Is it Spring Fever, Spring Forward, or Something Else?
The onset of spring is a time when both children and adults alike typically feel regenerated and have more energy. Most are just itching to enjoy all the outdoor activities that the winter months have curtailed, and they often manage routine tasks more readily and with greater ease when the promise of beautiful spring weather beckons.
However, for students, particularly those with learning difficulties, spring fever may have an entirely different meaning. In the spring, students not only often face heavier academic loads as they prepare for end-of-the-year testing, they must combat the environmental and physiological effects that the switch to daylight savings time brings. The end result is that students may experience greater levels of psychological and physiological stress that challenges their ability to learn effectively.
Daylight Savings Time – Is it the Right Time?
Daylight savings time has been a hotly debated topic for a number of years, and a vast number of people doubt that the energy-saving benefits that prompted its initiation back in WWI are worth the toll that switching the clocks forward takes on individuals, businesses and society as a whole. Recent research on the effects of springing forward have shown that the time change has some startling consequences for some individual’s overall sleep health as well as their ability to learn and think effectively.
Many of these effects are thought to be the result of sleep deprivation, that according to some scientists, many people, especially children, are unable to recover from. Not only do people lose sleep, their quality of sleep may be adversely affected as well. The long-term consequences of sleep loss and poor sleep quality on children’s ability to learn effectively are very well documented, though sleep deprivation continues to be a significant problem for students, especially those who are managing attention deficit and hyperactivity.
Additionally, the time change has an adverse effect on the hormone and neurochemical production and release that is guided by exposure to daylight. During the spring, the production of melatonin, the body’s natural sleep inducer, is delayed due to prolonged evening sunlight. Students may have greater difficulty falling asleep at their normal time, but are then chemically as well as environmentally inclined to wake earlier.
Combating Negative Effects
Although the consequences of springing forward can have a serious impact on a student’s ability to learn, there are a number of steps that parents and educators can take to help offset them. Encourage children to complete their homework and academic projects earlier in the day throughout the year. This will help alleviate any difficulties that can arise when the daylight lasts longer. Additionally, maintain a healthy sleep schedule. If students are profoundly affected by the time change, consider adjusting the bedtime to earlier in the evening in increments of 10 minutes or so over several weeks in order to allow their body to adjust positively to a new schedule.
Consider providing extra support for students, particularly those with learning difficulties. There are a number of types of support available, but some of the most effective are computer programs like Fast ForWord (for spring forward!) that allow students to play games that incorporate learning and target specific skill sets as they play. This type of repetitive reinforcement is highly effective as it provides the opportunity to practice without the student becoming bored with repetition, as is often the case.
Being aware and taking advantage of all available support and resources can help parents and educators prevent their students from ‘falling back,’ even when ‘springing forward’ takes a toll.