How long do we expect children to sit?
It’s a new term and I am back into schools, in reception classes. I have been struck once again by the need our school system has to make children sit down on the carpet. My gut feeling has always been that this is unnecessary for young children; more than that, it is unhelpful and unrealistic. This week I have seen 4 and 5 yr olds sitting on the carpet for over 30 mins; this is too long.
This week I read an article by Angela Hansom, who is paediatric occupational therapist in America- http://wapo.st/1xlsgMV;
she advocates that children (specifically those under 7) need at least one hour a day playing outside. She goes on to explain how children need “rapid vestibular (balance) input” every day. She describes this as the opportunity to go upside down, spin around in circles, and to roll down hills – all wonderful examples of outdoor play. By enabling children to do this, their balance system will develop effectively. Until this is effectively developed she argues children are not able to sit and concentrate. I found this really fascinating, for how often do we hear children being told by teachers, early years workers, and from parents not to roll down the hill, and not to hang upside down on the bars?
I regularly see children who really struggle to sit still, who fidget and roll around on the carpet. I see other children who are labelled as being naughty because they won’t comply with the rules of sitting for an extended period. My question is always why are we asking young children to sit on the carpet? What is the child telling us through their behaviour? how are we listening to children about what their needs are? Some of the best early years practice I have seen is from those practitioners who really tune into what the children are telling them and what children need; who have very limited times when the children are sitting on the carpet. We need to ensure that we enable children to play and learn through play and exploration, especially outside. We need to allow our children many opportunities to spin , roll, balance and hang upside down, and most of all we need to make sure our young children are not sitting on the carpet for too long.
our young children are not sitting on the carpet for too long.
Last weekend I went on a retreat led by Gail and Ian Adams – http://www.belovedlife.org; one of the questions posed was what is it that brings you joy?. I have been reflecting on this question all week, and one of my thoughts has been that if as adults we are not in touch and aware of what brings us joy then we will be unable to support and help children to be joyful and find joy.
Most children are brilliant at playing and laughing and expressing happiness, but we know that there are some children for whom their lives are very difficult and it can be hard for them to be in touch with those wonderful feelings and sensations that joy can bring.
Our role as educators, carers and parents is to help children to be in touch with their feelings and emotions, to help them to have the emotional vocabulary to express how they are feeling and to help them to understand the feelings they are experiencing. To be able to help children be aware of what might bring them joy we need to be aware of makes us joyful.
I think joy is more than happiness, it is a deep rooted feeling and emotion. Two things which make me joyful are gardening – growing food and flowers, and my early morning swims. I swim each weekday at 6.30 am this is a time when I feel really alive. I love the rhythm and movement of gliding through the water. It’s a wonderful start to the day. With gardening, it is the delight of seeing ( if the slugs don’t eat them) plants emerge through the soil and the fruit and vegetables that emerge. I get really excited at seeing the first shoots of a plant coming through the soil in the spring.
To be able to offer the children we care for the best of us and to help them to fully develop and grow we need to look after ourselves, and I would suggest part of this is by discovering and nurturing what brings us joy.
Over the last few years, I have been really interested in how we might help children find moments of silence. I think this is something which we so often presume children can’t do, won’t do, or won’t enjoy. In my personal life finding moments of stillness and silence has become so important. A place I often go to is the meadow which backs onto our garden. This is a space where I feel I can breathe, it isn’t completely silent as there are the sounds of birds, grasshoppers etc, but it is a space where I can encounter stillness.
We are now living in a culture which is full of noise and busyness, so often rushing on to find and do the next job. We know that our children are also often busy; many children today in school and nursery are having their time crammed with so many activates and then when they come home their time and space is filled with things to do, and places to be. There is very little if any time for children to be still, to encounter some silence, and some space.
When visiting early years settings in Denmark and Sweden I was struck by the lack of hurrying and the space they gave the children. The opportunities the children had to stop and look, to lie on the floor and gaze at the sky. Many early years practices in this country are learning from this, with a great rise in forest schools, which is brilliant. However once they get to school this often changes. There are often so many things they have to do, learn, fit in, during their first year and then this increases up the ages. I have spent the last year supporting 4 yr olds who are often traumatised and finding the transition into school very tricky. I have learnt increasingly this year that our children need opportunities for silence and space. They don’t always need the noisy environment we give them, and they don’t always need lots of things to do and see. Sometimes they need a space where they can stop, and where they can discover silence and stillness.
As adults, we have a vital role in helping children to learn how to encounter moments of stillness and silence. We can do this so easily, particularly by using the outdoors, helping children to notice what is around them, the bee on the flower, the spiders web. Encouraging children to lie on the floor and look at the sky, notice the clouds and the blue sky (or grey!). However to be able to do this with our children we need to feel at ease with finding moments of stillness and silence ourselves. We need to learn to be mindful about how we are and how we embrace those moments ourselves rather than always rushing onto the next thing without noticing.