Schools, Movement, and Expectations
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
Year after year our children go to school to learn, socialize and grow. But what does that mean for their natural tendencies to move and play?
When I decided to become a parent coach, it wasn’t because I had discovered the magical formula to raising children perfectly, it was in part because I wanted to offer challenging ideas to parents.
And this one right here, brought to us by the brilliant late Sir Ken Robinson, is that schools, built to educate our children and take them into their future, can have a negative effect on their creativity.
He argues that with their emphasis on mathematics and languages, schools automatically devalue the more creative subjects. Moreover, even within the arts, there is a hierarchy, with art and music given more importance than drama and dance. And yet, dance is something that comes so naturally to children. In fact, I am pretty sure that all babies can dance before they can even stand. It is a natural reaction to the sounds of music or the beats of clapping hands; it is an instinctive manifestation of their excitement or happiness.
Learning upside down?
Children just move their bodies as they see fit without thinking, without fearing judgment, and they just know how to flow. As they grow a little, kids bounce from one couch to the next, roll on the floor or practice stretching to see how far they can go. When they sit comfortably with their heads to the floor and their legs up the wall in a way that would make most adults nauseous, kids are learning about movement, about how they feel, and they are testing their limits. I have observed in disbelief the strange positions my son can take while he is reading. He is just being himself, his body flowing as it needs to, and he simply doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. At that point, he is as focused as a child his age can be, so immersed in his reading and disconnected from the world around him that he is not even noticing how I am staring at him and signalling to his father to witness the sight; he is in full learning mode.
Children just move their bodies as they see fit without thinking, without fearing judgment, and they just know how to flow.
Now I am not suggesting that we let kids sit upside down in the classroom, because 30 kids, each with their own couch and a teacher trying to direct their attention to the topic of the hour hardly seems realistic, but I just want you to think about how different the classroom environment is, from this strange position my son needed to enjoy reading and learning.
What does that mean for our expectations?
Taking a pause here to think about this is extremely important. We may not be able to revolutionize the schools our kids go to, but we can keep this in mind when our kids come home and we expect them to continue to behave the same way they were asked to behave in the classroom for a good 6-7 hours. We expect them to sit down properly, again, to do their homework, which may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and then once more, we want them to sit with impeccable etiquette at the dinner table. Now, let me be honest, if I were to describe my ideal (and delusional) afternoon and evening with my kids it would look a little like this:
My child would come home in a good mood (oh mommy I loved my day at school today!), take a healthy snack like an apple and some celery (instead of rummaging for a granola bar and some cookies), sit down to do his homework without complaining because he understands that “if you just sit down and do it it’ll take 20 minutes and you’ll be done!,” he will then magically go entertain himself and fully engage in creative play without fighting with any of his siblings. Sometime after that, I can call him and everyone else to the dinner table, once—I would only have to call them once— and we can then sit down with happy smiles and have open and honest conversations about how our respective days went. Of course, there would be no interruptions, no one would complain about the food or the vegetables I expect them to eat, and after the meal, we would all clear the table together (without complaints or repeating the request 15 times). The children, one after the other, will then make their way up the stairs to go take their showers, brush their teeth and pick a book. Kind of sounds like the Von Trapp family before Maria stepped it doesn’t it? (You will remember, however, that it took training with whistles and fearing their father to get to that level of “perfect” discipline.)
Now in the reality of my day-to-day, if I can get two of the above-listed steps done without someone complaining or any tension rising, I would call it a win!
This perfect tableau does not exist in my home, nor does it exist in many homes with young children, or even not-so-young children, very simply because it does not fit with their natural inclinations. So no, this doesn’t mean we let things go out of control and let children eat off the floor and skip homework, we just realign our expectations with a new understanding of who our children are, what their day looked like and the space we need to give them to be kids, because the classroom is certainly not made for that.