January has been billed as the “saddest month of the year,” but did you know that November is the one most likely to spark meltdowns, stress-reactions, and freakouts? I call this month the “Dark Days of November.” It’s true! In my line of work, it’s quite common this time of year to hear from parents, students, and teachers who are at the ends of their ropes for many different reasons.
Thankfully we can guide our families through the month of November so everyone comes out the other end reasonably intact.
Why is November hard on families? There are several reasons. It has to do with the environmental changes around us, the length of time we’ve gone without a good break, extra activities are in full swing, and a push by many teachers for tests or projects before report card time.
This is the month of the Halloween treat sugar infusion, the time change, which makes it darker earlier, the end of the beauty of fall and warmth in the air, and the typical piling on of school work to meet semester, test, and reporting deadlines.
When we step into the minds of children, we can empathize with them that the end of Halloween sadness in there and it’s too far away to get excited about the holiday season yet. For those in the United States, Thanksgiving might feel like a good break but for those travelling and rushing around to put on a feast, this time can actually do more to drain our buckets than fill them.
So what can parents do?
You may have heard my parenting mantra “low and slow” – this is how I suggest we ease into the month of November. I imagine getting through this month like you would approach driving on a cold, dark, snowy day: giving yourself lots of time and space.
I think there are two ways to look at how to reduce the overall stress that can happen at this time of year. Change what you can within the family and see if you can make systemic changes that will support your children better.
In your home:
Are there things that don’t need to be done and can wait? Also, consider what happens during down time. The use of personal mobile devices like phones, tablets, or computers can actually make a child MORE tired.
You may get resistance when you suggest going out but most children will eventually feel better while outside even if they didn’t want to go in the first place.
The Danish people call it “hygge” and it is awesome! Think: blankets, candles, reading, and warm food.
(Unless that’s always playing video games).
Try to get everyone to bed nice and early. Remember that screens are best left outside of bedrooms.
In the systems around us:
I’m a big fan of critically looking at the systems, which make it harder for us all to thrive and having important conversations about whether or not some practices that have been around for decades are actually helpful. Homework and busy-work projects, I’m looking at you!
My opinion of the need for and effectiveness of homework is well documented. Research to date has failed to prove that homework actually improves outcomes. Even though this is the case, some schools and teachers continue to shrug their shoulders and say things like: “Well, we’ve been doing the ‘ten minute rule’ for years so we’ll just keep doing it.”
But the thing is that this “rule” has not been proven helpful. I imagine that a group of people long ago just came up with that idea, thought it was a good one, then other people said, “Hey, sounds good to me.” Have we all studied this and questioned it enough?
The reason we need to question this rule and the use of homework in general is that children – even up into high school – need time to regroup and recharge at home. We need to give them that time. Families as a whole also need time to hang out together and not be forced into the stressful situation of helping an exhausted, frustrated child with homework. The Holderness Family made this very funny video about “Homework Wine Pairings” but I think this is a sign of the ridiculousness homework has become!
The question I ask to know if a project or homework is useful is this: what is the purpose of this assignment? For example, a child I know spent a most of a weekend making a pasta map of Africa. A few weeks later, she didn’t have a clue about the names and locations of the countries of Africa. She learned how to stick pasta onto cardboard, not where the African countries are.
When I started researching systems to use for the school I just opened in September, I looked for one where the learning is real-world and long-lasting. I wanted to be able to structure the schedule and curriculum so that students did all their learning and work during the school day with nothing to do at home afterwards. I was thrilled to have found such a system in Acton Academy!
Along with many other schools, I have declared ours a “no homework” school! It is possible for students to far exceed expectations and succeed greatly without putting them through the stress of homework.
The other things I do to create a positive learning environment are to puts lots of breaks in the day, NOT make our students sit still nor go a long time without a significant break from being in school. We follow a “modified calendar” for our school year: we had a week off in October and are looking forward to a five-day weekend at the end of November. The longest our Infinity School students are in school before at least a week off is six weeks.
I’m saying all this so that you don’t feel powerless to just accept things the way they are if your children are showing signs of crashing in November. In the different areas I have taught in and presented in, I’ve seen parent councils change a school’s calendar from a traditional to a modified one and even to an all-year system! Individual schools can do this on their own without needing all the schools in a district to do the same.
Can you get involved to help make positive change?
Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to leave those here or on my Facebook page.