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A Clue to the ADD Increase

on November 23, 2013
Students in the incubation room at the Woodbin...

Students in the incubation room at the Woodbine Agricultural School, New Jersey (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)

Before the 80’s students played outside not once but often twice a day. When I started teaching in 1986, I taught the last group of kindergarten students who took naps and had two mandatory playtime hours outside. Lunch time was also a period kids could talk and socialize but within limits. Foods were often fresh not processed or canned. Kids had cookies and cakes which they looked forward to. Music, art, and dance were often a part of the daily curriculum. Field trips were every other month to visit farms, museums or concerts. ALL student participated. All were expected to behave. If they did not it was never the teacher or someone else’s fault. Everyone was accountable for their own actions. There were holiday celebrations. There were days when the entire school would take part in field day or even a school wide movie treat. I remember seeing Disney’s “The Shaggy DA” on a huge movie screen via an old reel to reel projector.  I didn’t have to read 20 books or have perfect attendance. It was just a school wide treat for ALL. I never got plastic toys or stickers everyday. I did get those little foil stars. Boy, those were coveted. I do remember getting ice cream and occasionally a lollipop.

I do not remember classmates or parents cussing. I do not remember kids running around or yelling in the classroom. I do remember class bullies but those were taken care of quickly until the next year. I was certain bullies were empowered during the summer months and had to meet the “board of education” before Christmas to fix their attitudes. But we survived and learned how to deal with those types. I remember others who struggled. I remember the teachers working with those students and their parents never having to challenge or threaten the school. I remember teachers commanding respect and me very willing to give it because in many ways they showed us respect as well. I remember pranksters but never to the extent of causing harm to anyone. Many a few of us got embarrassed but we saw it once again as a lesson learned. I am certain I have no lasting scars from my formative school days. I have good and bad memories but nothing which altered my life to one of crime or disobedience.

I believe we became very successful in our own ways because we were allowed to explore and have time to “unwind.” We were not over scheduled or jetting off to tournaments across the state and region. We were not in everything to make sure we had skills above our developmental levels. We were allowed to be kids. We fell down and skinned our knees without causing a law suit. We fell off bikes without suing the company because the training wheel snapped off. We did witness accidents and learned. Not to be cruel but there is a circle of life we cannot challenge. Things happen even if you live in a bubble. Our parents didn’t shield us from such events. I attended funerals of friends who had unexplainable deaths. I visited friends in the hospital. My parents never hid the truth of what happened, it was a part of life. Maybe more so in my case because I grew up on a farm. I witnessed births and deaths. I loss my pets and had to deal with the fact that farm animals have a dual purpose in life. I will leave it at that. Pain, hunger, fear… all emotions and feelings I was allowed to feel. We all have a right to. The more we shield children from these the more tension and hostility can develop. What we do not understand can haunt us. I am not saying we needed all the dirty details. Children need to know what is age appropriate.

Today kids are rushed around. They are expected to achieve unbelievable feats often before their bodies or minds are ready to be fully aware. Technology is great but even the Wii doesn’t substitute for climbing trees and feeling the effects of gravity. A lesson learned by experience. Their lives mimic super adults or professional athletes. Did we really read 60 books a year? I haven’t noticed my performance being stunted because I got to choose my books from the library and write reports, not take a test to prove if I truly read it. Ok, I will make some folks mad but I believe Accelerated Reader and such programs are causing more harm than good. More so for kids with learning challenges. They just do not read as fast not to mention they hate it even more when being forced. Also there will always be great testers. It doesn’t motivate a challenged student seeing the same folks get prizes. That is another blog in itself.

What homeschooling and private schools have that the public schools do not is time. They allow students time to learn social skills. They allow for recess and organized activities which are necessary for growth. Life is not who can work the fastest math problem or can write the perfect essay as a goal for all. Progress will always happen even without test scores as predictors. Einstein, Graham Bell, Beethoven, and others would have never  accomplished what they did because they did not make the grade we assign now to measure success. What they did was to be inspired to dream and explore. They  played and lived even as adults during a time when it was still allowed.

Working with children and adults with ADHD,  I have found they accomplish more when they are allowed to move around. I do not limit them to a lead pencil. I let them read while under a table. They can listen to music while they study. And, some I take on a hike to discover wonders which inspire them to write or compose. I try to never miss an opportunity to teach-to-the-moment. I teach how I was taught. If we allow some wiggle room and some creative ways of tackling a problem be it math or writing I do believe we will start seeing less problems and more interest. All my opinion so don’t sue me for expressing so. But really, would you want a top scoring test taker or a person who can actually walk you through the process and make a discover while doing so to increase the performance of an assemble line?

Sadly, even the zoos are understanding and making changes. Caged animals are more difficult to deal with and are very unhealthy due to being kept in small quarters with limited interaction. Animals in their natural setting given challenges and stimulated, flourish and thrive. Don’t you think the same would be true of children and adults? Check the research about the bizarre behaviors of caged animals versus those in natural settings. You find some similar problems occurring in our schools. ADD/ ADHD symptoms and those of caged animals are…. well, you decide.

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