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It’s been gloomy and soggy in our neck of the woods. Six inches of rain in three days – more rain than we’ve had in two months.  Perfect weather to put the brakes on things. Perfect weekend to pause, putter, do nothing, and relax.  I spent some time this weekend digging into Dan Goleman’s new book, Focus.  His video, The Importance of Downtime, struck me hard enough to toss my to-do list most of the weekend.

This came on the heels of parent conferences in which families shared how their children have adjusted to school and middle school homework. It was enlightening to hear it from another perspective, which confirmed my suspicion that my kids were feeling a bit stressed.  A couple of weeks back, I noticed my students and others, sort of hitting the wall. We were into the steady pace of school, layered upon the weekly routines of music, homework, sports, dance, carpool et cetera. The novelty wore off and reality set in.

Quietly, I had students tell me they got home too late to do homework. Or that they fell asleep before doing it. Or the occasional fib about it being at home (when it was left undone for a range of reasons).  My own high schoolers were crawling into bed remarkably early or if they weren’t, their behavior made me think they needed to hit the hay early.  In a heart-to-heart with a diligent worker-bee fifth grader, I let her in on a Secret.  I told her I trusted her to use it when she needed it.  Later, I decided I need to share it with the whole class and with parents.

The Secret? To stop the mayhem once in a while. To pause. To have a night that you skip practice, table homework and chores and just be for a bit. You know what I mean – one of those jammies at 5:30 p.m. and breakfast dinner nights, followed by reading, snuggling under blankets, board games, talking or a movie with the family.

It’s no secret.  It’s just that many of us (young and old) need permission to pause.  Especially our students who are working so hard to learn new routines and new material, to be compassionate friends and responsible workers, athletes, artists, musicians and, oh yes, children.  They need time to play, time to lounge, time to disconnect, be with the families they love and to be alone with their own imagination.

I notice often in families, my own included, that it’s easy to get caught up in the routine of “gotta-bes” and “need-to-bes” – places to get to, teams to be on,  boxes to check. While that sort of planning and accomplishment can be immensely motivating and rewarding, it can also be draining. So it’s okay to pull the plug once in a while. It’s often necessary.   Adults know they need to disconnect from work and  re-connect with ourselves, but we need to also give our kids permission and the model to do the same. The constant go-go-go of school and activities, punctuated by the pings of technology and fractured attention needs to be broken – or at least balanced – by quieter moments.  Even extroverts who love to be busy, can benefit from slowing down.

Giving our kids and ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.  As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tells his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind in very helpful ways.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action and learning.  Regular mindfulness practice can rewire the brain circuitry that – it times of stress – interrupt the downstairs brain from high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event.

Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman again in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

I hope that this week, you find a few moments of quiet and that you can help your students or children find some quiet. Real quiet. No technology, no distractions.  And if you’re up for it, let us know how you find time to pause.

Next time, I’ll share some reasons I’m passionate about showing our kids to slow down and why it’s essential in education.

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Lisa Dewey Wells

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