Elementary school-aged children get no time to just be, experience their own selfhood, to rest. It’s important for the development of creativity, for mental growth and even for discovering something new. However, from the time most children get up in the morning until they go to sleep at night, someone is hurling demands at them.
Typically, their days go something like this: “Get up, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, get in the car, get out of the car.” That’s leaving home. Now they get to school. “Line up, get your homework, write a story, do your math, go to lunch, play outside, take your spelling test, go home.”
Now the child is
back at home. Economically poor children often live in homes with many people.
They do not have a bedroom to go for a moment of peace, silence, reflection.
The time after school at home might be spent in conflict with siblings and
cousins or trying to avoid unsavory visitors. I have had students walk home
from school to find the police taking a parent to jail, red lights flashing.
Children from middle- and upper-class homes experience the same lack of down time, usually for different reasons. These children often have beautiful bedrooms decorated with themes of superheroes and princesses, but they don’t have enough quiet time in them. I have taught in private schools where the nannies stand outside my classroom after school coordinating schedules. This includes taking the children to the country club for golf lessons, then on to ballet and fencing.
Where, then, is the child’s time to wind down? Answer: They don’t have any. To address this problem, I created an area in my classroom called the “Tranquil Garden.” This small corner has an adult-sized papasan chair and plants. One child at a time can go there to rest and just “be.” The optional activities are non-academic. There is a Zen sand garden, Tibetan singing bowl, kaleidoscope, pine cones, rocks and a small weaving loom. I place paper and colored pencils there in case the child wants to draw or write.
I’m glad I did this
because it provided catharsis for at least one kindergarten student named
Anthony. His mother was in jail for an attempted bank robbery. I had not been
able to get Anthony to write or illustrate any story until his respite in the
tranquil garden, so his experience was certainly not a waste of class time.
Many societies have afternoon siestas or afternoon tea. The military has frequent “fall out” times for soldiers to rest from drills.
We should allow 30 minutes in the afternoon for elementary school children to take a power nap or to just be quiet and still. The remainder of the afternoon will be more productive and the student learning will almost surely increase. Plus, it just seems like a civilized thing to do.
Alston is a Colorado teacher and the author of Why We Teach: Learning, Laughter, Love and the Power to Transform Lives.