Over the past few decades we’ve seen a doubling of the suicide rate among young people ages 15-24, a quadrupling of the suicide rate in children ages 15 and under, and five to eight times as many children suffering from major depression or a clinically significant anxiety disorder. Our current education system does not properly help students learn or practice the elements that lead to a physically or emotionally healthy life. The system even prevents it in a few different ways.
The success of a school shouldn't be measured by test scores. It is more important that students are able to manage their inner world, relate to their outer world, and find their place in the world. My research lead me to write the book, "What's the Point of School? Ed Transformation: A Matter of Life and Death." In this book I go into more detail about the history of public education and how it came to be designed the way that it is. I also go into detail about why it is to the detriment of our kids' well-beings if we continue with this Industrial design. The good news is that I also researched what we can do about it.
“What’s the Point of School?” outlines the Five Happy Healthy Elements that will guide students to becoming citizens who know themselves, know their communities, and know how to create a fulfilling and happy life based on their interests and skills. I suggest a starting point for a redesign of the system that will transform education for a thriving generation. I discuss a new way to view and talk about education that puts student well-being at the top of the priority list.
Yes, it may take a while for a complete transformation of our education system to happen, but you can get started in your own home today. You can ensure your kids lead thriving lives by following the Five Happy Healthy Elements. Below you'll find tips to get started, but first, let me introduce the Five Happy Healthy Elements to you.
The Five Happy Healthy Elements
In contemplating how we can truly prepare kids for their future I looked to a few experts. Sir Ken Robinson said in his book "Creative Schools" that we should be helping kids to manage their inner world and relate to their outer world. I would take that one step further and add that we should also help them find their place in the world. But what exactly does all of that mean? I then looked to Dr. Roger Walsh who is working on a project called The Eight Ways to Well-being, Dr. Rajagopal Raghunathan who teaches a class call "Living a Life of Happiness and Fulfillment," Dr. Ed Diener who is also known as Dr. Happiness, and the country of Bhutan which measures GNH, or gross national happiness. With their guidance I formulated the Five Happy Healthy Elements. They are:
Play and Exploration of Interests
It has been scientifically documented that play is absolutely essential for a child’s proper physical and mental development. Not only does it help children manage their inner world and relate to their outer world, it is the Happy Healthy Element that most directly helps children find their place in the world. Play strengthens relationships and can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression.
Emotional Health and Positive Relationships
Emotional Health is all about helping children manage their inner world and relate to their immediate circle. It is regulating feelings and the thoughts that lead to those feelings. When you are able to control your emotions, your prefrontal cortex is more available for you to make good decisions. Emotional health training is sorely lacking in society in general. Regardless of one’s socioeconomic status, religious background, or home life, most of us are not taught how to manage our emotions. Developing the skills required to regulate your emotions and take control of your feelings is not easy. Like other skills, this requires time and practice.
Physical Health and Nutrition
There are three elements that lead to a physically healthy life. Most people can guess the first two elements: Fitness and Nutrition. However, the third remains largely a mystery, yet it is just as important as the other two. Do you know what it is? Sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to depression, anxiety, and suicide. As it turns out, a poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that 59% of 6th through 8th graders and 87% of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 - 9.5 hours of sleep per night. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that beginning at puberty, kids’ sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later. Not only is it hard for them to get up in the morning; it is hard for them to get to sleep before 11:00 at night. We wake kids too early, we insist they participate in multiple extra curriculars, we give them hours of homework, and we don't teach them about nutrition. All of this combined with sitting kids behind desks for hours on end is a recipe for a lifetime of poor physical health.
I will never understand why we don't prioritize teaching finances. Generally, personal finances are thought to not be rigorous enough. When I have seen a school offer the class it is a remedial math course. Yet one of the first decisions students will have to make in their early adulthood is how to finance their higher education, one of the biggest financial decisions they will ever make in their lives. Then they will go on to interact with their finances every single day.
Community Involvement and Effective Altruism
It is through community involvement and effective altruism that we begin to help children see beyond themselves and their immediate circle. By participating in service projects, individuals learn that their actions affect more than themselves and have an impact on others. The altruism they learn will also bring fulfillment. Only 10% of happiness levels lie in life circumstances. About 40% of our happiness lies in things that are within our control, and kindness is one of them. A Chinese proverb says, "if you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else."
How You Can Help Your Kid Thrive
There are three steps you can take to make sure your kids have the tools they need to live fulfilling lives now and in their future.
Purchase "What's the Point of School?" to get even more detailed information about the Five Happy Healthy Elements.
Join the Ed Transformation Nation to regularly get specific ideas on how to incorporate the Five Happy Healthy Elements into your home, school, or classroom.
Take the next five weeks to try the happy healthy elements with your kids.
Week 1 - Start with sleep. It's the simplest one. Let your kids sleep longer in the morning or put them to bed a little earlier.
Week 2 - Extra Play! Try to take your kids to a playground an extra time or two this week. Arrange a surprise play date. Or give them a little extra unstructured, independent play time. For older kids, facilitate a game night, or give them some surprise extra video game time. Yep, I said it: A little extra video game time.
Week 3 - Visit the Cosmic Kids YouTube channel and try one of the Zen Den mindfulness videos or the Yoga Adventure Videos.
Week 5 - Arrange a service group project. Maybe call it a volunteer party. Perhaps you make some DIY puppy toys and deliver them, along with old blankets and sheets, to an animal shelter. Here are a few more ideas.
Don't forget to share your family's Happy Healthy journey! I'd love for you to tweet or Facebook some pictures.
A Peek Inside the Book
Introduction ... "The most damaging phrase in the language is 'We've always done it this way!'" - Grace Harper
Chapter 1: What's the Point? ... "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it's ability to climb a tree, it will live it's whole life believing that it is stupid." - Attributed to Einstein
Chapter 2: Preparing for an Economy and a Society that Doesn't Exist Yet ... "Craft the life you want. Leave the world better than you found it." - unknown
Chapter 3: The Five Happy Healthy Elements ... "We can't become what we need to be by remaining what we are." - Oprah
Chapter 4: Play and Exploration of Interests ... "If we don't stand up for children then we don't stand for much." - Marian Wright Edelman
Chapter 5: Emotional Health and Positive Relationships ... "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all." - Attributed to Aristotle
Chapter 6: Physical Health and Nutrition ... "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." - Frederick Douglass
Chapter 7: Financial Literacy ... "Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken." - Warren Buffett
Chapter 8: Community Involvement and Effective Altruism ... "Everybody can be great ... because everybody can serve." - MLK
Chapter 9: Learning Through Interests Rather Than Subjects ... "Every day our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. We should tread softly." - Sir Ken Robinson
Chapter 10: Transforming Education for a Thriving Generation ... "We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already." - JK Rowling