Importance of Free Time for Students

middle schoolers hanging out

Arthur Morgan School’s fall semester is ending.  Students are leaving for winter break and won’t return to school for a month.  For many parents, this break might seem too long. Most public schools generally only offer 10 days for the holidays.  Having a long break has lots of beneficial potential though.  It can be a time for much needed reflection and centering that helps our students be more successful.

The Pedagogy of Breaks

Maria Montessori believed in down time. She understood that students need free time to process and practice the lessons they learned during academic periods. Free time gives students the opportunity to play and experiment. It gives them a break from their daily pressures and allows them to be incorporate what they learned into their everyday activities. For many schools and parents, the use of free time as a educational tool is a bit counter intuitive.

Our culture tends to prioritize utility and busyness. We are taught to see down time as wasteful and a loss of potential growth. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Free time actually promotes growth. By providing space for play and open experimentation, the students are internalizing their education and be more conscious in their actions.

Why do Students Need Free Time?

middle schoolers drinking tea and talking

At AMS we give our students lots of free time. We schedule short breaks between their morning classes and after their afternoon chores. We also include long periods of free time toward the end of the school day. Free time allows our middle schoolers to take a break from their academic schedule and breathe. They can use the moment to reflect about their last class or simply connect with another student.

Sometimes our students opt to use free time to practice concepts they are learning. They try to apply a lesson to their real life by building something for themselves.  Other times, they use the freedom to express themselves artistically. The free time allows them to take a moment away and recenter before returning to class or moving on to their next activity.

Longer Breaks Mean More Time for Reflection

AMS also utilizes school breaks as a means of providing our students time for reflection.  As both a community and a school, we are always in a process of growing. Learning to live with others is a challenging task and can be waring on our students. They are regularly required to assess their behavior and change it based on the needs and feelings of their peers and teachers. Sometimes they need a moment away from it all.

Breaks allows students to think about their behavior and interactions and see if they want to change anything. Over the long stretch they can recenter and think about the role they want to embody in our community.  When they return from after the long break, they have an opportunity for reinvention. They can apply their reflections and improve their relationships. It is common for us to see real change take hold during our school breaks and witness students improve in ways they wouldn’t have without taking a moment away.

Breaks Provide Opportunity for Experiential Education

middle schooler in a vanFor some of our students the long breaks are also an opportunity to put their education into action. Many of students will travel during their long breaks. Inspired by a location they heard about in class, they check it out with their families and share their what they learned. Other students use the time to build  something that inspired them from their classes.  Motivated by what they learned, they take the long break to create art or crafts that demonstrate new skills and talents.

By the end of AMS’s breaks, many of our students can’t wait to return. Our parents see a big difference from the whining and complaining many of them experienced when public school breaks ended.  Students look froward to returning to AMS.  They are excited to share their experiences and feeling fully refreshed are ready to take on the challenging work of educating themselves and building community.

-by Nicholas Maldonado

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