Help Your Child Study Smarter with the Pomodoro Technique
Reading time: 10 minutes
Your kids should know the Pomodoro Technique for two reasons – it is not only one of the most powerful learning strategies, but also it is remarkably simple to do. College students are enthusiastic users who swear that it makes them much more effective at learning and working. Many knowledge workers use it to get the most out of their workday. If you have wrestled with this question — how long should my child study before taking a break, this provides the answer.
And that answer may surprise you!
Most students tend to study too long before they take a break, allowing their brains to fatigue where their learning suffers diminishing returns. Read this to understand how easy it is to help your kids study smarter and more efficiently. And make it fun!
You will find a five-step model are directions at the end of this article and a mini-lesson with an instructor’s guide you can use to teach your kids this technique. Check it out!
POMODORO KITCHEN TIMER
What’s with the Funny Name?
The term “Pomodoro” was coined by the Italian author Francesco Cirillo. He named the technique after the little tomato-shaped kitchen timer he had. The term “Pomodoro” in Italian means tomato. My mother had one that looked just like this. I now do too.
|The Pomodoro timer is the “unofficial” symbol of the Center for Homeschooling. We like it because it’s cute, of course, but also because it’s symbolic to a connection – something that is a tried-and-true old school device like “grandmother” used — but repurposed for new up-to-date science validated learning.|
How it Works – You Study in Short Sprints
With the Pomodoro technique, you organize study and work into short 30-minute sessions. For each, you set a timer to study intensely for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. That’s it – the idea is to focus hard while you study in short learning sprints, then giving your brain much needed recovery time by getting up from your desk.
Your brain works hard while you study, using a surprising 20 to 25 percent of your body’s total energy, and like a muscle, it fatigues and needs time to recover.
But unlike a muscle, the fatigue is hard to detect, and we tend to work it longer than we should. The solution is to reward yourself with things little walks around the house to get some oxygen, or a snack break to allow your brain to recover.
Better learners adopt study strategies that consider how the brain works. College students who use this technique report they learn much more in the same amount of time. As a parent, this is a great way to become an advocate for smarter learning – coach them to think about efficient learning – getting the most out of the time they spend studying.
Have fun with your kids and encourage them by calling these study units Tomato time!
For a series of study tasks, break them into multiple Pomodoros. The idea is to work in short sprints with forced breaks (no exceptions) to keep you motivated and efficient – don’t skip them. For most people, working in longer intervals subjects your brain to fatigue and lower efficiency, where an undetected decline in efficiency creates the illusion of productive learning.
How to Do It
First, the timer is really important. Each of your kids will need their own timer and please don’t use the ones on the smartphone – phones in the study area are a big distraction. Don’t skip this step – it’s easy to lose track of time when you are focused on learning.
Next, choose the right location where you will have zero distractions and interruptions. Before each timed session, have all of the materials organized and ready to go. Then follow these five steps.
Follow these Five Steps
This is how you do it:
Pick one task to work on. Only one so you can focus. Get all of your materials organized and ready. Turn off all alerts and notifications.
- Set your timer to 25 minutes.
- Dedicate yourself to learning and focus on intentional study, work deeply without distraction until the timer rings.
- When it rings – stop your work!
- Get up, step away; give your brain a short break. Move so you get more oxygen to your brain. Some people do push-ups to get that energy moving. Eat a snack!
- Write down you completed one Pomodoro. Check it off your list. This will help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
When your kids have longer study sessions, they can repeat this 3 more times, if needed, then take a longer 15-20-minute break. This is called clustered Pomodoros! (get it – clustered tomatoes?)
Discuss Eight Rules
Review these and discuss them:
- Organize most of your study and training sessions into 30-minute intervals – 25 minutes for study and 5 minutes for your break
- Assign just one task to every 30-minute interval. Never multi-task during the Pomodoro. Should you get interrupted, start over.
- Don’t skip your breaks. Your brain needs the recovery time.
- Don’t check your email during your break. If you do, you have to restart the Pomodoro.
- Have a piece of paper next to you to defer your distractions by writing them down, then get back to work. Use this information later to take care of things.
- You need to get more oxygen to your brain when you study, so getting up is important. Walk around or briefly exercise during breaks – don’t sit there.
- Don’t accept interruptions or false emergencies when you’re in a 30-minute stretch.
- Set a daily goal of the number of Pomodoros you intend to tackle. Divide your work into smaller units. For example, when you do ten Pomodoros, you get over 4 hours of productive work!
Teach your kids to think this way and they will study smarter.
Reward Yourself and Keep Learning
The break is important for several purposes. Did you know within this decompression time that learning is still going on? You don’t realize it, but the brain has switched gears into a retention-driven mode called diffuse thinking. This means during your break you are still learning because your brain is consolidating information!
It is important to reward yourself between Pomodoro sessions. Get up and do something different for five or so minutes. Feed your brain, walk around, or briefly exercise. Your diffuse thinking mode, which is your subconscious learning, will kick in to help you keep learning during your break. Then repeat.
The 30-minute study interval of the Pomodoro is a great way to organize and plan your study and training sessions. Start talking about how many Pomodoros you plan to use today for math, or your piano lesson. It can be helpfully motivating to turn what seems like an onerous two hours of studying into four friendly Pomodoro units.
You Must Have a Timer
The timer is the only resource you need for this technique – get one for each child and yourself. While almost any timer will work (except one on your phone), we like a mechanical one because, according to Cirillo, picking it up and twisting it “cues our determination to work.” But test it before you buy it, many mechanical timers are too noisy. If you prefer a more modern one, get digital kitchen timers with big buttons.
Mini-Lesson Instructor’s Guide
Here’s an easy way to teach the Pomodoro technique. Just follow these simple steps:
- Begin by having a short conversation about how your child plans and organizes his or her study time. You “open the door” by asking questions to get them thinking about the importance of high energy and fatigue management while studying.
- Watch one or more of these video resources on the Pomodoro technique. Get information on why and how it works.
- Read and discuss the Five Steps and the Eight Rules.
- Talk about the benefits of studying smarter so you can learn more in less time.
- Agree to try this experiment – use at least one Pomodoro per study day for at least two weeks. Then evaluate how much better you are at learning.
Key Terms to Discuss
What do these mean?
- Study in short sprints
- Energy consumption and brain fatigue
- Strive for efficient learning
- Illusion of productive learning
- Diffuse learning during breaks
- Cue your determination to work
This video examines procrastination and Pomodoro including the preparation practice of “mise en place” (7 mins)
A short 40-second video on the Pomodoro
A quick and fun animation on it (54 secs)
We like this medical school video talking about Pomodoro (5:45 mins)
Want to learn more about this powerful learning strategy and others? Sign up for the online Improving Your Child’s Learning Power Course here.