Basic Self-Care and School
What toileting and eating looks like in the traditional school system, and what is possible in an alternative environment...
“At 7 years old, we reach the age of reason, where we shut our sphincters, sit down and learn.”
A powerful quote from Bessel Van Der Kolk's book, “The body keeps the score”. A wonderful review of the evolution of psychiatry, over the past ~40 years, including the shift from caring support to an over-reliance on medication, and a review of multiple methods to understand and treat trauma.
If you have a child in the traditional school system, you have probably heard of many parents who struggle to get their kids to eat at school. And, as a result, their kids are often h-angry (sometimes even violent, snippy, or in tears) when they pick them up (unless they attend an after school program, where the staff stay with the kids and are finally allowed to monitor, encourage, and feed them), because many kids have gone the entire day without eating. Some may have even dumped their lunch in the garbage so their parents don’t get upset with them for not eating...
Likewise, refusing to use the toilet (many refusing to poo, some even refusing to pee) at school, is very common.
In fact, if you speak with the teachers/staff at a regular school, it is not uncommon to hear them say things like: "they haven’t had time to eat all day" or "they have trained themselves not to drink fluids because they are not able to go to the bathroom unless there is someone to watch their class/post" etc. I’ve seen many teachers speed/duck walk their way to the only staff toilet, down the stairs and far from their classroom, just to be able to use the bathroom in the small windows of time between when the parents come in to meet with them and the kids come in from outdoor play. It’s not healthy!
This is not what it’s Iike at Mother Earth’s Learning Village!
At the Learning Village kids poo when they need to poo, and so do the staff!
There are usually multiple adults present to support the Learning Village's home-style, multi-sectioned classroom. And even if there aren’t, the multi-age class is sufficient enough to understand that even adults need to go kaka sometimes. The students are more than able to take care of themselves safely while this happens. In fact, most students don’t even notice the difference between when the teacher is on the toilet and when the teacher is in the classroom, because there is no hovering, just support (in the classroom, or from the toilet stall, if need be).
In addition, at the Learning Village, the kids and staff make food together and eat together (after washing their hands, of course).
Founder, Director, and Lead Teacher at Mother Earth's Learning Village
Stephanie Kozak (founder, director, and lead teacher at Mother Earth's Learning VIllage) calls this "The Food Program". And she almost canceled it at one point, because she didn’t know how to make it happen with respect for all (more on this later).
Let’s start with how kids tend to eat in the traditional public school setting:
In a traditional school setting, kids tend to have two nutrition breaks. This is when the regular teachers leave the room and another adult or older child comes in as the “helper”. Of course, having been in a controlled rigid environment for the rest of the day, many of the kids are wild during the nutrition breaks. Some kids may throw food, steel food, stand on their chairs, yell, deliberately bug each other, etc. This makes it very hard for kids to focus on the task of eating. Some parents unfairly make comments like “my kid can’t eat at school because they don’t have their device to watch, like they do at home”, like this is some sort of flaw of “kids nowadays!”, sigh.
Not only is the lunchtime environment chaotic (in a bad way for our kids), in the traditional school system, their packed lunches are often cold, squished, and full of processed, easy to pack, fun to eat, garbage producing snacks. Of course, some kids on some days may order a hot meal from some take out establishment that has made its way into the school program. But, many parents don’t bother with such programs, because many kids do not eat enough to finish these over-sized, elaborate portions, created in this way in order to justify the price tag. Sadly, school and children are a huge money making opportunity.
In any case, a student who is able to eat well in the regular school system is rare.
Many kids do not eat saying: “there is no time to eat”. This can be because they had to choose between free play (their only chance for freedom or unstructured whatever during the day) or simply because of the lack of control, authority, or respect in the classroom when the teachers leave for their much deserved break.
The eating environment in the traditional school system results in kids who are too high stressed, vigilant, and on guard, many who are too shy, respectful, and kind to speak up, so they either can not eat, or if they do, they are digesting their food in a high stressed state, which, as you can imagine, can lead to stomach, skin, mood, learning, attention, behaviour, and weight problems, the list goes on. Sound familiar, given the current common childhood pandemics?
At the Learning Village, Stephanie Kozak made a firm decision that kids and teachers plan, cook, and eat together, with enough understanding and leniency that kids who don’t want to eat X or don’t want to eat when it is eating time are allowed to opt out.
This wasn’t an automatic easy switch for the Learning Village!
At first Stephanie wanted to be accommodating, both in terms of eating preference and eating schedule.
Of course kids can always bring their own food and control when they eat.
But, as many parents know, letting kids eat what they want, when they want, especially if you have to make it for them, can literally be mad-making (both sanity and emotion-wise). Especially as the number of children you have to "serve" increases!
Stephanie wanted to accommodate the kids to make parents happy. But here’s what she discovered:
The parents liked that Stephanie was able to have more structure and rules around mealtime, because they struggled to create this at home. And this is ok. Routines are often easier to create when “more people are doing it”. This is basic mob psychology. It is both common and normal (see below for the distinction between these words).
This doesn’t mean Stephanie is rigid in anyway. It just means that there are some rules around what and when the main meals are and what snacks are open any time of day. This way, everyone gets the relaxed family feel of warm meals together, and no one goes hungry!
It’s really that simple. But given generations of traditional schooling, it is also a paradigm shift for adults, parents, staff, and kids.
It’s also so amazing to see kids exposed to something new (yet just as safe and comfortable as at home), when they are at school.
Similar to the methods some Native agencies use to support mental health crises (see "We need to go back to square one if we want to alleviate mental illness in our children (and in ourselves)"), many of the children at the Learning Village end up going home and requesting some of the healthy vegan meals or snack options available at the Learning Village to also be available in their fridge/cupboard at home.
Example of a healthy snack requested by children to have at home, after attending Mother Earth's Learning Village
And so, like the Native agencies noticed with their mental health programs, the Food Program at the Learning Village improves life for the whole family, because of the good habits and options discovered at school.
This is a healthy influence coming from school, as opposed to the traditional school influence, which tends to be requests for kool-aid, candy, pre-packaged junk meals and snacks, and parents talking condescendingly about how “other kids" are ruining their perfect children. Let’s get real!
So, if you want to learn about healthy eating (and bathroom) habits at school (not just the food, but the pace), reach out, come visit, see how things can be done differently!
You just have to break the system mentality.
Our kids and teachers are not cattle or items on a strict assembly line!
Both of my school-age kids love love love picnics, because they crave making a meal and eating together, and sharing their food. In fact, my son used to save his lunch from school, to be able to share it with his friends on the grass under a tree after kindergarten.
Segregated eating together is not normal.
Teachers who don’t have time to self-care (eat, drink, and toilet) is not normal.
It’s time we realize “common” and “normal” are not the same thing!
“Common” leads to the rampant pandemic of childhood and adult chronic illness that we see nowadays, “normal“ leads to permission to be ourselves, and this is the ticket (and key) to health.
Three BIG cheers for Stephanie Kozak, for making her vision a reality!!!
Not without bumps or questioning her own self-worth along the way. This is called strength, not weakness. We are all a work in progress!
You don’t need to win the lottery before you give up the mainstream way of life, to do life right. You just need to walk out and say “me, my children, and my students are worth more than this!” And then you create a way to do life right, and when it works for a few, it can expand to work for many.
The government says “grassroots schools will never be able to compete with mainstream public school”. Who wants to compete? Learning is not suppose to be a competition! It’s supposed to be fun!
At Mother Earth's Learning Village, learning is always FUN!
Mother Earth’s Learning Village is simply a well thought out different option, for those in search or in need. And there happens to be many people who could benefit from what the Learning Village has to offer!
Is your child worth it, are you, are your teachers? The answer is of course yes! The real question is: “will you allow better for yourself than what mainstream is serving you?”, because you can.
Love and Bless, Strong Family, Strong Light, Strong Community.
Family Dynamics and Life Purpose Specialist
MSc Psychology/Neuroscience (Stress and Health)