Why are Teachers Quitting?

It seems that more and more we are reading articles and seeing in media reports that teachers are leaving the teaching profession more than ever before. According to the Wall Street Journal, teachers are quitting at record numbers. In the span of a year, one million teachers made the decision to leave the classroom. We are personally seeing and feeling this along with our colleagues.

The question often asked is why is this happening? We will tell you why we think this is happening. The teaching profession in the 21st century burns you out quickly. It does not matter whether you work in a public, charter, or independent school, teaching is hard and the demands and expectations placed on teachers coupled with low pay and lack of respect makes different professions more appealing.

The astounding thing about this recent trend in teachers leaving the profession in high numbers and early on in their careers, is that it seems to be a rather new phenomenon. Think back to your school days, we would guess that you probably had teachers whom had been teaching 15, 20, maybe even 25 years. Even as far back as when we began our careers, our mentors had been educators at the same school for 15-20 years. These experienced educators, whom we learned so much from, were tired and ready for retirement, but they did not appear to have the exhausted burnt out feeling that many teachers feel today. They and their counterparts were not leaving teaching at the rates of today.

So, the real question is: what is so different today than teaching in the recent past?

We asked a few of our teacher friends, and this is what they said:

Administration

  • Out of touch administrators
  • Administrators who value parents over teachers
  • Constant internal communication and no action
  • Not asking teachers for their opinions before implementing new policies or curriculum
  • No priorities, just long to-do lists
  • Unrealistic responsibilities placed on teachers
  • No support in the classroom with behavior issues
  • Lack of school psychologist or therapists
  • Large class sizes
  • Limited Prep Time
  • No breaks during the day
  • Possibility of being laid off
  • Leadership tends to be reactive rather than proactive
  • Pressure to teach to the test
  • Lack of autonomy


Parents

  • Over involved parents (AKA Lawn Mower Parents)
  • Constant access to teachers through email
  • Mean emails from parents
  • No boundaries
  • Callout culture

Kids

  • The effects of technology on this generation of children
  • Disrespect from students

Other things to consider

  • Low Wages
  • Lack of respect from society
  • Emotional stress that never leaves us

Teachers have always had to balance students, their parents, and administration. However, it use to feel that the accountability was placed on the child if a challenge came up at school. Teachers, parents, and administrators would work together to come up with a plan to support students with their challenges. These days it feels like there has been a shift in this dynamic and much of the accountability is placed on teachers. This shift has left teachers in a position to constantly try to please parents, even if it means going against what we know is right for our students. While many parents are supportive and truly want to partner with teachers, the over involved parents can make it very challenging and unpleasant. Relationships with parents can make or break a school year for a teacher.

If schools want to retain great teachers, we need strong administrators who believe in balance and boundaries. We need strong leaders that have experience being teachers themselves. We need them to set clear expectations for teachers and have boundaries with parents. We need to have office hours so there isn’t constant access through email on nights and weekends. We need administrators who trust us and support us when a challenge comes up. We need to have priorities rather than a never ending to-do list. We need to have realistic expectations and fair compensation.

Teaching has always been a hard job. However, in the 21st century the demands placed on teachers without the respect or economic compensation that equates the immense and most important work done by teachers is too much. Unless there is a paradigm shift in society in regards to teachers, we are going to continue to lose wonderful educators in our classrooms.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences are an important piece in the communication between teachers and parents. Meeting face to face is an excellent way to connect and continue to foster a positive relationship. Conferences are intended to give space for teachers to discuss goals and growths that they have seen in the student that year AND it is a way for parents to tell about what they have seen in their child’s growth as well. Over the years we have had many different experiences with parent-teacher conferences. We have had wonderful ones that left both parents and teachers validated and valued. We have also had some on the other end that didn’t go quite as planned. We came up with some great things to consider for a productive parent-teacher conference.

Teachers are on Your Side

Teachers genuinely care about the children they teach. Especially the ones that are struggling. It is never easy to point out challenges, weaknesses, or concerns that we have. Just know that we aren’t judging you or your child in a negative way. We are on your side, we want what is best for your child. A big part of our job is to set each and every child up for success. We don’t expect every child to be perfect and we understand that everyone is working on something. If your child is having difficulty with reading, that is not your fault. Nor is it your fault if they need extra support in math. It simply means that your child might need a different learning plan. If a teacher takes the time to do this, it means they see your child and understand what they need to be successful.

Arrive on Time and Respect the Time Limit

Most parent-teacher conferences have an allotted time. They can be anywhere from 10-30 minutes. When you have a scheduled conference it is important to be on time. If you are running late, be sure to stick to the allotted time schedule. If you need more time, it is perfectly okay to reschedule another meeting. Typically teachers are meeting with over 20 sets of parents and often conferences are scheduled back to back, so it is important to not run into the next meeting. When conferences go over, it puts the teacher in an awkward position with the following conference. No one wants to start off a meeting with bad juju!

Ask About Social Questions

Often times, the bulk of a conference is related directly to academics. Of course it is important to know reading level, math assessments, writing goals and if your child knows how to spell challenging words. Academics is what is associated with school, but school is also the place where children are learning how to socialize with others. It is where they test things out and explore different friendship dynamics. Children might need support socially, and knowing the answers to these questions could help you support your children and help them grow. Here are some great questions to ask your child’s teachers:

  • How does my child work in groups?
  • Are they collaborative?
  • Do they share with others?
  • Are they respectful towards adults?
  • Do they have friends?

Ask if Your Child is Happy

Elementary school should be a fun and engaging place. If your child is not happy, then you need to figure out why. There will come a point in your child’s life where school will become difficult and challenging (in a good way). In order to help them develop the skills to persevere and overcome these challenges, they need to have a foundation where they believe that education is important and fun. They need to understand the value of school. Having this foundation will help them when the going gets tough.

Communicate any Struggles you See at Home

If your child is struggling with something at home, it is important to communicate that to your child’s teacher. It is likely that these struggles are also showing up in the classroom. If you work together to tackle the challenge, it will make a huge difference. Understanding your child’s struggles will give you the knowledge and power to support them where they need it. Sharing that responsibility will create a village of people to support your child.

Disagree Respectfully

If for some reason you are not on the same page as your child’s teacher and the meeting is no longer productive, take a break and reschedule at a later time. It can be hard to get your point across when you are angry or upset. Gather your thoughts, make a list, try to get to the bottom of why you are upset. If you feel that your child is not being seen or understood, it is okay to express that in a respectful way.

Even if you don’t always agree with your child’s teacher, always be kind to them. They show up everyday to teach other people’s children. Regardless of differing views, you should never talk poorly about a teacher to a child. It is equally important to respect them in front of your children. If a child is hearing and seeing negative behavior toward a teacher, they will sure enough model that behavior at school. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to be in love with every single one of your child’s teachers. Being able to get along with a teacher that you don’t always agree with is going to teach your child a greater lesson about life. It will teach them to be respectful to all people. And you never know, maybe a teacher that seemed to be hard on your child at first, could turn out to be just what they needed to help them grow.

What are some things that you have found helpful during Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Mentor Teachers

We all began our journeys in education as assistant teachers. It was a great way to get our feet wet, experience a real classroom, and understand what teaching was really like. Our experience in this position was absolutely wonderful. Not just because it gave us the passion for teaching, but because we were learning from master teachers for a few years before we became lead teachers. When the time came for us to take charge of our own class, we were more prepared for the challenges of teaching because of our mentors. We were lucky enough to be surrounded by teachers who had decades of experience and still had the passion and spark for teaching. They showed us that they also respected us as educators and believed that we too had something to offer.

Always remember that it is okay to ask for help, to not have all the answers, and to seek advice from others. You don’t get an award or a bonus at the end of each year that states you “did it all alone.” Just as we encourage our students to learn and grow from each other, it is just as beneficial to learn and grow from your mentors and colleagues. It is essential as a teacher to seek knowledge and growth. To do it often and without hesitation will benefit you as a teacher and person and will also benefit all the students you teach.

Quite often it is easy to disregard older or more experienced teachers, as outdated and old fashioned. While we are sure that there are some teachers that are, for the most part, experienced teachers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that a novice teacher can benefit from. These are the people that have already walked the path that you are in. Chances are they have dealt with that student behavior, given that assessment, or had that challenging parent. They have experienced many administrators and can advice you on how to deal with a challenging one. They know what to expect and they can give you advice on how to deal with challenges that arise. Our mentors never disregarded us as inexperienced and naive and that made it all the more comfortable to go to them when we needed advice or wanted to bounce an idea off of them.

Teachers with a lot of experience also have great project ideas that they have done in their classes over the years. We still use some of the projects that our mentors created and left to us to use in our own classrooms. Some have been updated for 21st century skills, and they are still engaging and relevant. Both parents and students love them. Experienced teachers also have classroom management systems that they have been developing and perfecting for years. Use these! One of the best things is having systems in your classroom that really work. Why spend time creating everything from scratch, when you know great people that have great systems? Of course you will think of great things too along your teaching journey that you can pass along to others.

At this point in our career, we are now considered experienced teachers. Something that we still cannot believe! However, we absolutely love helping and mentoring new teachers. We try to make ourselves available to new teachers, support them, advise them, and sometimes even console them.

Teaching is a wonderful and challenging career, and having someone who has walked in your shoes is so incredibly helpful. We will never forget all the teachers who mentored us, even today in our classes, we feel their energy and continue to share their ideas with our students. Find great mentors and never let go!

Teaching Children Self Care

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog on Balanced Children. We want to revisit this idea with a specific focus on how to teach self care to children. Just as parents and teachers need to practice self care for their own benefit, we also need to teach kids how to CONSISTENTLY and INTENTIONALLY engage in self care activities. Teaching kids how to take care of themselves now, will equip them with the tools they need later. Kids need to learn how to manage stress in healthy ways.

Exercising

Encourage movement any chance you get! You don’t need to put your child in every after school sport for them to get exercise. You can encourage and model exercise in ways that don’t cost anything. Take walks, ride bikes, go on a hike. Encourage kids to dance, jump rope, roller skate, and hula-hoop. They also have free websites that encourage movement like GoNoodle and plenty of free kids movement videos on YouTube. Modeling the fun in exercise and movement for children will set them up to continue the practice as they grow up.

Laughter

Find every opportunity to laugh with your children. Laugh when things are great, but also try to find laughter when things go wrong. Children are going to make mistakes and if you laugh with them when they make simple mistakes like accidently spilling their milk, they will be less stressed about always having to get everything right and will be more open to taking different risks.

Encourage them to play fun games that make them laugh. Here is a great list of games that encourage laughter from Deep Fun. We also found a great list of board game that the entire family can enjoy from Toy Notes.

Reading

Help your children find books that they enjoy. Of course we want our kids to read “educational” books too. However, finding a book, an author, or series that your child enjoys to read for pleasure is wonderful for children.  If your child is reading something that they are interested in, then it is making them feel good. Reading for fun is a great way to help kids manage stress. It is pretty easy to setup a little cozy reading space with pillows, blankets and some of their favorite stuffed animals. There is nothing like forgetting the stressors of the day by getting lost in a good book.

Teach Mindfulness

There has been a big buzz around this word “mindfulness” in education and business recently. Mindfulness helps teach kids how to regulate their emotions. It can improve their ability to pay attention, can help them calm down when they are upset, and can help them make better choices. There are apps and websites that lead you through short mindful moments. Head Space is one of those options. They even have a series for kids. We have used these in the classroom, and students and teachers alike enjoy the mindful moments.

Mindfulness isn’t something you should force and definitely shouldn’t be used to punish kids when they have done something negative. Our advice is to keep it simple and help your children develop an awareness of thoughts, how their body is feeling, and what is happening around them at different moments. Often times, it seems like we (not just kids) are always wanting to focus on what is coming next. It is important to teach kids an awareness of what is happening right now.

Another component of mindfulness that is really wonderful in teaching self care to kids, is to focus on gratitude. This is really easy because you can do this anytime. It could be part of your bedtime ritual, dinner time talk, or you can encourage a gratitude journal. They have some excellent gratitude journals for kids on Amazon!

Outdoor Time

Get your kids outdoors! Spending time outdoors helps with the obvious, like getting sun exposure which gives us essential vitamins, and it encourages exercise, which we discussed earlier. But these aren’t the only benefits. According to the Harvard Health Blog, spending time outdoors also helps kids develop executive functioning skills, encourages risk taking, promotes socialization, and gives children an appreciation for nature. There is space for kids in nature to get in touch with their creativity. They build forts with sticks, play hide and seek, climb trees and rocks, or if the weather allows it, have snowball fights. This generation of children are over scheduled and plugged in since infancy. Spending free time outdoors is essential for development and will fuel adventure and creativity in kids.

Foster Friendships

Last week we wrote about our Teacher Tribe, and how cultivating a group of people who understand and support you can enhance your life. Friendships are important for children too, feeling a part of a community or group gives children self esteem and people to talk about their feelings to, other than their parents and teachers. This is especially important as they reach the upper elementary grades, where adolescence is on the precipes. You can ask your child’s teacher about who your child is playing with, or any recommendations about children with whom they might have a connection with. Setting up play dates and times outside of school where your child can make connections with other children is important to foster these friendships.

Manage Screen Time

This is probably one of the most difficult self care tools for parents to manage and model. We live in a world, where devices are in our hands and surrounding us all day. Everywhere your child goes, they see people staring into their devices, and this has been their world since birth.  By around 1 year old a baby knows to slide to unlock a phone, by 2 or 3 they know apps and can get onto Youtube to find the videos they like. Devices are fun, they are a distraction from the real world, however, as teachers, we cannot stress enough, how important it is to manage screen time for your child.

“Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” (CBC News) The best way you can do this is by modeling for your child. Put your own devices down and talk, read, play, or exercise together. Engage them in other activities that do not involve devices.

Sleep

Sleep and mental health have a close connection. We are all guilty of scrolling instagram at bedtime, but more and more studies are showing that to improve sleep you should stop using a device up to two hours before bed. If you can’t swing that, even 30 minutes to 1 hour will help improve sleep. Having a device box or a location where kids put their devices at a certain time, will help set an expectation for the family that can help improve sleep for everyone.

For more information visit The National Sleep Foundation website

All of these things that we are talking about seem very basic and obvious. And most of these things naturally took place when we were kids. We didn’t have devices and we were always outside playing. We didn’t call it self care for kids, we just called it being kids. As our world continues to evolve and advance, we need to take steps to ensure that we are aware of the effects that these changes have on our kids. Many studies are showing kids and teens are depressed and stressed and unable to handle normal things that life throws at them. We need to take a step back and make sure we are giving our 21st century kids the basic skills they need to manage stress and practice self care in this ever changing world.

Find Your Teacher Tribe

No one will understand the daily life like another teacher. There is an instant bond, a connection, that is felt when teachers meet. You see the gleam in each other’s eye. It is part love of school and part absolute exhaustion. You understand that as a teacher you are teaching 20-40  students in your class, you are expected to differentiate, create project based learning, collect data, grade, manage the class, document, communicate with 40-80 parents, and a plethora of other things. No one really gets the excitement and happiness of teaching nor do they understand the exhaustion and frustrations in teaching. That is why having a teacher tribe is the most amazing thing you can cultivate at your school.

We all met each other when we were assistant teachers. We became friends and supported each other through graduate school and credential programs, and we were lucky enough to become lead teachers at the same school around the same time. To say that we love and are there for each other would be an understatement. We have not only supported each other professionally, but we have been through major life events such as moving, buying houses, engagements, dating, marriages, births, and deaths.

When you spend your days with children, like we do, it is essential that you find the time to connect with other adults throughout the day. No matter how busy we were in the classroom, we always made time for lunch in the teacher’s lounge. For teachers, lunch isn’t just a time to eat. This is our time to connect, laugh, vent, complain and share. It can also be a time to escape from work to talk about everything BUT work. Your tribe can be a good group to unload, unplug and recharge. Being able to have lunch with your tribe everyday makes the tough stuff so much better.

When you have a teacher tribe, you can pop into their classes, share ideas, ask them to proofread emails, ask for advice about a kid, and support each other. You can send your students as messengers into their classrooms and they will do the same. They will watch your class when you need to run to the bathroom or make a quick copy. You can share ideas without judgement or competition. You are excited for their success and they support you in yours.

You see, we can laugh and commiserate with other teachers because we understand each other. We have all had the lawnmower parent, the new trendy educational tool pushed our way, the child who will not listen, and the administrator who is not supportive. We have felt the frustrations, anxiety, and sleepless nights associated with teaching. We get each other like no one else can.

Your teacher tribe is an important part of your arsenal of support. They become your friends and your family away from home. We spend so much of our waking time away from home, caring and educating other people’s children. Having another or a group of teachers be a part of your tribe can help make rough days sweeter. There are days when you may have (or will) question your career choice, as everyone does. Knowing that you have support at work who has had those days and will listen to your rants and raves can help lighten the load of the day. But beware! A good tribe will help you focus on the positive aspects of your day. Try not to fall into a blackhole of misery and self criticism. The foundation of your tribe should center on the positive aspects of education and learning. It is very easy to get carried away by our emotions. But our job, and our tribe’s job is to support each other and help each other refocus on why we went into the education field in the first place.

We are all at different schools now, but that didn’t break up our tribe. We make time to skype, message, meet up, and remain an active part of each others lives. Find your teacher tribe, and never let go. They are the ones who will keep you sane and happy when the teaching gets tough.

What do you like to do with your teacher tribe?


Self Care for Parents & Teachers

Many times when you are taking care of children, your own needs might get pushed aside. Whether you are a parent and have kids of your own, or you are a teacher and spend your days taking care of other people’s children, it is essential to carve out time for yourself. If you are both a TEACHER and a PARENT it is even more important to prioritize some time for self care. Sometimes it may feel impossible, so we wanted to share some helpful tips when creating space to take care of you!

Spending Time Away From the Kids

If you are a teacher and don’t have kids, your time out of the classroom is your time to take care of you. Don’t feel bad taking those personal days, or calling in sick once in a while. Your class will be okay. As we mentioned in our post about balance, you will always have work to do, so try to limit your school work at home. A teacher’s to do list is never ending, you don’t have to work every single weekend and evening. Take your home time to rejuvenate. Your students will benefit from you taking care of yourself.

If you are a parent of school age children, your time is when your kids are at school. It is really important that you know that it is okay to plan adult only activities on nights and weekends sometimes too. You might miss your children, but they will be okay without you for a weekend or evening.

If you are both a teacher and a parent, you need to get really creative to find some time for yourself. Guilt can be a persistent unwanted visitor. Unfortunately in this case, it surfaces in both arenas: at home and in school. There could be guilt for leaving your sick child with a caretaker while you are at work, or guilt for leaving your students with a sub. Think of it this way: you’re watching the Superbowl. You need to use the restroom. Should you miss the game play or the commercials? IT DOESN’T MATTER, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO GO! You need to be confident that whatever decision you choose to make is the best decision FOR ALL. Teaching and parenting both call for selfless thinking, but you have to remember that making yourself feel rested, relaxed and rejuvenated is a necessity. If that means finally using that floating holiday while your child is in daycare to walk the tempting aisles of Target for hours on end, do it.

Asking for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family and friends. Many parents feel guilty about asking or taking help from family and friends. They feel that they must do it all and do it alone. Until very recently child rearing was a communal affair. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other extended family members helped parents raise their children. The next time a friend, grandparent, or uncle asks you if you need help or if they could babysit, say yes! Take the time to do something for yourself. We promise they are not judging you, they just genuinely want to spend time with your children and help you in anyway that they can.

Much like parents, teachers should also not feel guilty about asking or accepting help from others. As veteran teachers we love helping newer teachers. Not in a condescending “I know better than you,” sort of way, but rather in a “What can I do to help you?” way. However, all teachers should ask for help. Teaching is an all encompassing and overwhelming profession, if you do not advocate for yourself and your needs in the classroom, then no one else will. It is important to remember that your needs are your students’ needs.

Saying No

Part of self care is maintaining balance as we wrote about in our previous posts. Taking care of you might mean saying no to the endless events that come up on the weekends. People might get offended, feelings might get hurt, but it is okay to say no. You don’t need to have plans to say no to something. And you shouldn’t feel the need to come up with an excuse. People who know and love you won’t make you feel guilty about not attending every little thing.

For teachers this includes school functions. Teachers often feel the pressure to attend all the plays, festivals, dinners, picnics, and fundraisers for their schools. However, after a long day of teaching, sometimes a teacher just needs to go home and rest. There are a plethora of ways teachers are able to show their support for the school. The number one support we give as educators is the amount of time and energy we spend to make sure each student’s academic and social needs are addressed under our care. Your administrators, coworkers, students, and parents will understand.

Exercising

Exercising is a great form of self care. It helps improve physical and mental health. When you choose to exercise all the stressors of the day go away, and afterward they do not seem to be as bad as they were. “Exercise may actually help ward off depression and anxiety by enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stressors.” [Why Endorphins (and Exercise) Make You Happy, by Kristen Domonell.] If you can’t get away to do it on your own, it can be done as a family. Take a hike, a walk, or put on a fun exercise video. The kids can be included and then you are modeling self care and healthy habits.  

Time with Friends

Whether you are a teacher, parent, or both, it is extremely important to connect to other adults. It is a great way to model friendship to your children and students in your class. You can spend time with other adults with or without your children. If your friends have kids, great! Make it a party. If they don’t that’s okay too. These friends are happy to take you away from your responsibilities and give you a break. MANY people without kids WANT to spend time with their friends kids, mini versions of the people they love!

Connecting with a Partner

If you have a partner, self care could be done together with a night out, spa day, or a weekend away. Even if you plan a night to stay in and cook together without the kids, it is important to connect and check in with each other. Especially if you are parents, it is important that you take the time to figure out how you can support each other in self care. Allowing each other time away and sharing in the responsibilities will help maintain a balance.

It is so important to not lose ourselves in the busyness of caring for others. When you take the time for yourself you will be able to better show up and be present for others. When you regularly practice self care, you will be less stressed, happier, and won’t be harboring feelings of resentment.


Balanced Children

We all want what is best for our children. We want what will serve them well presently and in the future. This way of thinking and the countless other pressures within the child rearing community lead us to think about the importance of getting children involved in after school activities, get tutoring on the weekends to get ahead, and have every moment of the day scheduled.

Now, more than ever, “home life” is dwindling. As adults, there is an urgency to spend nights and weekends “getting ready” for something: after a party is finished, there is another one to start thinking about; when a project has finally passed and all the preparations have paid off, there is the next project for another client; once the lasagna has been prepped for the week, it is time to start thinking about next week’s meal prep. All this has created a culture that spends a lot of time thinking ahead, but not enough time living in the moment. It has created a schedule that puts an individual more on the go, and less inside the home.

Unfortunately, this ideology is popping up sooner in life. How many times are three-year-olds signed up for soccer, ballet, or early coding “to help find their passion?” HINT: A child should be signed up for these activities because they can’t stop kicking any movable object at home, is twirling and moving to every kind of music, or are at least five years of age to truly start any valuable computer interactions. Children should dictate any extracurricular activity because passions are found through self-discovery.

Extracurricular

Every year during parent conferences, parents convey the pressure they feel to sign their kids up for extra classes after school and on the weekends because they hear other parents doing it. Unfortunately, an afterthought when planning extracurricular activities is the transition from one to another. Students come to school exhausted and unprepared to face the rigors of academia because they have spent 2.5 hours in traffic to get to their after-school activities the day before. Downtime is only actually relaxing when it occurs in a comfortable space. Parents of sleep-training children might remember that a nap in the car seat in between errands is not the same as a nap in the crib.  Resting in the car in between activities is not and should not count as “down time” for school-aged children.

Our advice is always the same: if your child does not actually need extra support, let them spend their extra time on something that makes them happy. Or better yet: let them figure out what to do with their own time. Some parents feel the pressure to be ahead in certain academic subjects, but what’s the rush? Kids are growing up way too fast and need more balance.

It might seem logical to think that your child will get an upper hand by being enrolled in any of the many tutoring programs that promise precious 1:1 time with your little one. However, in a culture that values the ability to effectively collaborate as a strong suit, your child will probably benefit more from spending his free time reading or playing by himself and bringing his discoveries to playdates with his peers. When children are genuinely interested in something, they have elaborate discussions about the topic with their peers, even more so compared to structured discussions in class. They recall events from books they have read or listened to or movies they watched, and dissect them with their friends. They might identify and enumerate all the spells from Harry Potter, discover patterns in the Percy Jackson series, or debate over which superhero has the best super powers. How many times have we seen children play house, where the parent takes care of the babies and the babies act extremely needy, wanting the constant attention of their mommy?

A child’s unstructured time entertains the possibilities of organically thinking through depth and complexity. Children who are given ample opportunities to “kick the can” make these valuable discoveries on their own. They might label and identify their thinking with icons in class, but we need to remember that these are prompts that naturally occur in the way children spend their free time–whether they are working on their own or interacting with their friends and family. It is important for children to receive information, whether it is from school, a walk around the museum, or a family trip to Yosemite. However, it is equally important for them to have time to digest all the information and interpret it internally or with their peers. This is when their curiosity peers through and new discoveries are made.

Home

Home is a safe space for children where they can rest, eat, play, and rejuvenate. Enjoy this time at home where you’re not rushing off to the next activity. Our children need this time to remain balanced. Find days when you don’t ever leave the house, stay in your pajamas all day, or have a movie marathon. Time when everyone is just reading for fun, or engaged in a board game with the whole family. This time is important for family units to connect in a fun, relaxed way.

It is equally important to have unstructured time at home and is a necessity for developing healthy kids. It fosters independence and responsibility. They need this time to be creative, to play, to go outside and explore. This is when they discover their passions. We have to give our kids the opportunity to just be children. We have to teach them balance by modeling balance. You can model hobbies by also spending time doing things you are passionate about. Now is the time to bake, woodwork, sew, or pursue something that will allow you to model for your child happiness and balance at home. Don’t be afraid to let your children be bored. They are smart, and they will realize the value of unstructured time.

School

Keeping a balance at school is just as important. School needs to be a place where kids develop a love for learning. It should be a joyous place where they can feel connected and part of a community. Yes, it is important to get through the curriculum so students are learning the academics and social emotional learning necessary for development. It is also extremely important for students to have unstructured time at school, time for choice, time for play, time for brain breaks, and time for passion projects. These things keep kids motivated and will create space for discovery, inspire creativity, and connection among peers.

We have to be aware that kids are at school 7 or 8 hours a day. Some even longer if they have working parents who drop them off early or need to send them to after school care. We need to be aware of how our students are feeling day to day and we need to create the balance they need to be successful and productive.

Students are doing school work all day long. It is important to keep homework to a minimum. If you do assign homework, make sure it is relevant and not just busy work. According to the National PTA “homework has the potential to negatively impact family and child interactions, and high quantities of homework not only add to stress, but do not necessarily lead to higher achievement outcomes.” They recommend only 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade and add 10 minutes of homework in each grade after.

Today more than ever, kids are growing up way too fast. We are raising kids who are stressed and depressed. It is our job as parents and teachers to help them create more balance and give them the space to be kids. We might only see our children or students for part of the day, but we need to make sure we are accounting for the entire day. Let’s all slow down, live in the moment, and stop rushing our kids through their childhood.