All parents, coaches, and teachers know structure is good for kids. Structure is the foundation for good eating habits, exercise habits, and sleeping habits. Even though many people know it is important, it is not always applied in everyday life. We give snacks to kids that disrupt their eating routines, we go to the game that conflicts with bedtimes, and we skip the gym because we have too much to accomplish.
Some schools pay attention to the structure of the day. You can tell by looking at the way the art, music, and physical education schedule is organized. The youngest kids in the building are in their classrooms first thing in the morning learning to read, write and understand math when their focus is best. The oldest kids go to enrichment classes first because they should have a little more self-control and a little more stamina; their focus lasts just a little bit longer. This type of structure in the schedule pays attention to the developmental needs of students.
Structure in schools is also one way we keep students safe physically and emotionally. When students are walking on the right side of the hallway, they don’t crash into each other. It is like attending a baseball game, most everyone follows the flow and that helps everyone move efficiently. When we focus on the interactions between students we are focusing on the social structures. We encourage students to take turns and to listen to each other because it is polite and mannerly, but it is also a way that we respect each other, that we hear each other’s ideas, and we demonstrate compassion by actively listening.
But not all schools pay attention to the structure of the day. Some schools seem mired in chaos. I spent a couple of years in a school that had a crazy rotational schedule. Most of our enrichments were in the afternoon except for one day when the students started the day with art. But it wasn’t just one flip-flopped day. The times were different too. One day, we went to music at 1:15 and two days later we went to music at 1:20. One day we had early lunch; the other days we had late lunch. For those two years, all I did was focus on the clock. I am not sure anyone learned anything those two years, expect how to tell time.
The most important reason for structure in schools is the space it frees up in brains for focusing on learning. When students have structure in their classrooms they have more space and energy for positive cognitive capacities that develop true thinking. The energy is spent on thinking, communicating and questioning. Structure gives kids time for developing flow in their reading, writing, and mathematical investigations. They can dig deeper into the content and become stronger students.
Animals live on structure. I can predict the times when I will see the bunny out my kitchen window. My dog will always let me know when it is time for dinner. Human animals want and need structure too. For centuries people have been making stories to help make sense of the world.
In one of my next blog posts, I plan to write about ways teachers can bring order to the classroom even when outside forces prevent a regular predictable routine.