Class Action: classroom challenges can exhaust a child

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 9:21am

My son has just started into his first year of full day school. He comes home so tired it is hard for him to do anything. He used be a very energetic boy who would always be buzzing about. Now he just flops on the sofa after school. Around dinner he perks up a bit, and then nods off before we are really finished. Is this something I should talk to his teacher about?

Starting school is a big step for little people. Most parents have told them about "school" and built it up in their minds. Children start school a bit in awe, and often with high expectations that all secrets will be revealed in school. How often have you said, "Oh when you go to school you will learn more about that."

So many children want to do well, please the teacher, listen carefully, and share their ideas hoping in return, that all the magical secrets of the adult world will be revealed to them.

In the beginning years, children are so full of excitement for school that they focus extra hard on every detail. It is a new environment with new rules, and new friends too.

They don't want to be caught out doing the wrong thing, or get into trouble and have to take a note home.

Nor do they want new friends to laugh at them. Social and academic expectations are high in classrooms, and the stress on a small child, especially one keen to do the right thing and make mummy and daddy proud, can be very heavy.

Talk to your son first. Is there something worrying him? Is he having trouble making friends? Find out who he plays with and see if you can arrange play dates on the weekend to help him strengthen his confidence in his social interactions and take some of the stress away there.

Ask him about his work at school. Most young children can't remember details, but when you talk about a story the teacher read, or the plastic letters used in the games, they may spark his memory.

Be sensitive to how he talks about it. If he is filled with fun, using happy words to recount things to you, then he is having a positive time in school. If he frequently talks about how hard or confusing the work is, he may be feeling frustrated, and this could be tiring him out, too.

With this information in hand, talk to the teacher. There may be something in the classroom that is adding extra stress.

See what the teacher thinks he is like. She may see a keen little boy who seems to be drinking it all in, and is ready for more. So she may be giving him a few extra challenges that are actually tiring him out.

Teachers try to respond to children by keeping them challenged, but not swamped. An able child will get extra challenges, a less able one a bit more support.

But children have different abilities. It may be that your son is striving so hard to keep up with the work the teacher gives him that he is not getting a break.

In the early years, teachers often give "golden time", or time out in the book corner, for children who just need a rest. Different classes can mean varying amounts of focused work before they start to need a little downtime.

This can be a calming activity, such as time to sit quietly and read a book, or a socialising activity, like playing with some building toys.

This "play" time might look like an easy time for the teacher, but the children are also benefiting. The teacher is matching the benefits of the play to the child, as well.

For example, playing with pirate models or a farm toy also builds their vocabulary orally, and prepares them for interpreting stories around such themes.

These "play" times are as carefully structured as other activities, but can give highly focused little learners a much-needed chance to de-stress.

Keep the lines of communication open between your son and his teacher, and offer feedback about any significant changes you see in your child.

The teacher may be seeing a very different student in the classroom, so it is helpful to know if a young child may be struggling to cope with challenges he appears more than ready for in the classroom.

Kris Gienger teaches at an international primary school