The overall wellbeing of a child can make or break their academic success. While there are many factors that can sway a child’s performance in the classroom, numerous studies emphasize the significant connection between health and academic performance.
A child’s physical health is closely tied to how they perform in class. In 2008, researchers at Temple University detailed how a child’s body mass can largely influence their performance at school, even going as far as to say that kids that are overweight tend to perform worse than kids that are at a healthy weight. The research recommends a minimum of 3.75 hours of physical activity per week to help address and prevent any long-term physical health problems.
But, it’s important to remember that physical health isn’t limited to weight or diet. Various health conditions also factor in a child’s physical health — and these can cause them to be distracted in class, or miss it altogether. Since students are spending most of their days inside the school/home, a well-invested school-based/public health center is necessary to address any obvious health issues a child may have. An article from Kidshealth.org specifies that a ready and fully staffed clinic inside schools would make doctor visits more accessible to offer key services like scoliosis screenings, flu shots, tooth and eye exams, and the like. These services help ensure that the time students would have taken for hospital visits can now be allotted for learning. This may now be more important than ever before.
Less visible health issues, like mental health problems, also influence how well a child performs. Psychologists at Maryville University point to newly recognized links between mental health and learning success and underscore the need for professionals who appreciate the relationship between psychology and education. This also highlights the need for adequate mental health facilities and professionals in school clinics.
In fact, something as seemingly normal as stress can decrease a child’s performance. Studies have shown that stress stimulates a physical reaction from the body that makes it difficult to focus, sleep, and perform in class. Constant psychological stress can shrink a child’s self-esteem, lessen knowledge absorption, and even produce a pattern of self-blame and self-doubt. Given all students have experienced during extended periods of isolation, it is important to conduct check-ins through direct conversations, surveys, and/or phone calls. Knowing where students start from a psychological perspective in the next school year will be a key place to begin.
What can be done?
Teachers play a critical role in supporting students academic, mental, and physical wellness. A study by Brown University found that individual teachers have a profound effect in curbing student absenteeism. One way teachers can do this is by understanding the impact of a child’s health on their learning. A teacher can learn about student's health through conversations and check-ins to see how they are doing and if there are any barriers to their learning. Though some factors affecting a student’s performance are outside of a teacher's hands, establishing a good rapport with students and their families can establish a partnership to maintain good health.
In today's world of constant change and many unknowns, we want to ensure students are best positioned to learn, grow, and develop healthy habits and minds.