Written by Sandra Dickie
As we as a nation debate and discuss ways to make our children healthier, we have failed to tap into one primary source of change – our schools. Traditional schools are not healthy places for children. Research shows that physical activity, healthy eating patterns, and supportive families are essential to children’s health. But traditional schools are set up to work in direct opposition of these needs. Children are confined to desks with limited access to indoor or outdoor play. Children are rushed through meals whether or not they are hungry. And family time suffers with hours of homework each night. There is no room in the “core curriculum” for this core concept of wellness. So why is there no outcry? Families value the health of their children, but continue to send their children to traditional schools. There is a discrepancy between what they believe and what they do.
In my work I help people to quit smoking. A patient who otherwise values their health may also be a smoker. When asked if they have ever thought about quitting, they may respond “I’m good”. The patient assumes this is the end of the conversation. As a practitioner, I cannot let this be the end of the conversation. So I work to bring to consciousness the discrepancy between smoking and their other beliefs and goals. What are the downsides to smoking? How would their life be better if they didn’t smoke? This plants the idea that there is something else they should consider. I don’t stop the conversation just because they say “I’m good”. The patient is totally in charge of the decision about whether or not to quit, but I get them thinking about change.
As advocates of alternative education, we can use similar ideas to get families thinking about change. It is too easy for people to go along with the status quo and not think about the possibility of alternatives to traditional schooling; too easy to say “I’m good” despite being in an unhealthy situation. We cannot allow the conversation to end. Let us challenge them to embrace a new paradigm for education that aligns healthy living with learning. Let us help them see that one is not exclusive of the other.
How would your life be better if you did not spend every night fighting over or reminding your kids about homework? How would your kids’ lives improve if they could spend hours outdoors, running and playing and exploring?
If we want families to embrace alternative education, we must show them that it is possible; we must remove barriers. The idea of leaving the traditional school environment can be overwhelming – it is all most parents knew for themselves and is what everyone around them embraces. But tangible alternatives do exist.
Even families embracing alternative education could challenge themselves to provide a healthier environment for their children. In our world children are rarely able to play independently in their neighborhoods and playgrounds. And yet they need this freedom to grow strong and healthy in mind and body. Families desire such an environment for their children; they speak longingly of ‘back in the day’ when this was the norm. But most parents are challenged to provide it for their kids. Such places of independence and freedom do exist, and we should be encouraging families to see this possibility for freedom.
Resource or self-directed learning centers like Macomber Center are forms of alternative education that provide children with a healthy, supportive environment where they can grow independently. These centers do not have any agenda other than freedom and respect. What a child gains by spending days a week at a center is freedom and independence, and consequently healthy growth. Members join a group of independent homeschoolers of a diverse range of ages, with adults serving as role models and helping as needed. By offering this resource, these centers empower working families with the option to choose homeschooling. Children are welcomed into an enriching environment during parents’ working hours. This experience is supplemented by whatever learning the family pursues at all other times of the week. Part of the beauty of these learning centers is that families, and only families, decide how to school their child when they are not at the center.
My friends in traditional schools battle against homework and sacrifice family time every evening and weekend. Traditional schools are not healthy for children; they are not healthy for families. We need to introduce a new educational paradigm. We need to gently suggest that families contemplate the possibility of not being in traditional schools. Most of us long for a world in which our children have the freedom and independence we experienced growing up. We remember running around inside and out with a pack of friends of a variety of ages. Something like this is becoming available at learning centers. Solutions do exist; we can embrace them. We can help more families move towards alternative schooling for the health of their children, and consequently, the health of our society. We cannot allow the conversation to end just because someone says “I’m good”. We can help them be better.