River Dad – Fish Gotta Swim, Kids Gotta Run

When you look at a smiling eight-year-old child, what do you see? Do you see a young mind, eager to learn and grow into a fully fledged human being? Do you see a future genius incubating within a proto-adult? Yeah, sure.  I see an uncontrollable ball of pure energy more destructive than a bull in a china shop.

Kids do not sit still. They do not stand still. They do not lie still. I’m sure a doctor, nurse or those people who watch a lot of Discovery Health Channel programming could give you a scientific explanation about why the little darlings are in constant motion. My theory is that we are all just miniature Big Bangs–exploding with energy initially, then cooling into a quiet, peaceful state that lasts until we’ve either expanded into a cold emptiness or contracted back into a gravitational sinkhole depending on how much dark matter exists within our soul.

I have two of these ‘children units’ myself. One exists within a personal universe of pure energy. The second one at times can briefly seem to follow the physical laws of nature to which the rest of us are chained. This is not to say that the less-frequently moving child cannot be revved up into a frenzy of perpetual motion. On the contrary, she can be as dizzy-inducing as her sibling if the phases of moon shift, the planets are misaligned or if it’s a day ending in ‘Y.’

Of course, battery-operated children are not unique to my household. Through my involvement with the Elementary PTA of the Tarrytowns, I am privy to parental anecdotes of other
children turning into unstoppable forces of chaos, which I have hereby dubbed “Indoor Need to Suddenly Act with Nervous Energy” syndrome, or INSANE for short.

I do not begrudge any teacher who must deal with this affliction. While not fatal, the INSANE affliction can cause irritation, sweating, anxiety, and nervous twitches. And that’s just in the teachers. Kids generally don’t even notice they’re sick. INSANEity is a year-round disease, but is known to swell in severity as the weather improves and the wild outdoors beckons with its siren call.

Elementary school teachers will always need tools in their arsenal to combat the INSANE syndrome. However, one tool that is at times used can be detrimental to the patient’s prognosis — taking away recess or lunch. I have parents contacting me periodically complaining that their child is losing lunch privileges solely because he or she spent the previous hour banging their head on the back of their neighbor’s chair and not listening to the teacher.

I totally understand. When a child misbehaves, there is a desire to create some sort of consequence so that they understand the repercussions of their actions. I know this is doubly important when the misbehavior disrupts an entire class of children.

But I question the act of threatening a child’s recess.

I don’t know the policies in Irvington or Briarcliff Manor, but within the Wellness Policy for The Public Schools of the Tarrytowns, it specifically states: “Teachers and other school and community personnel will not use physical activity (e.g., running laps, push ups) or withhold opportunities for physical activity (e.g., recess, physical education) as punishment.”

Yet even with that policy in place, I hear of teachers taking away or threatening to take away lunch or recess privileges. This is a practice that needs to stop, not only for the sake of the child, but also for the sake of the entire class and perhaps the sake of humanity in general.

And anyway, when you do threaten, you must follow through or lose all credibility. I learned this once when I threatened to pull over to the side of the interstate if my kids didn’t stop fighting in the back seat. My wife correctly pointed out that under no circumstance was I ever going to pull the car off the roadway unless there was an emergency. Hearing this, the kids cheered, returned to their fighting and I forever lost any credibility I may have had with them.

Children are jittery. It’s something that I’ve had to come to terms with to maintain my sanity. I admit that I have, at times, considered locking my children in softly padded rooms until they calm down, but then I realized that’s exactly what “going outside” is for.

Of course we all want kids to pay attention in class and soak up all that wonderful knowledge poured their way. (Especially with all that state testing!) But sometimes that just ain’t going to happen. Kids need more outside time, not less, Schools should clearly communicate the proper consequences of instances of INSANEity within the classroom, and then share this policy with parents.

The sad fact is that the only way a teacher will reliably get an overly rambunctious second grader to pay attention to them for any length of time would be if the teacher were to transform periodically into a Wii.

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