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Are schools failing our children?

In the words of Roald Dahl's, Matilda, Sometimes, you have to be a little bit naughty.

We’re all a little bit naughty sometimes so it figures that our children are too. But, when I'm visiting classes, I often hear tales from parents about their children (mostly boys) getting into trouble at school and not doing well as a result of it. Frequently, I'm shocked because, at Perform, they are extremely well behaved. In fact, sometimes I can’t believe it’s the same child they are talking about. 

So I really enjoyed reading this article from The Washington Post suggesting that schools are, in fact, failing our children because they fail to take children's physical nature into account . 

I actually shared the article on my Facebook page and loads of people responded to it so it obviously struck a chord with many parents. 

In a nutshell, the author of the piece discusses her eight year old son's bad behaviour at school. She blames the rules and restrictions that come with school life and describes them as “Sit Still. Be Quiet. Do What You Are Told, Nothing More, Nothing Less”. She says that her son would have been suited to a more Little House on the Prairie existence - playing outside and cutting logs rather than sitting at a desk. And that while life has evolved – children haven’t. 

I think there’s a lot of sense in what she’s saying and I can imagine that school can be difficult for a lot of children, and in particular, little boys. Excess energy can manifest itself into ‘being naughty’ when actually it is just a physical urge that needs to be channelled correctly. We see it sometimes in the children we teach. Some of them just can’t sit still so a whole seven hours (much of it in a classroom) must be very tricky.

Luckily for us at Perform, our workshops are very physical and interactive. So, while we do have sections that involve sitting still and listening, we alternate these with full-on physical activities. 

The first part of our workshops for 4-7s, “Move & Feel”, is completely physical – followed by “Listen, Speak & Sing” which is sitting down, talking and listening. When I first started Perform, I played around with the structure and had “Listen, Speak & Sing” first, but I found the focus of the children wasn’t as good as when they’d had 25 minutes of physical fun first. 

Clearly children need to run around and, although my son adores Minecraft and would happily play it 24/7, when he goes into the garden and kicks a ball around he has rosy cheeks and you can tell he’s happier than sitting on the sofa in an iPad trance. 

Traditionalists would claim that school is school and there has to be a structure. Children have to learn to control their base urges and do what they are told. That’s part of being educated.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between these two positions- a slightly different teaching approach for children who need to be more physical? I can imagine the challenges with a class of 30 children but, in my experience, all children respond well to learning in a physical way. 

It’s very tricky and I haven’t got the answer but I’d love to hear your view.



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    From Josie Webber
    I'm 100% with you on this. It seems very unfair that girls are naturally more interested in writing and reading and drawing etc, all more sedentary skills, whereas boys need to be learning with lots of activity built in, as schools only give them one PE lesson a week. No wonder my son is constantly drifting off in his own imagination during lessons, and no wonder that he gets carried away in play fighting at breaktimes, through shear frustration. When I teach boys music it works best when I get them away from the piano standing up and doing some crazy steps in time to a tune, to make a rhythm or a melodic line on something like a giant imaginary piano or drum, or doing a ball game on a gigantic stave. I reckon during the holidays if I give my two boys at least 2 hours per day of physical activity involving playgrounds, cycling, running races, playing on toy tractors, climbing, or indulging in a pop up disco while I'm cooking their tea, they thrive. Thank you so much for doing your blog, its very helpful.
    From Lynsey
    It's funny I've read this post today as I'm having a day where my little boy (who has just turned 5 a couple of days ago) is becoming by so overwhelmed & tired with school making it difficult for him to learn. Which makes me feel like I'm failing him. But I know this is not the case, especially being a children's occupational therapist. I know he is not always developmentally ready for learning. It doesn't help with the amount of pressure we (as in society & government) put on these children. It is way too much & I see children later on with some really huge mental health issues which I feel is steamed from the pressure put on them. Pressure from being at school all day, having reading & other homework. Trying to give them other fun opportunities & experiences outside of school & then encouraged to do 60 minutes of excerise a day to eating the right stuff. How do parents fit this in without pressure? What are we turning our children into?? Letting children be children is what we should be doing . Exploring the world through their senses and learning through different ways & developing their physical, emotional, social & psychological states first. We would have happier children & parents with reduced pressure!
    From Claire carter
    Sounds all so true - my boy is youngest in class with 23 girls & 6 boys & so outnumbered, feels odd from being youngest & still finds listening & paying attention a struggle.....but any physical task with someone dynamic & he is a different person! Skill of teachers to recognise this is a must!!!
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