Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
at least according to a nursery rhyme I remember from long ago. For most of my teaching career, I’ve been supporting kids who are filled with woe and have far to go like the Wednesday and Thursday child in the old nursery rhyme. I’ve found when children come to school filled with woe they can’t do their best. Chronic psychological stress is a form of woe, and it can thwart kids’ progress in school. Chronic psychological stress can negatively affect kids’ cognitive development, working memory, problem solving ability, attention and emotion regulation.
Clancy Blair’s discusses the negative effects of chronic psychological stress on student success in his article “Treating A Toxin To Learning” in the September/October issue of Scientific American Mind. Blair’s research supports the contention that chronic psychological stress due to financial worries, the inability to provide adequate child care, the crowded conditions and noise that accompany low income affects the thinking skills and brain development of very young children. But, it’s not only kids who live in conditions of poverty that suffer from chronic psychological stress. Kids from other family circumstances that involve divorce, death, overbearing or distracted parents and kids who have learning disabilities can also develop chronic psychological stress. Chaotic and poorly run classrooms and problems with peers can also cause psychological stress that can impact kids negatively.
Blair argues improving kids psychological well being by improving conditions at home and in the classroom would reduce stress and enable kids to do their best in school. To this end, Blair and his collaborators are doing two things. First, they’re testing a program that supports parents by teaching them better parenting skills to help them become more sensitive and able to structure learning experiences for their kids while providing a warm and caring home environment; and, second they’re testing a new curriculum that gives preschool and kindergarten kids more control over how they learn.
The education system has spent a lot of time and money trying to help academically at risk students succeed and stay in school until they graduate. I’ve taught in alternative programs that we hoped would give kids the support they needed so they’d do their best and graduate from high school. I think we should do all we can to help students. One of my department heads when I first started teaching told me I would be doing well if I helped my students become tax payers. I was too idealistic at the time to appreciate his advice. These alternative programs do give kids some extra support that helps a bit. But, I think we also need to give parents who are in psychologically stressful circumstances more support. I think if we help one another, we all benefit. I don’t mean just throwing money at a problem because that isn’t helpful in the long run.
I’m looking forward to seeing the data from Blair’s research. I hope there is a strong positive correlation between the support parents and students receive in the two programs and student success.