Education Quandary

Do primary schoolchildren need more quiet in class? And if so, how can we introduce it?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This teacher fears that the constant stimulation of exciting lessons is making children edgy and unsettled. She is not alone. More and more primary schools are now trying to balance out classroom buzz with built-in "downtime".

Primary schools in London and the North-west have introduced massage, for example, where children learn to give each other a daily, 10-minute head-and-shoulders massage. It sounds creepy, but the schools report that problems in the playground have plummeted, social cohesion has risen, and pupils have become altogether calmer and more attentive. And perhaps not surprisingly. Touch is a powerful form of communication and massage stimulates the vagus nerve, which slows and relaxes the central nervous system.

More straightforwardly, one teacher with a piano in her classroom uses her skills as a pianist to restore calm. When things are getting overheated, she has pupils lie on the carpet with their eyes shut while she plays some soothing Brahms.

Another teacher tried lighting a candle and telling her class that they were going to sit in silence for two minutes. They could either close their eyes, she told them, or stare at the flame. The class did this every day for a week. When she asked if they wanted to continue, every single one of them said yes. But, alas, a week or two down the road, pressures of the national curriculum threw this silent time out of the window.

Readers' advice

Many children need more time and space in their lives - full stop. For many, life seems to be a constant dash from one activity to another, with no time simply to be, think or imagine.

In school, why not try sitting quietly and concentrating on simple, yoga-style breathing exercises? Alternatively, start some lessons of the afternoon session with some calming music.
Wendy Pridie, Hereford

If this teacher feels that her lessons are getting too frantic, it is her job to shift the pace within her classroom. Part of what we teachers do is orchestrate the school day so that our pupils get variety and interest. No one is in charge of our classrooms but ourselves, and if we let outside pressures dictate what we do or don't do, we are giving away our professional powers. She should make the time to do whatever she thinks is right for her children.
Dolly Purvis, Cambridge

My niece's primary school brought in a yoga teacher for three sessions last year, who taught the children how to relax and meditate, having them imagine they were walking in a beautiful garden. The idea was to get the children to relax before taking their SATs, and it seemed to work. Their results were better than the year before. But when my sister asked the head if they could do this every week, she was told that there was no time.
Sarah Crackington, Dorset

Next week's quandary

Is teaching a job that you would recommend? My grandson, who is at university, is thinking about becoming a teacher, but his parents are trying to persuade him against it. They think there is not a lot of money in it, and that he will have a stressful life, battling with difficult children who don't want to learn.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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