An argument in favor of hydration
Talk to any of the coaches in my teacher training seminars and they all seem to have one thing in common. Regardless of the sport they coach, I’ve yet to meet anyone who would think of sending students out on the court, track, mat, or playing field without having them be adequately hydrated first.
We know that players are more focused and less prone to injury when they’ve been drinking water, and the Coaches’ Learning Network recommend that athletes have water with them all the time—in school, in the car, by their beds at night—and not just during practices or games.
So here’s the big question: If we want our players hydrated to increase their levels of concentration and performance, wouldn’t we want our students hydrated in their academic classes to help them out in, say, math, biology, or reading?
A 2004 article on the Teaching Expertise Web site claims that “mental performance can fall by 10%” when students are not hydrated, and that dehydration can add to tiredness, headaches, and irritability. Authors and educators most familiar with the relationship between students’ physiological needs and their behavior and performance (notably Carla Hannaford, Martha Kaufeldt, and Eric Jensen among others) advise that adequate hydration improves brain functioning and academic skills.
Water can account for a significant reduction in hyperactivity and inattention, and one principal reported a noteworthy decrease in the number of sick days among students and faculty alike after she had water coolers installed in every classroom. Water also helps counteract the effects of caffeine, sugar, stress, and low-frequency electromagnetic fields (encountered around computers, phones, mp3 players, or other electronic devices), all of which contribute to the body becoming dehydrated, and all of which are in abundant supply in most kids’ lives. Additionally, learning is better served by small and frequent water intake rather than making kids wait until breaks or lunchtime. In this regard, water bottles offer the perfect solution.
Yet despite all these benefits, this cheap and simple brain-friendly accommodation makes some people nervous. Chief among complaints is the fact that yes, increase water intake and kids will have to pee, at least until the kidneys adjust to the change. Still, many teachers report that after the initial fascination wears off, the students actually ask for the pass less frequently—especially in cases in which kids were asking to leave just to get a drink. (The decrease in these requests dropped off even more dramatically when teachers allowed brain breaks and movement at regular and frequent intervals.) And not one coach has ever reported having to call a time out for a potty break during a game. Clearly the potential for self-management exists.
Many teachers have averted potential negative behaviors involving water bottles (including a few reports of kids bringing vodka in the bottles), by providing water for the kids, by having clear boundaries and instructions for using this accommodation appropriately, and, better still, by creating emotionally safe, win-win learning environments in which students can get their needs met for attention, success, structure, belonging, and autonomy, for example, without abusing this privilege.
It’s always tempting to choose banning items over taking the time to teach students to self-manage and use them properly, skills that will serve them far better in the long run. In fact, the number of teachers who allow, and in fact encourage water bottles and frequent hydration without incident may make the strongest argument for bringing this brain-friendly support for kids into as many classrooms as possible.
This article was originally written for the argument in favor of allowing water and hydration in class for a 2008 article that appeared in American Teacher.
© 2008, 2013, Dr. Jane Bluestein
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