I Just Need Some Time and Space

Many of us may have heard someone we love or care about say “I just need some time and space”. You may have said it yourself. This sometimes-earth-shattering phrase can be the ‘writing on the wall’ when it comes to a relationship or partnership. It can be a way of saying “I need to think, reassess, close my eyes, evaluate, reset – in a place of my choice”

Having worked in many different schools, I have come to hear children say this when the environment they are experiencing becomes too much for them.  “I just need some time and space”. When the bell goes every time they become intensely interested in something, when they’re told to learn something that doesn’t interest them, when the highly competitive nature of the environment praises for what they ‘can’ do, and makes them feel inadequate when they ‘can’t’.

If your child goes to school, look closely at the Mission and Vision statement the school offers. If you need to dig through multiple layers of the website to find it, then that’s usually a sign of how important the school sees it. If they don’t have one, then you might like to ask why. 

Mission statements describe exactly why a school exists, its culture, values, ethics and so on. A good mission statement has been the result of thorough contemplation and soul searching from the organisation, involving multiple members of the community. Try coming up with your own Mission and Vision for your family. Sit down with them with a blank sheet and really try to decide what your values and desires are for your family. It’s an engaging and thought-provoking exercise.

There’s a high chance that your school’s mission statement will say something like this

 “….we provide a high quality education that builds a foundation for life-long learning…”

Life-long learning appears in many, if not most school mission statements, but how many schools can actually say what Life-Long Learning is and how many can tell you exactly how they provide an environment that builds this foundation?

We know so much more about how humans learn best, through research particularly of the brain, than before. Children from birth, have a natural propensity to learn. Babies need no encouragement to engage with their environment. No coaxing or persuading is needed for them to build connections with everything around them. There’s no need for rewards to make them interested in learning, and yet, often when they enter the traditional school system, rewards and extrinsic motivation becomes the norm. Schools need to ask themselves why this is. What shifts when they enter an environment that surrounds itself with grades, comparison with others and a set curricula?

Ideally, children are brought up in a world where caring, nurturing adults offer them multiple chances to explore and where the adults (whilst wanting them to be safe) help them navigate multiple experiences, mostly though play.

It is important that children continue to be excited and engaged with the world around them and that they continue to be comfortable with making mistakes. We know that making mistakes is essential for learning. Wouldn’t it be great if we, like so many scientists do, start a sentence when we’re discussing what might be a contentious issue, with “I may be wrong, but……”

As the late Ken Robinson said in his famous Ted Talk Do Schools kill creativity? “By the time children get to be adults most have lost the capacity [to make mistakes] – they have become frightened to be wrong”. Studies have shown children actually lose their sense of enjoyment for learning and creativity as they progress though some traditional school systems.

Schools that truly believe they want to offer a foundation for life-long learning need to provide the time and space for them to explore, make mistakes and learn what they are interested in. They need to shift the responsibility for learning to the learner. 

We all face hurdles when we are learning. Hurdles that pop up, that we may need to jump (or run around) in order to achieve something that interests us. Anyone who has reached a proficient level playing an instrument will know that scales and arpeggios are not always the most exciting part of practicing, but they are a necessary hurdle to achieve a high level of performance. The same can be said for the athlete who endures those early morning runs. But when children chose a path for themselves, it’s much more likely that they will be willing to jump those hurdles to achieve what they want. If children are being coerced in to doing something they don’t want to, it’s a much longer, harder journey.

“I just need time and space” that’s what children are crying out for. Time to focus on what they want, and the space or environment to do it.

Schools like the Learning Project in Ibiza offer an environment where children can create, play, study, invent, make mistakes, rest – all on their terms in a community that celebrates creativity.  Adults are there to guide, support and teach in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way.

Intrinsic motivation is the key to truly “learning for life”.

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