I used to work for a large company and that is where I discovered the Law of Diminishing Return. My manager loved meetings so much that we had meetings every day and sometimes twice a day. In each meeting my attention followed the same cycle. For the first ten to fifteen minutes I was good. Sometimes I even thought, “Wow, this is great. Really good information!” Had we stopped then, I might have actually gotten something out of it, but of course, we were just getting warmed up.
Somewhere around the twenty to thirty minute mark, I started to squirm, “What time was it? When will we finish? Doesn’t he know we have real work to do?” From forty-five minutes on, all was lost. While my face smiled, my heart quivered with rage! “Just stop talking! Shut your mouth! Will this meeting ever end?! If I could have shot lightning bolts from my eyes, I would have! But of course, I had no choice but to sit there and take it. So I sat in silent protest, secretly day-dreaming, refusing to focus and refusing to remember. My wife says I just had a bad attitude, but if that was true, then 100% of my co-workers were suffering from exact same “bad attitude.”
In reality, our boss had simply failed to observe the Law of Diminishing Return. He had good intentions, but his long meetings irritated and tortured us all. Unless we want our children to suffer in the same way, as homeschoolers we must observe this law and form a teaching strategy around it. The law states that as time progresses, our children retain less and less of what we teach. And at a certain point, their inattentiveness could even grow into burnout and disdain. For some children you will have their full attention for hours, while others will begin to lose interest after 20 – 30 minutes. For very young children, 10 minutes is likely all they will be able to stand. Of course, the student isn’t the only factor. The subject has just as much influence. For example, you may find that a child who loves math is able to focus tirelessly for hours, but the moment you turn to his attention to spelling he grows weary in fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, once you have passed this threshold, everything you say and do will have less and less impact.
5 Teaching Strategies
Listed below are five teaching strategies to help you avoid the painful effects of the Law of Diminishing Return.
1. Front load the good stuff. Teaching a lesson is one time you can forego saving the best for last. As a general rule, the mind is most fertile during the first ten minutes. So, prioritize your lesson into categories of Extremely Essential, Essential, and Kinda Essential and then teach your way through in that order. This ensures that you have their utmost attention for the Extremely Essential information and if you are forced to end your lesson prematurely, only the Kinda Essential material is lost.
2. Have a conversation – not a monologue. I have fallen asleep to many sermons, but not once to the sound of my own voice. Children are no different. Give your children active roles in their own lessons and you will be shocked by how much farther their attention span stretches. Have them ask questions, answer questions, and teach parts that they already know. In fact, at a certain age you could have your children present their lessons to you. Have them teach it and you be their audience.
3. Break it up! If possible, break your lesson into smaller portions and chew on it throughout the day. For example, if you have an hour lesson and you know your children lose interest after half-an-hour, you could divide your lesson in two. Teach half in the morning and half after lunch. That way your children’s attention is maximized for the entire lesson.
4. Be flexible. Children’s focus-span will change from day-to-day. You might have planned an hour lesson, but twenty minutes in you see the Law of Diminishing Returns taking its toll on your little one. This is a hint to start wrapping the lesson up. The reverse is also true. At the end of your hour lesson, you may find that your children are begging for more – so give it to them.
5. Warning. Your children’s ability to focus should grow over time. If your little ones’ eyes start glazing over minutes into your lessons, this is a sign of “lazy” children or boring lessons. Either way, you will need to fix the problem, or homeschooling will be a long and painful process for you and your children. Your children’s ability to focus can be improved over time. Think of it was practicing training for a marathon. You wouldn’t start by running the full distance the first day; that would kill them! You go for a short run, and then increase the distance over time. You might have to start with 5 minute lessons, but if you are persistent, you’ll soon see your child’s endurance increasing into hours.
I hope these teaching strategies help. For more teaching tips, be sure to subscribe and follow us on facebook.