art, music and gym classes. Maria Montessori observed that children thrived when provided an uninterrupted period of time to explore their environment and “work.  This allows the child to develop their concentration, independence, sense of order.  Any interruption to the child’s work period disrupts the fragile focus, concentration, critical thinking, problem solving, and exploration which is being developed “[2] . Uninterrupted accomplished task brings positive emotions and satisfaction, leading to a demand to study and learn more. Change of activities allows different parts of the brain to rest, which brings more energy and productivity. No wonder if you are stuck with some problem or task, they say: “Sleep on it”, or just change activity.

 What parents can do?

-It is very important to cultivate child’s independence, ability to concentrate, and task completion. We need to make sure that our children complete one thing before starting another, even if it takes several days.  For example, to read one book at a time, not jumping from one to another.

If our child is in the middle of a very important task, even though we think it is not important, it is very wise to leave him, unless something urgent comes up.

-If we overdose children’s brains with a lot of information against his will, interrupt his activities and thinking, we negatively influence brain development causing laziness, nervousness, and absentmindedness.