Whilst I am a passionate advocate for education, I worry that we are overloading our children with information, and setting expectations that just rob these young minds of their love of learning.
As a teacher, I know children who are constantly busy with extra-curricular activities–sports clubs, language exams in the evening, tutoring at weekends. They spend six hours a day with us at school, expected to listen carefully and work hard, and some barely get a chance to breathe before heading off to another class.
After-school clubs and hobbies are great, but giving a child space and silence is just as important.
They need time alone to develop their own interests, to play, to build, to create, to imagine, to explore. The world is so busy and so colourful, so full of noise and all sorts of sensory stimuli that can overwhelm not just children with special needs, but your average child. (And your average adult.)
I try to build as many small spaces, movement breaks, quiet reading time, into the school day as I can. It is not always easy with our schedule as packed as it is, but if I need space to regroup and take a breath, then surely it’s vital that seven year olds get that moment of calm too?
The children in my class often ask for our “relaxing music” when they are doing independent writing. Sometimes they’re content with silence. Some children ask to sit alone at the table by the window so that they can concentrate. Sometimes they’re happy with the group, being vocal and joining in with discussions about their work. Sometimes vibrant and interactive displays are necessary. Sometimes a blank, white wall is preferable.
The constraints of the classroom are many, but I believe as teachers that we can help to give our children the moments of space and quiet that they need throughout the day, whilst maintaining those high expectations of learning. We are teaching a packed curriculum, but I believe our first duty is to cater for the whole child. I know many children who are like human calculators, but cannot handle challenge, do not know how to socialise with others, and cannot cope with being alone and having to entertain themselves for a while.
I’d love to see children given a little more space and time, at home and at school, to develop their own interests and to just simply be.
These life skills are so vital to our mental health and our ability to cope with anxiety, and in stressful situations. But they don’t always come naturally. They need to be taught.