“Holistic approaches to teaching and learning recognise the connectedness of mind, body and spirit.” (Belonging, Being and Becoming p14)
At Flinders University Childcare Centre, children engage with a wide variety of activities over the course of the day. Their minds and bodies are challenged in myriad ways as they move, run, roll, climb, dig, play, pretend, draw, make, paint, explore, garden, build or any other activity we can conceive of together. Many children choose to be perpetually “on the go”, even using mealtimes as a further opportunity to wonder, question, recount or network rather than as down-time. Not every child’s need for sleep is going to be the same at any age. Especially as they learn with age to meet most of their sleeping needs overnight, the intent of having a short “relaxation time” may shift from the focus necessarily being sleep, to providing children with an opportunity to stop and find stillness. Some children may regularly still need to sleep during the day, or may need a catch-up sleep on occasion, meanwhile others find their need for daily naps reduces.
Marion Dowling points out that “…children are bombarded with stimuli and invitations to expand their lives…and this can lead them to look always for answers outside of themselves. We offer young children something of infinite value if we help them to look for resources within.”
When children of any age slow down their bodies, teaching themselves to be still and quiet their minds are freed up to work in a different way, to process all the sensory experiences and information of the day and “file them away” in the brain as deep learning. They cease to simply impulsively do, but engage in reflective, mindful movement of the mind freeing up their imaginations and making the rest of their day more intentional (which makes both relationships and activities easier to navigate).
The exact length of time that each child needs to slow down for will vary. Some will fall asleep, while others simply listen to the music or become aware of bird calls. For some children stillness in itself is challenging, and for these children learning a different way of paying attention is vital. At the same time they are also showing empathy for more tired friends, and a respect for the group by humouring other people’s need for calm and quiet…often these are the children who surprise themselves over time by discovering a richness in the quiet.
Children are constantly learning throughout their early years and perhaps one of the most valuable and transferable areas of learning is the ability to navigate their social groups, to engage in multiple different ways throughout the day and to pay attention to people outside of just the self. Even the most social, friendly child can learn to enjoy moments of solitude (Early Years Learning Framework outcome 3), and use these times to fuel and resource their imaginative and social thinking. Of course it is key that this experience is built in a positive way and connected positively to the child’s abilities and self-recognition as powerful.
When we darken the room and ask the children to help build an atmosphere of quiet and stillness, we are not only giving our minds and bodies the opportunity to grow and process the many signals taken in over the course of the morning. We are taking a valuable space apart to think our own thoughts, dream our own dreams and know our own secret knowings. For some children this is a relief and a necessity; for others it may be an acquired taste, or the greatest challenge. Hopefully the opportunity to care for themselves by switching off, will build into a lifelong habit resourcing deep reflection and emotional wellbeing.