Great resources for dealing with lethargic innercity kids?
September 3, 2007 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend who is an excellent but fairly new (2 years experience) teacher now teaching 1st-graders in a poor inner-city school. She finds that they are lethargic, often barely able to keep awake, and hardly respond to her. Are there any great books/articles she should be reading?

For example, if she asks them to sit on the rug at the count of three, perhaps one or two might respond. The rest just sit there, as if she hadn't said anything at all. They mainly interact with each other by pushing and pulling. They basically are developmentally way behind where they should be, even though she doesn't think there's anything per se wrong with their brains (she thinks their parents have basically parked them in front of TVs all their little lives).

So, my question is whether there might be a resource for dealing with this kind of extremely unresponsive and difficult young pupil. Any great articles or must-read books? Any clearinghouse or discussion forum of which this friend should be aware?
posted by shivohum to Education (17 answers total)
i'm not a teacher, but are breakfast and naps a possibility?

i used to live in a not-wealthy (although not inner-city) was not uncommon to see kids playing out on the street until midnight. i'm not at all surprised to see kids not getting enough sleep.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2007

Might I recommend Don't Eat This Book, and other diet and nutrition related stuff.
posted by krisjohn at 6:45 PM on September 3, 2007

One more for snacks and naps.

Reading books isn't going to get rid of poverty, but a good snack might give kids the needed calories to make them un-zombie like.

Further, since she is new have her ask other teachers. They have the same under-nourished poor kids in their classrooms and they have developed strategies to deal with them.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:47 PM on September 3, 2007

Good thoughts. According to her, the school already provides a decently-nutritious breakfast and lunch. Naps are a good idea too, though.
posted by shivohum at 6:48 PM on September 3, 2007

Are they snacking on junk food in the classroom?

My brother is an inner city 1st grade teacher and he's very active about teaching his students about "healthy" snacks. Evidently he does it right from the get-go, like in the first week.

(Off topic, but he's also big on teaching them about recycling, in NYC at least you can get a ton of free lesson plans, videos, etc. from the DEP)

I don't think it's a magic bullet, but teaching them better eating habits can at least help avoid the rush-and-crash of high-sugar snacks.
posted by JulianDay at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2007

Yeah, sounds like they're not lethargic, but undernourished.
posted by mathowie at 7:40 PM on September 3, 2007

Tell her to ask their parents what time they're going to sleep. Because of unusual work schedules, it's very common for poor, inner-city families to stay up at odd hours at night. The lethargy could be something as simple as a 1st-grader getting 8 hours of sleep (normal for an adult) but they need 10-12 hours.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:22 PM on September 3, 2007

Starting the day with some light exercise might be helpful, and maybe doing a little bit more after lunch, just some gentle stretching and breathing exercises to stave off the lunch-coma. She could look for some kids yoga videos, I've got Gaiam's "Yoga Kids" DVDs and my own kids love them.
posted by padraigin at 8:26 PM on September 3, 2007

I went to an inner city school, although I wasn't from a family typical of that environment. My teachers provided a table with healthy snacks for anyone who'd "forgotten" to eat breakfast or whatever. We had naps. We had a lot of discussions about healthy eating. I remember I went to bed at 7 and a lot of the kids went to bed around 10 or 11. Our school also audited our lunches. If you were found to have fewer than X food groups or if you had brought something that wasn't considered healthy, your parents got a letter. (I'm not sure what subsequent offences led to.)
posted by acoutu at 8:36 PM on September 3, 2007

If she hasn't already, have her read Education Esme.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:02 PM on September 3, 2007

Thanks for the tips so far, but to make it clear, I don't think it's solely a matter of being tired and/or hungry. These kids, it seems, have largely grown up in an unstimulating environments and lack a lot of the basic interpersonal and language skills other kids their age should have. The lack of response to her is not just due to a lack of good food.

So I'd like to find for her inspiration and knowledge on how to reach young kids stunted by this kind of poor environment...
posted by shivohum at 10:29 PM on September 3, 2007

Cattle prod.

No seriously though, don't they have gym class anymore? Duck duck goose, tag, dodgeball, etc? That crap got us hellions wound up and we terrorized the poor teacher all afternoon...

If the environment these kids come from makes them unresponsive, then perhaps the school environment needs broader changes to stimulate them. Do the principal and superintendent have anything to say?
posted by Myself at 2:09 AM on September 4, 2007

My son, at the age of your friends' pupils, was largely unresponsive and difficult. We don't live in poverty, he was never parked in front of the TV, and his nutrition has always been excellent (thank god for good eaters). He also happens to have ADHD and sensory issues. It always helped to make eye contact and sometimes physical contact (hand on his shoulder or back, or taking him by the hand) when he was being particularly unresponsive. Maybe she could go around the room and make contact with the kids when she's asking them to come to the rug? I know it's hard and her class is probably large, but it may help in the short-term until the kids learn what she's asking.
posted by cooker girl at 6:10 AM on September 4, 2007

Hmm. Yes, it's certainly a possibility that they're malnourished, up too late, ADD, or whathaveyou.

Might it also be possible that your friend is just really, really boring?
posted by Reggie Digest at 8:12 AM on September 4, 2007

One trick with older kids is to have them pass around a ball when answering questions.
"Who can name a kind of animal? Joey, you go first" [throw Joey the ball, Joey catches it and has to say an animal, then pick the next person and throw them the ball]. It has movement, and puts one kid on the spot at a time with a clear performance expectation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:54 PM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Might it also be possible that your friend is just really, really boring?

I assume RD is speaking tongue-in-cheek, but don't dismiss this possibility. Especially if your friend is right and they've had the wrong kind of stimulation, sitting around listening to some broad reading, however wonderful the text and delivery, may not be what they need to get them going. I taught all summer in a sports camp to theoretically highly-motivated, active and interested girls, and they were they devil to get moving every day. The suggestion of cardio activity (it would have to be something you could do in the classroom), followed by stretching and calisthenics I think is a good one. This would tend to get the kids attention and get their brains AND their bodies moving. They might really just be a little bored, coupled with possible deficit in the skills/developmental level needed to engage in brain work early in the day.
posted by nax at 5:08 PM on September 4, 2007

Yes, the children are probably tired and yes, they are probably hungry, but overall they need to be more invested in school. In an innercity school you have to deal with the fact that school is just not always pushed as hard as other areas.

I highly recommend very small, very specific goals and sticker charts.

Also, remind the kids daily that they are the best kids and the best class and then make them act like it. Works well for the teachers at my school (low income, Southside Chicago)
posted by aetg at 6:15 PM on September 4, 2007

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