The mental health and well being of our students has been a topic of study and discussion for us all due to recent tragic events within the town. As a staff we chose to make this the focus of our November faculty meeting. Although these tragic events took the lives of high school students, we all feel strongly that a focus on student mental health is vitally important at all levels. Unfortunately we are seeing more young students with high levels of stress and anxiety and often wonder about how we can help.
Some of the steps we’ve taken here at Conant to help minimize student stress are focusing on homework to ensure it is high quality, purposeful and not overly time consuming. Planning together as grade levels to ensure due dates for projects and assessments for different classes do not all happen at the same time or on the same day, and encouraging students to realize strong effort and resilience is more important than perfection in a final product. We are not, however, lessening our high academic standards or saying a robust curriculum is not important. It is our belief that a strong curriculum can coexist with a balanced, child centered approach to learning that includes play and unstructured downtime, which are necessary for healthy overall child development.
While we will continue to explore ways we can help our students develop academic strengths and healthy minds and bodies, we also realize the most important and influential people in a child’s life are their families. We’d like to share the following ideas with you as we partner to help all of your students reach their full potential.
- Reward Strong Effort - We all often get overly concerned with a final grade when we should be looking at how much effort was put into a project. Perfection should not be our focus. Effort, resilience and determination are truly the characteristics that make people successful. Although a good grade is a nice outcome, strong effort and the ability and willingness to deal with difficulty should be praised more so than the final grade.
- Encourage Play - Busy lives make it hard to just let kids play, but play is the work of a child. Anytime you can, send the kids outside and tell them to play or set up some board games and bring some friends over. Join them if you can, it’s good for everyone!
- Allow Downtime - Sometimes, children just need time to recharge batteries. In a typical school day, children are learning complex material, learning about social situations, and working very hard. Unstructured downtime is a way kids can process their day, build memory and solidify learning (both academic and social). Kids need a little screen time, some time to read, or draw or talk. Constant engagement in activities is very stressful for developing minds.
- Maintain Balance - Our students are involved in many engaging cultural, academic and athletic activities. We all see the value in what they learn through these exciting opportunities. Sometimes, however, these pursuits become the only focus of out of school time. It is important that children are not over-scheduled with activities or outside homework. Over-scheduling is often reported as the main stressor for children. Finding balance is key to healthy development!
We thank you for all you do in support of your child’s education and our school community. We hope to partner with you to ensure our students not only excel academically but also develop the work ethic, social skills and persistence needed to truly succeed in our ever changing world. A well balanced, age appropriate education and opportunities for children to play and explore the world on their terms are paramount in developing healthy individuals. We will continue to keep you informed about our own discoveries as we refocus on the whole child, after all, that is the whole idea!