Last night was one of those nights where you cringe as a parent. Son Number One had a soccer game at 6:30 which meant we wouldn’t be coming home until 7:30ish. All the kids did their homework before I came home so we had dinner, and then we went to the soccer game.
Son Number Two had to work on a catapult, study for spelling and math, and then study for two other tests. Did I mention he’s in third grade? Before we left for the soccer game, he lamented about school. “I’m just a kid. I have too much homework tonight. And I have to study so much.” He cried, real tears people. And it made me wonder: what the fork are we doing to our kids (thank you Kristen Bell from The Good Place, that’s now my favorite non-cuss word)?
I sympathize with Son Number Two as we wrapped up our catapult and crammed spelling words in and finally sat down to read at 8:30 PM last night. School isn’t fun anymore. It’s standards and tests. And funding. And it’s not about educating the kids anymore. It’s about schools meeting numbers and making test scores. It’s about politics that hurt kids, drive continued segregation in our schools, and take funding away from the schools that need it most. Our children are learning how to take tests. They’re not learning how to think creatively and socialize and get along with peers anymore. Perhaps they get some of that in Maker’s Labs or STEM classes if they go to a school like Son Number Two’s where they’re lucky enough to have it. Heck, my twelve year old art-loving child doesn’t even have an art class at his school. But perhaps the real travesty is there isn’t enough time for play. For kids to be kids. Not only at school, but also at home.
Most of our children don’t even have recess, or they go outside for 20 minutes a day tops. Children need a mental break to be able to keep working. When was the last time you sat at your desk for an hour? Even adults need mental breaks. At work, we socialize. We get up and walk around when we need to retrain our brain. These breaks allow us to refocus when we sit down to do our work again. Can’t we give our children the same benefit?
When I was a kid in the 1980’s, we played all the time. I went to Dannelly Elementary. I remember spending time outside on the baseball field playing games, and hanging upside down from the monkey bars for what seemed like hours on the playground. On rainy days playing four-square or jumped rope in the trailer (I’m from the South People–double-wides have a lot of uses). Somehow, teachers knew appropriate development included plenty of play and movement. I’m sure we had homework, but I don’t remember feeling stressed when I was seven years old or nine years old. I remember having plenty of time to come home, ride my bike, play in my backyard, to be a kid.
My education in the ‘80s wasn’t perfect. I don’t think I learned fractions until I was 18. I somehow missed that coming along. I had a huge gap of knowledge, but there didn’t seem to be anyone to point out to my parents that I struggled with math. I also had low self esteem, because I was bullied for having alopecia. These were things I mostly kept to myself as I have never been one to rock the boat. Perhaps, I should have learned long ago that rocking the boat sometimes leads to beneficial change. But, I did develop social skills that benefit me in life.
Look at successful people: most of them have wonderful social skills. If we don’t value play and socializing in our school system, our children will not learn how to work together. They won’t learn the right way to socialize and get along with others.
I’m sad my kids are stressed. I’m sad they’re growing up not loving school. Yes, I think it’s normal for middle-schoolers and even high-schoolers not to like school. But elementary? It should be fun. It shouldn’t make a nine year old cry on a Monday night because he’s stressed out. That’s good for no one. I’m not sure what the solution is, but what’s going on in our system right now is not working. And something has to change.
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