I SAID WHAT?…My Letter to the Editor in The New York Times

Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

I wrote to The New York Times after reading Vicki Abeles’s Sunday Review piece, “Is School Making our Children Ill?”  Today, The Times ran my response in the printed paper as well as online.

The link to today’s Letters page: Reducing the stress on students

Here’s what I had to say:

Kudos to the Irvington High School community in Fremont, Calif., for taking steps to rescue students from their high-stakes childhoods such as limiting homework requirements and implementing pass-fail grading in some classes.

As an early childhood educator and mother of elementary-school-age children, I think we parents of young learners also need to be brave, take ownership and embrace such efforts by curtailing after-school and evening extracurricular activities like sport travel teams, dance, music and STEM workshops in an effort to preserve the social, emotional and physical health of our children.

A multitude of these well-intended additions eats into down time, rest and unstructured play and creates stress for children and families. With a new year upon us, let’s resolve to take a step back and give children back their childhood.

JENNIFER REINHARZ

Pleasantville, N.Y.

What Children Need in Lieu of Mindfulness

Mindfulness quote

The practice of mindfulness has crept its way into elementary and preschools.

Biologist, Jon Kabat-Zinn, coined the term “mindfulness” in the 1970s to describe the act of “paying attention on purpose” to the present moment, with a “non-judgmental” attitude.

Mindfulness techniques are being used in the classroom to help children cope with stress and anxiety as well as to help them calm their mind, find center, and focus attention.  Advocates believe designating school time to such training leads to improved behavior and academic performance.

As a teacher, I appreciate learning the art of mindfulness to enhance my classroom management repertoire.  As a mom, I welcome a daily dose of meditation as a respite for harried parenthood.  But I am a grown up.

Teaching preschool and elementary school aged children mindfulness is both redundant and a band-aid.  Why?  Because they are mindful by design and their stress is not self imposed.

Children live in the present.  Watch a 4 year old mix a leaf, grass and stone soup for the missing class tortoise or his classmate run wildly away from an invisible queen across the school yard.  Stop to observe a pair of nine year olds twirl until dizzy or a crew of fifth graders so engrossed in conversation they forget to heed a busy crossing guard and it will become apparent that children are led by heart and body in the moment.

Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget concluded children’s understanding of time and capacity to think in abstract terms are driven by cognitive development.

A preschooler’s foundation for time begins with a sense of what happens before and after a concrete experience.  His understanding of duration and the future does not match that of an adult.  That’s why a child under 4 is confused by words like “tonight” “later” “today” and “tomorrow,” and will often create ones like “yestertime.”   Even a child nearing Kindergarten will understand the phrase, “we are having lunch after I pick you up from school” over “we will have lunch at 12 o’clock.”  By elementary school, a first grader learns to tell time only to the hour and half hour.  Minutes are not introduced until second grade.

While children between ages 7-10 have a more mature sense of time, abstract, hypothetical thought is not fully developed until age eleven.  Up until early middle school, young people still benefit from a personal connection or concrete experience in order to make sense of a sophisticated idea.

For example, after reading Crenshaw, a middle grade novel which tackles the theme of homelessness, my ten year old went on to ask questions about our family’s financial condition and whether we have enough money to pay the rent in an effort to make sense of this cruel reality.  Even after I reassured him, the boy worried.

Encouraging my son to read a book I, the adult with my adult view of the world, thought would benefit his growth only produced anxiety.  He was not cognitively ready.

Adults can minimize the stress we create for and impose upon children by limiting its source.  But with poverty, trauma, and violence not as straightforward and repairable as developmentally rigorous academic standards, competitive athletic expectations, over scheduling, and the pressure to be well liked, well rounded and successful, we need to nurture their emotional health while simultaneously addressing the larger issues.

But meditation, deep breaths, and mantras are not the answer.

Children need love.

A veteran teaching colleague recently reminded me it is consistent love from a trusted adult whether it is a parent, relative, community member, or teacher that makes the difference for a child regardless of external forces.

Even as the family in the story Crenshaw struggled through hunger and financial hardship my son observed, “Living in a van didn’t seem so bad because the family loved each other.”

Children need time.

Time to move, play and socialize; time to create, discover and stretch their imagination; time to get from point A to B, be bored and to wonder.

The time scheduled for mindfulness  in school should be allocated to these activities because this is how children find their center.  This is what helps them focus.  This is what teaches body and environmental awareness.  This is how they were intended to manage stress.

Children are inherently present, non judgmental, and stress free.  So let’s give them love.  Give them time.  And then, let them be.

BEND LIKE A BRANCH SAID WHAT?…It’s More About Cupcakes Than You Think

pinterest back to school cupcakes

I recently went back to one of my favorite places; the classroom. I’ve had the good fortune to teach children between the ages of two and twelve during my career. This time, my “students” are four years old. The way they play, interact, create, and think is marvelous and magical.

Spending my mornings with them reminded me of this essay which flashed across my Facebook feed some time ago.

If grown up expectations took a back seat and these young people were given a chance to slow down and enjoy the basics, I think we would all be better off in the long run.

Bend Like a Branch

A few weeks ago, while reading the comments on a story about our broken educational system, I came upon a response that basically said, well, all that parents care about are cupcakes and that’s the real problem. I suppose what was to be interpreted from that line is that parents aren’t really interested in the educating of their children because they are too interested in no longer being able to serve cupcakes at school parties, or ever actually. After all, cupcakes have nothing to do with a good education. Or do they?

My own history of my own education is a much different history than my children are creating. Growing up in the ’70’s and ’80’s my education was much more rounded. Not only could we freely have cupcakes, once a week our treat was a bottle of grape pop. We had recess and gym every single day. Not a…

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RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT? – 5 Things I Remember About Middle School That I Bet Are Still True…

middle school locker

Whether it’s 30 years or 50 years, Jan Wilberg’s universal truths about middle school ring true today.

I read her post and flash backed to the cans of Aqua Net arranged on my nightstand, the pages of Teen Beat that lined my locker walls, and how I seemed to be in love every other Tuesday. And although I would NEVER want to do it again, I must admit thinking about pubescent electricity made me smile. Thank you, Jan.

Red's Wrap

Middle school was a critical juncture in my life.Of course, this is only occurring to me now, fifty plus years after the fact. Here are five things I remember about middle school which I bet are still true today.

Changing classes meant I could change, too. In Science, I sat with my partner and prayed for invisibility. In English, I was reprimanded for interrupting and being sarcastic. In Art, I believed the teacher when she said it didn’t matter what my piece looked like. It was all about the technique. Each class in the day was a chance to shake off what had happened in the previous class, good or bad, start over, put on a new hat. I loved this because I’d spent the last months of elementary school waiting (in vain) to be called on to give a report on the Roman God Janus, each day was…

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Since you asked…The Inspiring Bloggers Award

very-inspirational-blogger badge

Two of my writer friends, Leslie and Katey were kind enough to nominate Red said what? for an Inspiring Bloggers Award.  As such, I am taking a break from the personal essay circuit this month to happily accept their nomination.

Bloggers typically nominate each other for awards to show support and generate interest.  To accept this nomination I am required to:

  1. Display the award badge on my blog…check
  2. Link back to the people who nominated me…check
  3. List 15 blogs that inspire me…check
  4. Share 7 snippets about myself.  Thank you in advance for the indulgence.

In an effort to respect the “award free” policy of some of the below sites, I am sharing them with the hope that someone might also enjoy the content.  To the writers, by all means consider yourself nominated for an Inspiring Blogger Award if you would like to participate.

Blog Inspiration by category…

Health, Fitness, and “Strength”

Catalyst Athletics        Words with Lisbeth

Education, Relationships, & General Good Stuff

A.PROMPTreply        Diane Ravitch

Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner’s Life is an Adventure

life in a flash              Safekeeping Stories        Stacey Wilk

Reading, Writing, & Illustrating

Amalia Hoffman

Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories to Life

Raising Readers       The Jersey Farm Scribe

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)         Writing & Illustrating

Z is for Zampetti, L is for Librarian & W is for Writer

7 Snippets…

1.  As a high school senior, I won a $50 prize sponsored by Shop Rite for “Most Personality and Common Sense.”

I think the hairdo gave me an edge...
I think the hairdo gave me an edge..

2.  During college, I worked in the library’s periodical department.

3.  With the exception of Rhythm Nation, I have seen Janet Jackson on tour every other time.

4.  Margarita.  Straight up.  No salt.

5.  Play the “right song,” and I will bust out the dance moves; anywhere, anytime.

6.  Favorite CrossFit movement?  The overhead squat.

Unfortunately, not me.

Unfortunately, not me.

7.  I know how to fire a musket.

Still not me, but it could be.

Still not me, but could be.

Please contribute to the pool of inspiration.  Take a minute to comment and share:

1 personal snippet (I figured 7 would be over kill)

and/or

1 blog, website, article or book that inspires you.

C’mon… indulge.

Thank you Lisa and Katey.  And thank you Red said what? readers for inspiring me to write what feels right.