It’s the end of your lunch period and you resist going back to your classroom because you know what’s waiting. No matter how many minilessons you’ve taught in conflict resolution, the post-lunch/recess drama is inevitably waiting. Your students cluster by the door, eagerly watching for your return. The moment you step in, they tell you in pained voices how so-and-so told them to shut up or stole the swing they’d been waiting for. And, as much as you want to be there for them, you wish that — just once — you could come back from your lunch break and just teach instead of running a play-by-play of every recess spat.
The truth is that kids need breaks. Recess is one form of a break, of course, but it’s not enough. They need a moment to step away, daydream, read, sleep, draw, or just zone out. They’re like … well, us. Most of us adults need a break of some sort during the day. For me, as much as I love my colleagues and enjoy relaxing and chatting with them, I crave time to myself, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes. Without that time, I feel off somehow and even a little moody.
In our classroom, Quiet Time is that cherished refuge from everything, and it’s been a game-changer.
It happens right after the recess/lunch period and is a ten- to fifteen-minute block of peace when students can do anything that is quiet and independent. Before they leave for lunch, they’ve already chosen a Quiet Time activity and have their supplies waiting so that when they file into the room, they can settle in immediately.
A go-to area during Quiet Time is the large bin of stuffed animals. Kids quickly pick their favorites to snuggle with. (And yes, my kids are fourth graders, but they still LOVE stuffed animals. Even the seemingly toughest child can be found curled up with a soft, plush toy.)
Our class is a big group of readers, so many revel in the chance to read what they want, either relaxed at their seats, or lying down on the rug.
Others prefer to delve into their creativity by sketching, coloring, or painting. Every now and then, I’ll project a random zentangle video from youtube (no volume) to relax and inspire kids who want to draw along or just zone out.
They also have the option of sleeping. We’ve had no takers this year, but two years ago there was a large napping contingent. Below is a sketch I did of three such students sleeping on Mr. Bear, our beloved classroom teddy bear that is taller than some of the kids and very soft and cozy. Sometimes they’d bring their coats in and use them as blankets. It was pretty darned cute. But even more important than the adorable-factor, many of them need that nap to recharge from all the mental and physical activity of the long morning.
A few kids will voluntarily catch up on work or will devote themselves to math problems they make up. We encourage kids to relax if they can, but some come back more refreshed by this kind of activity, so we let them decide for themselves what will make them happiest.
Finally, we have a large bird-watching group. (See the bird-cam sites we frequent here.) Many kids will pull up a chair and watch the birds and listen to the noises of nature. Or they’ll read or rest in front of the screen and look up at the birds every few minutes.
All in all, it’s a nice way to transition from the overly stimulating bustle of recess and lunch.
I tried this out years ago and asked the students how they felt about it. One girl put it this way: “I really like my friends and hanging out with them. But it’s nice having a time where I’m not supposed to talk to them. It gives me an excuse to just be by myself. Kind of like recess — just for me.”
Students are not allowed to talk to teachers unless it’s an emergency. One thing we teachers do a lot in the beginning of the year to set the tone is to be reading or drawing as the kids file in from lunch. They’re initially surprised to see us already absorbed in a quiet activity, and they seem more eager to join in the quiet when we do it. (And they get really curious to know what you’re reading, so I’ll often have a book that nobody’s paid attention to but I know they’d like. Kids will often approach later and ask if they can read it next. It’s subtle, but it works.) Now and then, I’ll use that time to catch up on teacher-stuff I need to do. But when I do that, I notice that some of our more energetic kids get restless, picking up easily on our energy. So we make a strong effort to focus on our own Quiet Time activity, as that seems to be what really sells it.
I’ve also learned to give them a very calm heads up when the time is drawing to a close. I might say, “Quiet Time will end in about a minute, so figure out a stopping point. If someone near you is napping, give them a gentle nudge so that they can wake up without being startled.” After a minute, I keep my voice low and calm and say, “Okay, Quiet Time is now over. Please put your things away, get your math cards, and meet me on the rug in 30 seconds.” Doing anything loud at this point can be jarring, particularly if they are napping or really into their book.
Ideally, it would be nice to have Quiet Time be longer than ten minutes. And indeed, on those occasional days when their brains need extra rest, we’ll give them that extra time. We’ve even let a kid continue sleeping if it seems like it’s in his/her best interest.
As teachers, we all scour Pinterest for ways to make school fun, engaging, and memorable for our kids. Which is wonderful! Go us! 🙂 But no matter how well we might do our job, it’s still exhausting for our students to learn new material all day every day, so we need to give their minds and bodies a break. And, funnily enough, when we give them a break, it ends up giving us a break too.
Since using Quiet Time, we’ve rarely had any post-lunch drama. The kids no longer seem flustered and anxious. I don’t know if the forced calmness seems to help issues resolve themselves naturally or knowing they can rest and regroup is what does it, but after a few tries of doing this in our room, the difference was remarkable.
Which isn’t to say that the classroom drama goes away completely, because it doesn’t for us, and probably won’t for you either. These are, after all, people who are learning how to navigate complicated social situations. But will will cut it WAY down. When students don’t get a chance to wind down like this, the automatic response of many is to seek the teacher’s help in addressing their social angst. But if we give them the time and space to self-soothe, they can often solve the smaller social problems on their own.