The Alexander Technique as it Applies to Children, Learning, Focusing, and School
Let’s consider that learning at its most basic level involves taking in stimuli through our senses and interpreting it, reacting to it, or interacting with it. In that sense, we are always learning. We could even say that all we do is learn or that learning is living and living is learning. Learning is often traditionally associated with school and school subjects such as reading, math, history, science, and so on. If a person has difficulty learning in a traditional school setting, they are often considered learning disabled. Perhaps the student in question is not at all learning disabled, but doesn’t respond well to a -particular teacher, or methodology, or sitting still in a chair for six hours per day. Maybe that person desperately wants to learn and it’s just this desire to learn that is diverting their attention away from what they are supposed to be learning. Questioning educational systems and methodologies goes beyond the scope of this website, so let’s take a look at how any child or adult can make the most of whatever educational setting they happen to be learning in. If one is not going to switch schools or change the education system, how can one adapt in order to make the most of it? The Alexander Technique can help and here’s how.
Sitting for long periods: Very young children tend to naturally develop good postural habits. They sit and stand upright at their full heights without strain. If your child is sitting for many hours at school, some or a lot of that natural, healthy posture is probably going to be interfered with. They will likely collapse down at times and stiffen at other times in order to focus. Through Alexander lessons, children can learn to notice when they are collapsing down or stiffening and to instead maintain comfortable, upright posture, either sitting on the edge of their chair or against the back of the chair.
School Furniture: School desks and chairs may not be ideally suited to your child’s size. Well-fitted chairs and desks will not guarantee that the child maintains easy, upright posture, but they can help. If their feet don’t reach the floor, they will be more likely to slump. If the chair and desk are connected, they won’t be able to move the chair closer to the desk when writing. The chair might feel too hard on a child’s sit bones and they will slump back onto their tailbone in order to avoid discomfort. A child can learn to make the best of furniture that isn’t ideal and can also make some simple modifications such as placing books under the feet or sitting a pillow or phone book to raise or cushion the seat. If it isn’t possible to move the chair relative to the desk, placing padding between the child’s back and the back of the chair will bring them closer to their desk while maintaining the ability to lean back. Even if a desk and chair are perfectly fitted or modified to fit the size of the person using them, it is still important to be conscious of maintaining upright posture without strain. Well-designed or adapted furniture can help, but ultimately the child will be most successful if they are aware of how they are using their bodies regardless of the design or size of the furniture.
Writing and Computers: People often develop writing habits and habits working at a computer that are difficult to break. The earlier that good postural habits can be developed in order to avoid unnecessary tension and strain during these activities, the more likely people are to carry on their good habits into adulthood.
Paying attention: Many children have difficulty focusing (or paying attention) during class. A child may not feel comfortable sitting still for many hours and in turn feels fidgety and has difficulty focusing on what the teacher is saying. How can a child make the best of this situation even if the length of time sitting isn’t ideal for him/her? Learning to recognize and avoid chronic tensing and collapse that interfere with natural, upright, relaxed posture will help a child to feel more relaxed and at ease and to breathe more easily. It is often difficult to focus on something when we feel uncomfortable. A child can also learn that focusing on the teacher doesn’t mean having a narrow focus or cutting out all other stimuli. It is possible to be aware of everything that one sees and hears and also to have a particular focus on something that one wants to concentrate on more directly. Concentration need not involve strain. The Alexander Technique can help break the pattern of straining to concentrate, becoming exhausted, uncomfortable and fidgety, eventually loosing focus and then straining to regain it.
Lindsay’s Story: As an elementary school student, I was a daydreamer. I was never disruptive in class, but my mind would often wander. I also found it difficult to retain verbal instructions. I recall asking the art teacher where a particular type of paint was and forgetting what she had explained as soon as she had said it. I would wander around the room, pretending to know where to look for it, embarrassed that I hadn’t actually taken in what she had said. At one point after hearing from several teachers about my “daydreaming”, my parents took me to a psychologist who suspected that I had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and recommended that I take medication to help me focus. My parents decided against the recommendation. By the time I was in high school, I was eager to excel and to be alert and engaged in class. I managed to stay focused most of the time, but with a lot of strain. When I began taking Alexander Technique lessons at age 20, I learned that I could focus without straining. I could be actually be relaxed and present simultaneously.