The Power of ‘Down Time’

The idea of a child “daydreaming” has become a negative concept that is frowned upon in the mainstream education system. My Dad and I had a chat recently about how schooling has changed since he was a child. Dad pointed out that when he was young his schooling was very traditional. He remembered that the children were forced to sit up and pay attention all day. However, Dad also said; “but, at the end of the day we would go home, have afternoon tea and then play in the yard until dinner”. This seems to be the difference. When Dad was a child, children were given plenty of time to learn how to “use their own brain”. Playing in the yard is not only playing, but it is also an opportunity for the child to experience complete freedom. When children are given downtime without adults we allow them to think for themselves, be creative, imagine, examine, explore, take risks and problem solve. If we do not allow children to learn how to think for themselves and be comfortable with their own thoughts, how can we expect them to grow up to be adults who are critical and creative thinkers?

In my experience, many children who find Mainstream education so difficult and present as “children with behaviour problems” may feel stressed to the max because they have been in environments where everything is programmed for them. For example, a little boy I worked with attended before school care each morning from 6am-9am, then school from 9-3, followed by after school care from 3-6pm. This was his schedule five days a week. The school schedule that demanded his constant high energy and attention was all too much and he often ran away from class (quite tellingly he went to sit on the oval by himself most times. He was just seeking some downtime). 

Of course, our society has changed so that more parents are required to return to work so that they can provide for their families. This is not something to be frowned on, each family has different needs, however, perhaps it is time we looked at how we are teaching the young people in our schools? Have we adapted our teaching techniques to provide these children with a little more space and independence considering the fast-paced environment they are living in? 

Montessori classrooms provide something that many children do not get to experience any more in today’s fast-paced world; the opportunity to experience peace and quiet. In Montessori classrooms, children are given the time to pause and reflect and to self-monitor their emotions. They are given the space to think, to reinvigorate and refocus so that they remain happy and energised throughout the whole day. Often you will see children in Montessori classes completing seemingly “menial tasks” like sweeping, polishing or arranging flowers. However, when we observe these children over a period of time we see that these simple tasks are the child’s way of re-energising themselves to tackle the next challenging work. Space and time for contemplation and reflection is a unique feature of Montessori education. 

Already in our modern society, adults are finding it harder and harder to be self-reflective and happy following their own thoughts and interests. Sadly, our first instinct when we find ourselves with nothing to do is to grab our iPhone, iPod or MacBook or turn on the television or radio. Let us remember that the greatest thinkers in our history were philosophers. These people spent a lot of time contemplating, thinking and refining their ideas in peace and quiet. They took the time (and were given the time) to make use of their brain! 

Let’s foster this ability in our children and provide them with Montessori classrooms that foster deep concentration and most importantly provide them with opportunities to relax and reflect in between all that hard work. 

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