In her book, Sacred Threshold: Crossing the Inner Barrier to a Deeper Love, Paula D’Arcy tells the story of her first client as a budding therapist. His name was Scott, an eleven-year-old redhead, whose first words to her were, “I don’t’ want to be here, and I’m never talking to you.” Paula sat with this little boy in session after session, and got nowhere. Her mentors were ready to terminate the sessions, when she blurted out to them: Listen, there must be another way. He hates that room. It’s not a room for little boys… when he comes for therapy, I’ll take him for a walk.” Her advisor gave permission for this unconventional approach, and for three seasons they walked outside, rain or shine, and little Scott softened. His grades improved and he no longer was disruptive in class.
This story touched me because I have a little boy who, while not in therapy, could seriously use more time outside! His biggest effort in school is not math or reading, but sitting still and quiet for the amount of time required by the schedule. His otherwise-wonderful elementary school allows only 15 minutes of recess a day, zero talking in the hallways and only hushed whispers at lunch. (A friend of mine joined her 2nd grade daughter at the school cafeteria, and was shushed by the lunchroom monitor for engaging the children at her table in conversation. “But, I’m an adult!” was her incredulous response.)
The school’s discipline regimen is not unusual today, and my son works hard to comply. His parents have promised him a drum set at the end of the school year if he does well. He really wants it. In the third quarter he brought up his grades to all A’s and his “needs improvement” in behavior to “satisfactory”! Wow! But in the fourth quarter things got rocky. He started having trouble keeping up all this effort. He got in trouble for breaking the silence rule in the halls. Desperate, he moved his desk to a quiet corner, so he wouldn’t be “tempted” (his word) to interact with his friends and get busted.
Of course, all of us have to learn to put aside play to focus on our work. But little boys and girls need more downtime than adults. They thrive when they get exercise and are allowed to be outside, to breathe in God’s fresh air and let go of their many duties and responsibilities for extended periods. When I was little, we had two half hour recesses. We had time and space during the day to interact with one another socially and spend our excess energy. We felt neither cramped, nor driven to succeed.
… but back to our story about the little boy, Scott. You see, he came back years later to visit his former therapist. He had heard that Paula lost her husband and baby daughter in a tragic accident. Now a young man, he had grown into a compassionate and responsive adult who couldn’t stay away when the woman who had helped him was herself in need. His visit jarred Paula out of depression and anger, and helped her make a new start.
Doesn’t it make you wonder what kind of young men and women we are raising up? After all, how we form our children now determines what kind of adults they grow up to be. My recommendation is simple and costs nothing: longer recess, please… hurry!
Copyright 2013 Julie Paavola