Dear Person in Charge,
I am writing on behalf of the Class of 2030, the class you have meet this fall as kindergarteners, one of the first classes without nap time or even rest time in their daily schedule.
I met with a parent of one of those kindergarten kids this week. We talked about the rigor of kindergarten, not just the academic rigor, but also the physical, emotional, and social rigor as well. The Mom is concerned that her little girl just wont have what it takes to cope with it all, without the respite that rest time offers students in a very busy kindergarten day. She is right to be concerned. All day, every day kindergarten requires stamina.
The Mom also wondered if it was worth the fight to advocate for a kinder approach to kindergarten with you, the administrators, the school board, and other parents who seem more interested in adding more academic rigor to a school day, seemingly without regard to what is best for five year olds. I don’t know if she, or if any other parent will feel confident enough to start the conversation. It is difficult to start kindergarten, or any school year by challenging policy; no one wants to be “that parent”.
Allow me, a teacher, to make the case for rest time, even napping in kindergarten or any other grade. Heck, I’ll even make a case for rest time in the teachers lounge.
Could you drop, on a mat on the classroom floor, in the middle of the day, on a mat with twenty of your co-workers and relax enough to fall asleep? Think about what it would take to make it possible. We would need to clear our minds, focus on rest, relax our bodies, filter out the distractions around us, calm our breathing, and trust the environment around us enough to sleep. Those skills that we use to relax are one way each of us practices self-regulation every single day.
Those exact skills, focus, attention, relaxing, filtering, and trusting are the same skills we hope children bring to learning and, ultimately to testing. In a hurried world, children do not have the opportunity to practice the art of calming as often as they need to. Rest time gives children daily practice of self-regulation. Rest time builds a skill set for learning.
Rest time gives children the opportunity to reflect. For those children who do not fall asleep, and even for those who do, rest time allows children to think about what they are learning from lesson plans, from social experiences, and from watching others. When we ask children to be quiet and rest, we ask them to go inside their brains to think, to imagine, to remember, and to problem solve. Critical thinking wires in the quiet spaces of life. Rest time helps them remember what they have learned.
Rest time cools down the intensity of social situations that often result in behavior issues. Tired kindergarteners have a difficult time regulating their emotions and their physical bodies. Most of us struggle to maintain composure when we are angry and tired. Asking kindergarteners, kids without much life experience or impulse control, to navigate social situations and behave well for a whole school day is asking too much of them. Rest time gives them time to cool down. Rest time makes them better friends.
When we sacrifice rest time for academics, we actually risk academic growth. When children do not get enough rest, teachers see the effect. In schools, we see kids who “fall apart” when disappointed, we see kids who struggle to get along with others, and kids who give up too easily, not because they can’t do something but simply, because they are pooped. Rest time makes kids more confident.
Parents see children they do not recognize at home. It’s ugly. In the precious few hours parents spend with their kindergartener in the evening, they see their child whine, fuss and they nearly fall asleep at the dinner table. At the end of the day, it is nearly impossible for five and six year olds to cope with the rigor of a full time school schedule, especially at the beginning of the school year. It’s too much, and they tell us so by behaving accordingly. Rest time makes them happier children.
We often lament about the good old days and wonder what we can do to help children “preform better”. When I went to kindergarten, I went for a half day. In that half day, I had nap time and I slept, I slept hard. When we ask five year olds to come to school for twice as long and we ask them to take on curriculum beyond the scope of what is developmentally appropriate for them, the least we can do is give them a break in the middle of the day.
So how much does rest time really cost us in reading scores? Is it worth it? Rest time is essential to our health and well being whether you are five or eighty-five. Rest makes us well.