Let children find their flow state of optimal learning

Have you noticed your child focusing so intensely on their activity that they forget about time and can’t hear you call them? They might be in a flow state of optimal learning, the deep concentration children (and adults) often experience during activities they love. Children’s flow state is often overlooked or misunderstood because traditionally we think of learning mostly occurring with a teacher, at school, on an educational app, or while reading, writing, and sitting at a desk. While valuable in its own way, traditional learning methods mostly sharpen the intellect, while learning in a flow state is naturally in alignment with a child’s emotional and physical developmental stage.  

What children learn during flow remains in their body memory and cannot be forgotten, just like reading or riding a bike. Even young children can focus deeply on a self-chosen activity for prolonged amounts of time, for instance, when fascinated with a marble run, building a block tower, or joyously pouring and splashing at a water play table. Grade school children find flow in freely tinkering, crafting, writing, drawing, baking, drumming, pretending, sports, and ball play; in short, everything that sparks their genuine interest and creativity and involves their body and all senses.

What kind of activity children choose doesn’t really matter when honing the skill of being in the flow state of deep focus, –what matters is that they love doing it. Flow helps develop thinking skills that reach beyond traditionally-guided lessons such as the spontaneous flexibility and adaptability needed to keep up with a hands-on activity, creative problem solving on the go, estimating and anticipating results, developing a strategy, recognizing patterns and allowing the mind to rest and open up to sudden knowing, the eureka! -moments of life. Flow hones skills that benefit all learning processes; in flow children learn how to learn.

Especially now, during the restrictions and challenges of COVID-19, children need to discover and have time for things they truly enjoy. It’s not easy to keep a bright spirit while spending hours on the screen for distance learning and homework and without the comfort of spending time with peers. Flow play activities, along with nature time and a secure connection to their caregiver really helps children remain in good mental health. 

Creating flow activity stations for their children also benefits parents: a child happily playing for hours reduces tension in the family and creates more time for parents to tend to their own needs. The time caregivers spend preparing an environment with hands-on play and learning opportunities might yield many hours of additional time when adults can take a break from entertaining, teaching, and tending to their offspring.

Use these suggestions to help your child find their flow at home:

1. Create flow activity stations that you change and enhance based on your child’s interests and preferences: Prepare places where your child can play uninterruptedly such as floor space for block, lego, and pretend play, a table for drawing, tinkering, and crafting projects, a space for jigsaw puzzles, a simple nature science table with room for specimens your child collects in nature and encyclopedias, an area for dress-up and role-play where he or she can pretend being a magician, an animal or a circus director, a floor space for movement, rough-and-tumble, a place for instruments and sound-makers – the ideas are endless. Check the parent’s guide Flow To Learn for guidance on how and why to set flow activity stations up and find a million ideas on instagram.

2. Help your child focus on their self-chosen game: Some children need help with starting an activity, but once it’s underway, they can entertain themselves. Take your time to set up a marble run together with your child, prepare sinking and floating items for the water play table, or find a ball game your child can enjoy on their own such as bouncing the ball off a wall.

3. Think ahead and prepare water and snacks and possibly towels or other items your child may need, so they don’t have to abandon their play space and find you when they need something. Make sure not to be too far away if your child needs you; ideally, you can see each other and at least hear each other calling.

4. Making order after playtime is an excellent opportunity to reconnect. Help your child put things away and ask them how their play session went, what they discovered, how they felt, if they would like to do it again, or what they would like to do differently next time.

Happy Holidays! I hope you have lots of fun and beautiful moments with your children.

Carmen Gamper

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