All over the USA it will soon be the first day of school for the 2012-2013 school year. Do you remember as a child (or adult), how stressful the first day of school can be? Not knowing who will be in your class, what your teacher will be like, but knowing you will have to behave well, and fit in, or life will be very uncomfortable. And do you remember the stress of homework and tests? Do you remember all those facts you were tested on? Probably only the ones you used repeatedly, like spelling and math facts, and then a few science or history things that you found interesting. Why? Because it has been proven that learning can not enter our long-term memory when we are under stress. I've been looking into this more and here is a breakdown of what I've found.
It's been proven over and over (just do a google search) that long-term and short term stress can impair brain cell communication. How? Well, learning and memory take place physically at the synapses, which are junctions through which brain cells communicate. These synapses are located on specialized branchlike ridges, on neurons. For information to be processed in the brain, neurons must communicate through chemicals and electrical signals across synapses in a process called neurotransmission. When we experience stress, hormones such as cortisol (and others) can flood the brain, affect neurotransmission, and limit the ability of synapses to collect and store memories. (psychcentral.com/news/2008/03/12/stress-affects-learning-and-memory)
Catherine Warner, a researcher from the University of Maryland who studied the effects of stress on over 10, 000 first grade students had this to say. "Our findings indicate that stress in the classroom environment affects children’s likelihood of exhibiting learning problems (difficulties with attentiveness, task persistence, and flexibility), externalizing problems (frequency with which the child argues, fights, disturbs ongoing activities, and acts impulsively), problems interacting with peers (difficulties in forming friendships, dealing with other children, expressing feelings, and showing sensitivity, or internalizing problems (presence of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and sadness in the child). These findings suggest that stress — in the form of negative classroom conditions — negatively affects the way children pay attention in class, stay on task, and are able to move from one activity to another."
Our various school systems may (or may not) have improved over the last few generations, but in many ways they have changed very little. School is still a very stressful place, in a society that has increasing, chronic stress triggers all the time. The pressure that teachers feel over lack of school resources, crowded classrooms and standardized testing contributes to stress in our students lives. And a record number of students are enrolling in american schools, as population and enrollment rates continue to increase. In particular, more prekindergarten and kindergarten students were expected to enter U.S. public school systems in 2011 than ever before. About 1.1 million children attended public prekindergarten last year and kindergarten enrollment was projected to reach an all-time high of approximately 3.8 million students. (National Center for Educational Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372)
We want all these students to learn well, right? They are the future, and will have real problems to solve. So we owe it to them and ourselves to figure out ways to take the pressure off. (This includes home-schoolers too, as we all know home life can be stressful too.) Learning must happen in a relaxed environment of creative exploration. And I'll have more to say on this shortly, as I just finished a week long course on how to provide such a learning environment that truly strives to meet the needs of healthy, curious children.
Insights into nurturing the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual wellbeing of our children.