Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why We Left Public School- The Importance of Sleep and Breathing

The Viking Dad and I have made the difficult decision to take the Viking Kiddos out of Public School and send them to a Waldorf School. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the new curriculum entering the California schools called Common Core Curriculum. You can read about it here. When I sat in the Staff Meeting in which we learned about the new English Language Arts material and reading list I asked, "When do the Children get to breath?" 

We all breath. Every living being on this planet has a form of breathing. However, do we really let our children breath? 

In this day of hectic schedules, homework, athletics, extra curricular activities, and family life our children have little time to breath and sleep. Why is that so important? Don't they just need 8 hours of sleep?

The Waldorf education model is the ONLY educational method that uses a combination of both rhythm of  teaching in conjunction with sleep in order to aid learning! Yes, sleep is actually encouraged. 

Why is sleep and breathing so important? 

1. It is a known fact that the ability of the child to perform intellectual works in the grades is dependent upon the development of the well developed lower senses. The only time the body has physical growth is during SLEEP! Sleep deprivation affects everything a child or a person does in their daily life. There is a connection between sleep deprivation in disorders like ADHD, and lowered immune functions. This is well documented and researched concept. 

2. A young child is unified in body, soul and spirit and all sense impressions go right into the child without any ability on the part of the child to censor these impressions. These impressions form the physical body and sleep is the way these impressions build up the physical body.

3. Rhythm is what supports the foundation of sleep and the lack of sleep puts a lot of stress on the body, especially on the liver. The lack of rhythm also places stress on the heart and the adrenal glands. There is more information coming out about Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Insufficient Adrenal Gland Syndrome that is connected to the lack of rhythm in our life. As a person fights to stay awake due to sleep deprivation  the adrenal glands kick in and produce high levels of cortisone and adrenaline hormones. These hormones at a high level put stress on the liver. These high levels of hormones also effect blood pressure, breath and heart rate. This is why schools and doctors see a rise in childhood illnesses at the school age. 

4. The need for naps! In the Waldorf Schools it is believed that children 3-6 years old still need 30 minutes naps. It is encouraged that if the child doesn't nap then bedtime should be 7 pm! 

“In consideration of healthy physical development, one cannot stress enough the need for long periods of rest and sleep for young children.  In fact, due to the increasing pace of life, more sleep is needed now than ever before to offset the physiologic strain on the young body.”  -“Toward Human Development:  The Physiological Basis of Sleep” by Lisa Gromicko, available through the Waldorf Early Childhood office.
Breathing and Sleeping go together in the rhythm of a Waldorf School. However, breathing isn't some kind of random exercise. Breathing consists of activities through out the day that lets the child rest. These activities or rhythms through out the day can consist of painting, play, drawing, baking bread, music, gardening, eurythmy and more. 
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, wanted Waldorf Educators to take the following to heart: "Among all the ways in which human beings related to the external world, breathing is the most important." But,  "the child can not yet breath properly inwardly and education has to consist of teaching the child to breath properly."
The connection between the spirit and the soul of the body depends on proper breathing. When a teacher brings rhythm in the day which alternates between free play and guided activities children learn to breath. A seamlessly rhythmically structured day, connected with homely rhythmically activities, rhythmical language and rhythmical singing provides a foundation for development of the body and provides a healthy environment for the student. 
As a parent and a teacher I became increasingly more frustrated over the school year when I heard from Viking Monkey Boy's and Viking Lady Bug's  teachers state, "We don't have time...." or "I don't have time for that...."  At one point I wanted to shout, "Make the time!"  Then I sat back and observed Viking Monkey Boy's class. I couldn't believe how much information was crammed into a very busy 55 minute period with little or no break for the students. All the work was done in their desks. Students were rarely allowed to get up from their desk to move. It was not uncommon for the teacher or the aide to remind the students to focus, be quiet, focus etc.  What little break time they did have consisted of a 15 minute snack recesses and a 30 minutes lunch and recess combination. Viking Monkey Boy started his day at 8:55 am and ended at 3:00 pm. That is a long time in school with little breaks.  Viking Lady Bug's day was similar but with less time. Her day ended by 1:45 pm with only a 30 minute lunch/recess combination.
 I was very disturbed and filled with anxiety when Viking Lady Bug would come home from school exhausted, in a foul mood, and would have these awful tearful meltdowns. I wasn't much better because I so wanted to protect her. After one particular melt down she fell asleep in my arms. I remember looking at the clock and seeing that it was only 4:15 pm. It became very clear to me the need for sleep and breathing! 
"But Viking Mom- what about after school?"  This questions came to me after a discussion about homework. It is well known that I am anti-homework. I don't even assign homework, which many of my students love! I am saving this topic for another post.  
Yes, what about after school? In our family rhythm this is the time between the end of school and dinner when the Viking Kiddos can decompress from the day. We have started Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in addition with Baseball. The rhythm of our home is that bedtime is 8:00 pm. Which means after the afternoon activities, it is dinner, bath and then bedtime. No room for homework. I have also observed that the Viking Kiddos sleep better without the stress of home work. 
I understand, but don't agree, with the schools focus on academics and meeting the standards for the end of the year Standardized Testing. Why is there such race to non- existing finishing line? Learning is life long!

Bless Bless
Viking Mom


 “The Importance of Sleep” by Susan Johnson, a MD with an anthroposophic perspective

There is a beautiful website called Why Waldorf Works that I have often used as a quick reference to parents who are interested in Waldorf Education. 

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