Still Counting Sheep

A few weeks back I wrote about the negative effects of sleep deprivation, noting that research shows that many students suffer from poor sleep habits.  [See previous post here]  In this post I want to share some additional tips about the value of sleep, especially for youth.


Signs of Sleep Deprivation in Students

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are three tell-tale signs that students are sleep deprived:

  • Waking up in the morning is a challenge and a child cannot “get going” within 15 minutes
  • Snoozing at least 2 extra hours on weekends and holidays
  • Crashing during short (10- or 15-minute) daytime car rides or other non-sleep times (school, play times, extra-curricular events)


Age-by-Age Daily Sleep Needs

4-12 months 12 to 16 hours
1 to 2 years 11 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years 10 to 13 hours
6 to 12 years 9 to 12 hours



So, Why So Much Sleep?

In a culture where parents are bombarded with activity options for their children – i.e. soccer, karate, music, reading, etc. – it is important that in the quest to provide a well-rounded set of opportunities, parents consider simplifying a child’s schedule to provide for an “on time arrival” to bed each evening.

Kiran Maski, a pediatric neurologist and a sleep physician, says children need sufficient sleep for physical, emotional, and cognitive health.  “Plus, insufficient sleep has been shown to be a predictor of high blood pressure, obesity, insulin resistance, mood disorders, attention issues, and more” she continues.


What’s Happening During Sleep?

Research shows that during sleep, a number of critical things are taking place within the body.  Without an adequate amount of sleep, a child misses out on many of the benefits that come to the brain and body during sleep time.  So exactly what is going on for what one writer called “the busy sleeper?”

  • Brain is processing information – what one writer described as “off-line processing.” Reut Gruber, psychologist and director of the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab (Montreal), noted that in kids from ages 7 to 11, a good night’s sleep is directly related to higher grades in math and language.  Of course, a student’s grades in math and language are significant predictors of future learning and academic success.
  • Body is growing – research indicates that much of the body’s bone growth occurs at night during sleep.
  • Dreams – impact the cognitive and emotional development of children. Dreams affect the emotional and interpersonal relationships that children have even when they are awake.
  • Regulates appetite
  • Increases attentiveness – positively affects the “executive function” skills of a child. Sleep-deprived children often appear no differently than children with ADHD.
  • Strengthens the heart and recharges the immune system
  • Improves emotional stability – My children and grandchildren just came to visit for the Christmas season. Their trip included a time change of fifteen time zones and at least one 13-hour flight.  Sleep deprivation for just a couple of days affected the child’s behavior, appetite, emotions, etc.  By the way, it affected the same traits in the parents as well.


So What?

It is important that as educators we are able to assist parents with information that will help them to better direct their children’s daily activities.  Selfishly, better rested children will be better students.  But further, better rested children will be better able to presently and in the future learn and live the mind of Christ.  So let’s help parents to keep their children Counting Sheep.


Goldman, L.  (January, 2018).  The busy sleeper; Parents.


The Broad Benefits of Using a Visual Schedule

Normally when you hear about schools using a visual schedule, it is used in the context of the special education classroom. It is true that teachers use the visual schedule readily in settings where children are autistic or have other disabilities that necessitate knowing what’s next.

My discovery that all children could benefit from the visual schedule was when my own son was 3 1/2. He is a highly creative child. He is detail-oriented. He loves books. He likes to know what is next. I had heard about visual schedules, and I decided to create one for my son. It was just a piece of paper with pictures showing the order that things happened during our day. The transformation that took place from this one step was amazing. By removing anxiety about what was next, the visual schedule helped him calmly enjoy his day.


The visual schedule was beneficial to my son at the preschool level, but it can easily alleviate the anxiety that elementary students of all ages experience at the start of a new year. Unfortunately, many students today even in Christian schools face a lot of insecurity at home. One of our jobs as teachers is to help them to be as secure as possible in their school setting, while also teaching them that their ultimate security is in the knowledge that God is always with them, and that even when the future is unknown, we know that He is in control.


Although the strength of the visual schedule is providing security through predictability, it is good to include a wild card. The wild card means that sometimes things will happen differently than the visual schedule indicates. Sometimes the wild card can be a fun, positive thing. Sometimes it will be something that has to be done. Keeping the schedule general also helps you to be able to be flexible while still helping a child have comfort in knowing what will happen next.


The visual schedule can be adapted to fit the needs of students from preschool through middle school. Auditory learners might remember the schedule better when the teacher reads the order of the day. As students begin to learn to read, the visual schedule can include words along with the pictures listing the day’s activities. Some students, particularly younger students during the first few weeks of the school year or semester, will benefit from seeing the list with pictures and hearing the schedule read in the morning. Students who understand what is going to happen feel secure in that knowledge.


Even upper elementary and middle school students can benefit from the use of a visual schedule. Fifth and sixth graders are at an age mentally and emotionally where they are about as insecure as they were when they first entered school. Things are changing, and often sixth graders are placed into a middle school environment. This can throw them off quickly. Using a visual schedule along with a printed schedule can be very beneficial for this age group. As you help them to take responsibility for their own schedule, you might want to print and laminate the visual schedule for them to put in their folder. This will not only help them to feel better about the day, but it will also reduce the time you spend in telling them what is next. It is important to offer upper elementary students security just as with lower elementary students.

If you have never implemented a visual schedule in your elementary classroom, I highly recommend that you try it in your upcoming semester or next school year. Ultimately it will save you time by reducing misbehavior often caused by the insecurity that students face.

How could you implement a visual schedule in your classroom?