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Self-Care and Secondary Students

The pace at which students function boggles my mind. They catch the bus before sunrise, begin classes before 8:00 a.m., finish the day to go to two hours of some sort of practice (sports, band, play, STEM, etc), head home to grab a bite to eat before going off to work or tackling a mountain of homework. By about 11:00 p.m. they go to bed...or catch up on social media. From what I can see, there is not a lot of margin in the life of a "typical" American teen.

There is a need to build in at least a little bit of downtime into this kind of schedule. Many students aren't aware of the toll the frenetic pace takes on their mental and emotional health.

Introducing students to self-care is a way of increasing awareness. It's a way to let students know that part of caring for themselves, part of being a great "all-around student" is slowing down. By definition, self-care is "the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health." It can be something as simple as eating breakfast or as complex as checking yourself into an addiction recovery program.

In this post, I'm suggesting that homeroom is the perfect time to make this introduction to self-care.

Don't mistake me here, I'm not asking you to turn your homeroom time into a counseling session. What I am advocating is taking 10 minutes out of the day (or just one day a week) for students to slow down, recognize an internal need, and take active steps to satisfy that need.

Here are six stations that help students focus on self care during the short span of homeroom. Set up your homeroom to function in this fashion every day or provide one station a week. Get your whole grade level involved or just pilot it on your own and see what happens. No matter how you decide to do it, take a step today toward helping your students understand their own sense of wholeness.

STATION 1: Unload

At this station, all you need to provide is paper, a writing utensil, and a secure box (like a suggestion box). Students are invited to write down anything burdening their minds. If it is an issue that needs attention, they should put it in the box. Ideally, you'll check the box and pass along anything serious to a guidance counselor. Sometimes kids feel better just getting the issue out.

STATION 2: Fuel Up

Pretty self-explanatory...provide food for kids. I'm not asking you to bake a quiche every day. I'm encouraging you to have a bowl of fruit and maybe some granola bars out for kids to take. Obviously the goal would be to provide sustenance for kids who are hungry, but everyone could use a hearty snack to start the day. If you're toying with the idea of only offering stations on occasion, Mondays are great days to offer food. Kids who experience hunger at home may not have eaten well since lunch on Friday. Monday morning can be tough coming off of a weekend with little nourishing food. This can get expensive, so reach out to administration, parents, or other community organizations for donations.

STATION 3: Quiet Down

Set up a small corner of the room where kids can just zone out. Maybe the bus ride was stressful. Maybe parents put on a shouting match before leaving the house. Maybe it's a busy day and a kid could use five minutes to settle down. Whatever it is, have a chair or two, maybe some (electric) candles, have an iPad or two with earbuds tuned to classical music or chanting. This is a place for a kid to go inside herself and quite down before starting the day.

STATION 4: Be Inspired

Sometimes kids need a pep talk or to be reminded of what they CAN do. At this station, have some inspirational quotes, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, or pre-selected TED talks for kids to watch (or listen to). You might also consider writing notes yourself, full of encouragement, for kids to read at this station. Another use for a spot like this would be for kids to create a list of what they have to do throughout the day or write something positive about themselves.

STATION 5: Laugh

Let your kids start the day with something funny. This station requires a little more oversight because you want to make sure the content you share is appropriate. Queue up some funny clips (think Jimmy Fallon or James Cordon) or silly memes (things about school or teachers are always a hit). Laughter is always contagious, so assume this may be a pretty popular station.

STATION 6: Relax

There are lots of ways people relax. One way is to simply doodle or color. At this station, you'll want to provide blank paper, colored pencils, and maybe even some coloring pages (think mandalas). Let students zone out and spend the morning coloring as a way to prepare for the day ahead.

Devoting time at the start of the day to an awareness of your [students'] personal needs promotes health and growth. Providing students opportunities to get what they need - or at the very least to take action steps toward getting it - teaches advocacy and provides a sense of empowerment.

We can't solve some of the huge problems students face, but we can provide simple, practical strategies to help them deal with whatever issues they face.

You'll never look at those 10 minutes of homeroom the same way.

P.S. If you don't have homeroom, this is also a great idea for clubs, an advisory group, or a "lunch bunch." Despite the title, it's not homeroom-exclusive. :)

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