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De-stressing Our Schools

I have been in the education field in some form or another, for the last 27 years.  I have seen trends come and go.  I have seen new names attached to old methods (tweaked just enough to make someone else money).  I’ve seen “old” experienced teachers retire, and new ones come in ready to conquer the world.  It’s a career that doesn’t get much respect, and seems to be getting worse all the time.  We’ve implemented more testing at younger ages, and placed higher demands on the students and the teachers, while not taking into consideration the very real struggles our children are facing today.  Poverty, drug addicted parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren, broken homes, crime…..so many obstacles that kids shouldn’t have to face.  A 1st grader told me last week that someone else in his family was “Baker Acted” (emergency or involuntary commitment of a person in need of mental health services).  WHY does a 7 year old know about this???  I have parents of students in my class who are barely of voting (or drinking) age.  Babies raising babies.  There’s a ton of stress on teachers, but also a ton of stress on kids.

One thing that has not changed is how a child develops.  Even though some are facing incredibly challenging (and sad) situations, their development has not changed.  They still learn to do certain physical, mental, and emotional things at the same stages.  Placing developmentally inappropriate demands on them at such young ages is causing more problems in my opinion, and more stress on our kids.  Not every child will be able to learn with the same interest or purpose.  Not every child will learn in the same mode.  And not every student can perform the same assessments in the same way.

All of these demands, from the difficult home situations to the added pressure at school is putting a lot of stress on our children.  It’s stressful for the teachers, but it’s our choice to be there.  We aren’t giving our children a choice.  We aren’t allowing them to be kids.  We aren’t allowing them time to explore, and learn how to learn in their own way, and in their own time, and at developmentally appropriate stages.

When I was in kindergarten, I knew my colors, my alphabet, how to count, etc.  I arrived my first day already knowing how to read because I was from a family of high achievers, who placed a very high value on reading. We weren’t really expected to know how to read until 1st grade.  We only went to kindergarten for a half day, and part of that time was taking a nap!  It was more about social skills. I’m not saying we need to go back to this necessarily.  However, I don’t ever remember feeling pressure at school until around 4th grade with math.  And I don’t think my teachers ever worried about their job security if a child wasn’t able to perform on grade level.

I learned problem solving skills, research skills, geography, history, math (my biggest obstacle), I knew how to write a report, knew how to use proper grammar, etc.  I had a pretty decent education without the added pressure.  Was I nervous before tests? Before presentations? Absolutely!  That’s normal.  I’m nervous talking to strangers, so being nervous before a test was no big deal.

There were a couple of things that I did that I’m sure now helped to relieve any kind of apprehension or stress.  I played outside!  If the weather was nice, I was on my bike, walking with my friends, climbing trees, running, playing hide and seek, etc.  I wasn’t athletic, but I was fit and active.  I got fresh air.  I was healthy.  In the summer, I walked or rode my bike to the swimming pool, and swam for hours.   I also colored!  Coloring was, and is, a way for me to clear my mind in a quiet setting.  I colored or sketched at school, and I colored at home.  To this day, I receive a coloring book and new colors every year at Christmas.  It is not unusual to find me coloring (or writing) in the evenings or on a rainy day.  When one of my step sons was playing college basketball, we would stream his games.  I would get nervous, and had to color to calm my nerves!

Both of these activities seem to be frowned upon for child development today.  Our children need ways to relax more now than ever before.  As babies, they learn to pacify themselves in different ways.  We know that physical activity and fresh air are great stress relievers.  We also know that meditation and calm quiet activities help focus.  Maybe a solution to some of the issues facing our education system can be as simple as an added recess or a time to color (or meditate) during the day.  Are we really more concerned about test scores than we are a child’s overall mental health and development?  If we are, then maybe it’s time to get out of education.

Let’s stop causing unnecessary stress on our kids.  Give them a few minutes each day to BE kids.  Help them learn ways to unwind and clear their minds from the struggles they are facing at home and at school.  If some fresh air or a new box of colors is what it takes, that seems to be a better solution than medicating our children so they can perform like little robots for test scores.

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