It was Writer’s Workshop in my classroom, the time of day where children receive a mini-lesson in a writing skill, get independent time to practice it, and then share their work with a classmate. Tyler, one of my most prolific writers, asked me if she could go to the quiet corner to write. I granted her request and she gathered her folder, paper, and pencil, and settled down to work.

After seeing Tyler go to a quiet spot, Annie approached me and asked the same thing. “I can think better over there,” she said as she pointed to a large table where I gathered the kids for reading groups. I also gave her permission to move.

Finally, Kaden raised his hand and asked if he could go work on the carpet, and I nodded my consent. He always had trouble writing at his desk, staring off into space, or looking sadly at the heads of the writers bent over their papers while he’d written so little. These kids needed space and alone time to do their best work.

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A typical school day

These kids, like most kids, spend the majority of their day interacting with others. They come to the classroom where their desks are placed in pods, nestled in groups of four to six desks packed together.

Throughout the day, they are physically close to each other when standing in line, working in groups, eating lunch, and riding the bus home. Classroom lessons include group discussions, small group projects, and buddy reading. After school, there are dance lessons, sports practice, tutoring groups, and more interactive activities. Most of their time is spent with others with little time and space to be alone.

The trouble with teamwork

Teachers spend a lot of time designing classrooms to maximize interactions between students. Desks are placed close together, often facing each other. Classroom lessons include working in small groups, presenting in front of the class, and working with a buddy. Little time and space is given for quiet reflection and creativity that some students crave.

All children need to learn how to interact with others and work in groups, but children also need to develop the abilities to work and play independently. We worry about the children who prefer to work and play alone. These children may be unfairly seen as anxious, reserved, shy, or antisocial. Rarely do we worry about children who can’t work alone, who are bored unless they have other kids around or a scheduled activity to engage them.

The benefits of solitude

All children benefit from time spent alone. A quiet mind is fertile ground for sprouting new ideas and creativity. Solitude is necessary for all kids to renew their spirits when they’re worn out from too much stimuli. We need to value quiet time and solo pursuits just as much as we value social time and engagement in group activities.

Children shouldn’t spend their days engaged in school, lessons, and practices, then homework, until they finally fall into bed, exhausted. They need time to be alone, to create, and to work according to their own rhythms without having adults dictate what their next move should be.

As adults, how many of us would want to work all day, go to sports practice or dance lessons, do homework, and then go to sleep? We would be exhausted, and yet we expect this of and construct this for our kids. Children need alone time every day to recharge and renew their spirits, and so do we.