“I’m TIRED!”

tired-kidWhat does your child do all day in school?

I’m a teacher, I visit schools all over the world, and what I almost always see is children sitting at desks for at least 30 to 45 minutes at a time. How long can you sit still? I’m typing this and I’m gently moving a bit because my desk chair is a stability ball. When I do research using the virtual library at my university, I put my computer on a desk that allows me to stand. I’ve been known to pace back and forth when I read. When I’m writing and the folks in the office next to mine start making phone calls – it is a business, they’re supposed to do that – I’ll put the sound of a coffee shop on my computer so that sound runs in the background. In other words, I’m not sitting still and I’m not working in perfect quiet. In fact, I can’t do either and to expect children to do that is …… (I just thought of a lot of words it wouldn’t be nice for me to use here).

A columnist for the Washington Post wrote about how tired her children are when they come home from school. What Valerie Strauss reports is that her children, who are in elementary school (age 10 or less), are very tired and worn out by a day at school. She, who has been a teacher, blames the focus on curriculum and testing for making school too focused and less interesting.

Her concern is that there is no play built in to the daily schedule.

I totally agree.

As a science teacher, I have an unfair advantage. There’s something we can do every day in my class that looks like play, but is actually part of the science curriculum. Many science teachers believe that they have to tell the students what they will learn from the lab exercise before doing the exercise.

I’ve had many say to me that if they don’t do that the children won’t learn. I’ve taught for many years and I do it the other way around.

We do the lab first – students are far more engaged when they don’t know what will happen – and then we talk about what the students experienced. When I ask them what they learned, most have already gotten the point. I trust my students to be smart.

When class focuses on telling students the information, they are so involved with trying to remember the material that they frequently miss hearing much of what the teacher is saying. When students are actively engaged in the lesson, it is amazing how much more they remember.

There’s another approach to this. Some Charleston, SC schools are using a program called Active Brains.

In this program, students are given devices that let them move in the classroom while the lesson is going on. This approach hasn’t been in place for very long yet, but early reports are favorable. The biggest problem is getting the teachers on board. Teachers just seem to believe that students can only learn if they are sitting still and quiet.

Two boys’ schools in California are trying different approaches. One has stability balls for every student in the classroom. When all students are sitting on a ball there is no attempt to get attention from others, so students just move gently. I asked one young man in this class who was not moving on the ball if he needed that. He said he didn’t. I asked him if being on the ball was distracting. He told me it wasn’t at all. The other school tried a few stability balls in several classrooms, but found that those boys created problems. This school has had more success with standing desks. Not all students are given the standing desks, but when a boy feels that he needs to get up, he simply moves to the standing desk. These have been very successful.

My point? All children need to move! They actually learn better when they move. Boys in particular are likely to get into trouble because their need to move exceeds the teacher’s tolerance for movement. What teachers do not understand is that when a boy moves, he is actually managing his attention and that if he is not allowed to move, his attention is likely to wander.

Children in the classes in South Carolina and California who are allowed some movement are not more tired, but actually have more energy to give to the lesson. The human body was designed to move and if we prevent that movement, it does not work well. Strauss’s children are tired not because they are not moving, but because it takes a lot of energy for a child to stop moving. That energy is wasted as it could be better used on learning. Teachers have some strange idea that children have to be silent and seated to learn – nothing could be further from the truth. Ever seen children just goofing around outside? They are constantly learning there.

Ever seen boys read? They are constantly wriggling around, but they are reading.

See what you can do to convince your child’s teacher to let children move a bit in class. Point them toward the articles above or have them contact me, I’ll be happy to share some of the information on how children learn better by moving.