How I’d Change School

kids nature schoolAlmost no one’s happy with school these days. Kindergarteners are sitting in front of devices for 4-5 hours a day. Teens are dreading daily online meetings and getting prescriptions for “Zoom fatigue.” Some of this is growing pains—kids, teachers, and parents are being asked to completely change the way they do school on a moment’s notice, and change like that doesn’t come easily. But that’s not the only reason.

There just aren’t many great options left. Parents don’t want their kids stuck on the computer all day, nor do they want them in class masked up and unable to touch or play with their peers. There are big problems in every direction.

Change is in the air. People are fed up with the new way of doing things and realizing they don’t like the old way all that much either. I don’t have kids in school anymore, but I do have a grandkid who will be in school soon. Besides, everyone who lives in a country has a stake in the school system of that country. The schools shape the people who become the adults who shape the nation. That affects everyone. Something needs to change.

If I could wave a wand, how would I change school?

Here’s what I’d like to see:

Later start times

8:30, 9 AM. This would give kids extra sleep. Everyone needs sleep, but kids need it more than anyone. It helps them consolidate memories and recently learned skills.1 Even the CDC has called for later start times2 for schools. as kids especially need a lot of sleep. Kids are staying up later and later than ever before. Particularly in studies using teen subjects, delaying school start times by 25-60 minutes can increase total sleep duration by 25-75 minutes per weeknight.3 That’s up to more than an hour of extra sleep a night, five days a week. That’s a huge ROI.

There’s more beneficial fallout that the studies don’t address. When you push the start time back, the mornings are less stressful for everyone. Instead of giving your kid a ziploc bag full of dry cereal, you’re scrambling eggs, slicing apples, and frying bacon. You’re not worried about being late, you’re taking your time. Hell, maybe there’s even time to walk to school.


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Better food

Just go full whole food Primal with a macronutrient-agnostic bent:

  • Full-fat dairy
  • Real meat and eggs and seafood
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Starchy tubers
  • No seed oils or gluten or refined sugar

That may sound strict. You may think “kids would never go for that.” It may be overkill. And you couldn’t control what kids ate at home or brought for lunch, and not everyone would participate in the program. But just imagine: We’d finally see what could happen if you removed most of the processed seed oil-and-sugar-and gluten-laden junk from kids’ diets—on a national scale.

A nation of kids eating eggs and fruit and kefir and potatoes cooked in butter for breakfast, a burger patty and yam for lunch with a side of full-fat milk. You’ve seen what getting some good protein, fat, and clean carbs in your kids for breakfast and lunch can do. Imagine everyone else’s kids eating the same thing. That could change the world.

Walking to school

I used to run to school every single day. That’s actually how I got into cross country running at an early age: I realized I could beat the bus to school if I just ran. So I did. Those daily runs to and from school introduced little bouts of pure freedom and adventure into my life that made me who I am today. Until several years ago, kids weren’t even allowed to show up to school alone. They needed to be dropped off or accompanied by a parent or guardian. I’d go a step further. At my ideal grade school, the default would be arriving alone. If a parent wanted to drop their kid off, they’d need a permission slip and doctor’s note.

I’m kidding, of course. But kids these days need that freedom and adventure more than ever, however they can get it. There’s not as much to go around.

More and longer recess

Recess is shrinking. Most grade school kids are lucky to get a single 20 minute block of free outdoor play per day. Some schools don’t even give first graders any recess at all, and a disturbing number of them even hold recess hostage as a punishment for poor behavior or performance.4 This is a travesty, not only because recess (and PE) increase physical activity and step count, but because physical activity improves learning and reduces acting out. In one Texas grade school, implementing four 15-minute recesses a day reduced bullying and tattling, improved focus and eye-contact, and even stopped the neurotic pencil chewing teachers were noticing among their students. The kids are testing ahead of schedule despite less actual classroom time and test prep. Recess improves academic performance, and physical play improves subsequent learning capacity. Give a kid a 15 minute play break for every 45 minutes of book learning and he’ll learn more than the kid who studies an hour straight.

Recess needs to be longer. The absolute daily minimum is 45 minutes (spread across 1-3 sessions including lunch), though I’d like to see the entire day spent outside with movement interlaced with learning/lessons.

Hold classes outdoors

The benefits are immense and irrefutable:

  • Kids with ADHD can focus better after exposure to green spaces.
  • Kids who frequently spend time outdoors get sick less often and show better motor skills and physical coordination.5
  • Kids with exposure (even just visual) to nature have better self-discipline.6
  • For kids dealing with stress at home (who isn’t?), nature can act as a buffer.7
  • Kids with consistent daily sun exposure have more vitamin D, better circadian rhythms, and stronger immune systems.
  • The more outdoor time a kid gets, the lower his or her risk of myopia.

Add to those the general benefits of green space seen in all humans and the outdoor classroom setting looks more attractive.

Ideally, the entire school day takes place outdoors, but even a small daily nature excursion is better than nothing.

Walking classrooms

We’ve all heard of Socrates’ peripatetic school, where he’d lead his students on walks around Greece while lecturing and leading discussions. This is incredible. Who else loves going on hikes with friends not just for the nature, but for the incredible conversations you end up embroiled in? There’s something special about physical movement that stimulates mental movement. Physical flow promotes cognitive blood flow.

The kids could make stops to write and do some deeper work, but class discussions and lectures could easily happen on the move.

More deep work, one subject per day

This isn’t the only way, but I think many kids and teens would thrive on a “one subject a day” schedule that allowed them to really immerse themselves in a subject or project. Imagine reading an entire book from start to finish. Imagine working on an art project all day long. Imagine getting lost in history, going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, following whatever thread tugs on you.

Kids tend to obsess over things. Schools should take advantage of that.

Eliminate almost all rules at recess

Kids should be able to climb trees, roughhouse, leap fences, ride bikes, play tag, play dodgeball, play butts up, and all the other classic playground games that carry a modicum of danger. Kids shouldn’t be expelled for playing cops and robbers or making finger guns. Staff intervenes only if kids request it or injury is imminent. The whole point is to introduce kids to risk. Navigating relatively small risks (skinned knee, hurt feeling, short fall, wounded pride) builds mettle and prepares developing brains to deal with bigger risks. It makes them more anti-fragile. People talk about school as preparation for the meat grinder of “real life,” but most schools eliminate any real prep work because adults mediate every conflict, grievance, hogged sandbox, and stolen dinosaur toy.

Tons of climbable structures and trees

Kids (and adults) need to climb things. It’s fun, it builds strength, and introduces manageable risk and responsibility. You get stuck up in a tree, you get yourself unstuck. You can climb all the trees you want, but you’ll have to get yourself down.

I’m imagining networks of trees and structures all over the playground and campus to the point that a kid could get anywhere without touching the ground. There’s actually a great book about this: The Baron in the Trees, by Italo Calvino. It’s about a young Italian nobleman who runs away from home as a child to live in the trees surrounding his estate and stays there for the rest of his life, never touching the ground.

No busy homework

The evidence for homework is weak to nonexistent.8 Instead of giving five year olds an hour of paperwork to complete or 15 year olds four hours of work, give them open-ended suggestions.

“Read a book with your parents and tell the class about your favorite part of the story.”

“Find 7 leaves, each from a different tree, and bring them to class.”

“Start a business. Come up with a business plan, a product, and marketing materials.”

Enabling deep work and deep learning during the school day would make most “busy” homework pointless.

Bring back “tracks”

Only don’t limit these tracks to “academics.” It’s not that you split the kids up by “smart” or “dumb” or “advanced” and “behind.” You allow the kids to establish their own track based on interest and aptitude. You get more specific with the tracks.

Someone wants to just do math all day? Let them focus on that.

Someone shows promise as an artist? Let them draw and paint to their heart’s content.

Someone’s obsessed with video games? Let them learn to make their own.

Obviously, even a math-obsessed whiz kid should also read great literature, but I’m not sure the math whiz kid needs to be writing essays on “Brave New World.” Simply reading it is probably enough.

More doing and playing

Humans learn best by doing. Everyone accepts that we learn languages best by speaking it or being thrown into a foreign country, not by reading language lessons. But learning through doing works for everything. Learning the fundamentals matters, but only if you also practice them. I learned to write by reading and aping other writers. This even works in subjects like math. One American educator, Benezet, showed that children who delayed formal math instruction in favor of natural math instruction (doing) until 8th grade quickly caught up to and outperformed kids taught the traditional way.

You could very well teach simple arithmetic by playing card games like Blackjack or Addition War or Subtraction War.

You could teach (or reinforce) grammar by playing MadLibs. Or just giving kids cool things to read.

What else?

More trades

Don’t just bring back the old woodshop and metalshop. Introduce full-blown apprenticeship programs. Paid ones.

  • Plumbing
  • Masonry
  • Carpentry
  • Electrician
  • Agriculture
  • Automotive
  • And so on

Name a profession and you can probably figure out an apprenticeship program. Heck, this already exists in many states. Check out the listings for California apprenticeships for an idea of what’s possible. Many high schools can even set this up. I bet there are guidance counselors who currently do it, or have. But is it the norm? No. It should be.

Lots of kids would really benefit.

Teach basic competencies

There are basic physical skills everyone should learn.

  • Swimming
  • Self defense
  • First aid
  • Physical fitness (running, sprinting, climbing, strength standards)

And other “non-physical” core competencies:

  • Budgeting
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Bill paying/taxes

Home economics, in other words.

Mixed ages

Segregation by age makes little evolutionary sense (until the public school system arose, children had historically hung out with other children of all ages). As a kid, whenever we weren’t in school I’d rove around my neighborhood in age-desegregated packs. It was all very fluid. We’d have the bigger kids leading the way, the smaller ones tagging along, and because everyone pretty much lived in the same place their whole lives, kids would graduate into different roles and new kids would always be coming up in the ranks. Without age mixing children miss out on many benefits:9

  • Younger kids can’t learn from older kids.
  • Older kids can’t learn how to teach younger kids.
  • Younger kids can only do age appropriate activities. With an older kid’s help, a younger child can accomplish much more. Two 4-year olds throwing a frisbee around is an exercise in futility. Include a 7-year old and it gets a whole lot more productive for everyone.

If any of this sounds good to you, what are you waiting for? No politician is going to make this happen. The Department of Education certainly won’t make these changes. You have to make it happen, either by finding a school that does this or creating your own curriculum at home. If you have the option, consider gathering together with a few other families to form a “pod” to realize your vision.

If that’s not feasible, get together with other like-minded families and petition your district for incremental change.

No one school or parent can enact all these changes. Some conflict. Some are downright impossible in certain environments. But even if you just implemented one or two of these ideas, you could have a positive impact.

What do you think, readers? Parents, kids, non-parents, teens, teachers: what does your ideal vision of early education look like?

What would you change? What you add or take away to the current set up?

Thanks for reading.

TAGS:  kids

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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120 thoughts on “How I’d Change School”

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  1. Great article! School could be so inclusive with some imagination and creativity! I especially like focusing on your strengths while learning fundamentals of other disciplines. And bring back the trades… we need good tradespeople.

  2. Great article Mark! I agree with you on every point. I especially would like to see better quality food and more outdoor time. I believe if kids were fed more whole foods there would be a tremendous change in all aspects. The old “you are what you eat” goes for kids as well as adults!

    1. Great article Mark. You describe a hybrid w no traditional (cram it down their ears and hope they retain to test time) learning.

      Your school is camp-style ( fun activities driven by a supervisor ) w Sudbury-style (self-directed, democractic) w un-schooling ( project based ) learning.

  3. Fabulous. I agree. I have worked in public schools PreK-12 in the US for 15 years as a speech language pathologist (and my husband is a middle school math teacher). The American education system definitely needs a huge overhaul along the lines you have presented as well as adequate funding. Thank you!

  4. While I fully agree with most of these ideas, there are a few that wouldn’t work.

    For one thing, today’s kids are a product of their parents’ bad eating habits and what they grew up with. Any weekday around noon you’ll see a steady stream of kids walking across the street to one of the nearby fast food joints. If you offered filet mignon in the school cafeteria, they would STILL prefer junk food. As a taxpayer, I’m tired of shelling out for food that mostly goes to waste. I think the school lunch program should be eliminated entirely in the high schools.
    Also, outdoor classes are a great idea for places like California and Florida. But the majority of the country can get pretty cold n the winter. It isn’t something that could be implemented very often.

    More effort needs to be given to help kids who aren’t college material. I fully agree that more emphasis on the trades should start at an earlier age. We don’t put enough focus on ways to actually earn a living, versus having a college education. They aren’t necessarily the same thing.

    1. I grew up in snow country. While outdoor classes could be hard, outdoor play should be encouraged. Build a snow village. Play fox and geese. Go snowshoeing or cross country skiing or ice skating. Or just play tag! Hide and seek doesn’t work well in snow, though. 🙂

  5. I’d like to see all kids get introductory courses to all those trades and housekeeping skills. Everyone needs to know the basics of life.

  6. After being in public education for 20+ years, I can say your suggestions are spot on.
    However…as long as the testing industry is sharing mattress time with national and state education “experts”, we’ll continue kicking the can down this road to nowhere.

    1. This. This is one of the biggest problems in education besides lack of funding. Teaching to standardized testing alone is helping no one. I believe this has left our kids at a disadvantage and that’s not even to say what it has done to the teachers who deserve much better than what they get!

  7. These ideas fit very well into the Montessori method of education. I’m an elementary teacher in a Montessori school as well as a former student. Check it out, there’s lots of videos and info out there, and there are even a few public Montessori schools!

    1. Montessori is too expensive for most parents, and public Montessori schools are few and far between. However, their format could certainly be used as a model for the public schools.

      1. The Montessori Method seems to be effective. There is a reason it is expensive and less widely available. If school choice was encouraged, Montessori education would compete with conventional education or education as described by Mark. While it is simplistic to say the best model would win, it would offer alternatives for parents and students. After raising 6 kids of my own (some with learning disabilities) and gaining 3 more by marriage, I can testify that one teaching model does not work well for every student.

  8. At this point, I’d settle for anything that’s not 4 zooms a day for an 8 yo.

  9. Loved reading this article! It reminds me to keep thinking outside the box when I’m homeschooling this year. 🙂

    1. Would you rather have them face to face with 31 kids in a classroom? That’s what is happening where I live.

    1. Like Montessori, these schools are unaffordable for most parents. There’s no reason why a good education should be prohibitively expensive. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case–and that’s what needs to change.

  10. Great article, Mark. Sounds a lot like most private home schools (not those who accept government charters).

  11. I’m a middle school teacher in Japan, and schools start very late here. The first period doesn’t start until 9. This allows student the ability to have morning club activities, as well as eat breakfast before school starts. Student lunches are all locally grown and made fresh. The quality is un-comparable to American school lunches. I do question some of the decisions, i.e. bread on Fridays, and noodles on Mondays. All lunches come very well balanced with plenty of local vegetables too.

  12. These are all ideas that were the driving force to us homeschooling many years ago. My 6th grade child finishes all core academics in about 3 hours per day, 4 days a week, leaving us plenty of time for sun, play, and life skills. It’s not only given her an education, but strengthened her immune system, and taught her skills not typically taught in school. In addition, she can converse with adults with confidence and recognizes that every situation is a teachable moment or learning experience. God is good. He wired us this way.

  13. I love, love, love this article. I had a discussion earlier today about the fact that the schooling system hasn’t really been overhauled or changed since Victorian days. We still teach with a teacher at the front and a row of tables that kids sit at! What’s with that? It may work for maybe 40% of the children. It doesn’t work for the majority. I love all your suggestions and if they were all implemented we would automatically value different intelligences. This in turn would mean that no child would leave school feeling like they are dumb, or not academic or not enough or not up to it, because they would have been able to learn in their learning style and shine in what they do well. I live in New Zealand and while Primary schools here include a number of things you describe (and most kids cycle or walk to school, which starts at 9:00), once you go to high school it’s just same old, same old. Victorian!
    Waldorf Schools have made a start in this ‘other way’ of teaching. They usually have a permanent ‘outdoor classroom’ set up. Good stuff.

  14. This list looks a lot like summer camp which those of us camping professionals already know is good for children. How about all children go to summer camp as a part of our public school system?

  15. This is awesome. I’ve long been a critic of public education and this addresses most of my criticisms. I would also make it not compulsory to attend, and not have the federal government involved whatsoever (i.e. they would be handled at the state level, per the Constitution). My biggest complaint was always that kids couldn’t go at their own pace but got put in a group of same-age peers and were stuck with them whether they were ahead or behind where the group as a whole was supposed to be at.

  16. Mark, As a pe teacher and a fitness enthusiast, I can really relate and appreciate your “take” on this subject. Keep up the great work n have a sweet week – Casey

  17. Mark, Have you ever considered public office? You have a future in education planning!

  18. I would have absolutely loved Attending a school Like this, where every type of kid could find a way to learn and thrive

  19. Love this Mark! Have petitioned for so much of this in Malibu – another thing I would add is getting rid of the testing culture. Then teaching to the test wouldn’t be necessary and there would be more freedom. But the testing industry is worth $18bn I believe….I think this is about to change though as UC’’s are going test blind for applications in 2021

  20. Don’t see much in here about the three things that
    make a person able to THINK and therefore do just about
    everything else right for the rest of their lives…..hmm…..it never hurts to focus on what we use to call reading (extremely important and should be taught by parents before kids ever get to school), writing (teaches thinking skills) and arithmetic (how to get through life without it?). Everything else on your list will pretty much take care of itself if those things are covered but most schools stopped focusing on them decades ago. That is why we have so m any graduates who can read or spell. We only have to pick up a local (or national) newspaper to see that. It is also why foreign students are so far ahead of ours.
    Thanks for the post.

  21. Personally I think that homework should be completely abolished except for in the case of kids who fall behind or kids who ask for it. I like projects and essays, but drill-style, reinforcing-the-material homework is inhumane. Give it 50 years; I think that statement will age well.

    So much of why we’re all here on marks daily apple is because we figured out that a false hypothesis can present as true depending on who hypes it and how they test it. The idea that homework is net-beneficial is a classic case of pseudo-science; think-tank-types finding something that they’re looking for on the surface and then conflating correlation with causation.

    1. I agree that a lot of homework is counter-productive, but I also believe there is no one right answer. As an engineer and pretty good student, homework was wasted on me in HS. But when I got to college, problem sets were where I learned more than in the classroom. Trying to apply the learnings on real problems helped me be creative and reinforced the classroom/lecture hall teaching.

  22. typos in my above post: Should say why we have so “many graduates who CAN’T read or spell”. Gotta love computer typing…..not.

  23. What a great article! Interested in more like this, it could change the world, certainly the future of our nation, as you say.

  24. I love all these ideas. When I was a kid there was an “Activities Bus”. If you were involved in sports, drama, tutoring or any after school activity, you could take the bus home. We lived almost 45 minutes away from school so running was not an option. It was so easy for my parents too.

  25. Such a great article and I couldn’t agree more even though I have no kids and they’re not in the plan. I think more emphasis needs to be directed towards nutrition in children as I believe it starts there and then you see behaviors and abilities change for the better. It drives me nuts when I see parents focus on their health and start living a more primal lifestyle but think it’s too hard and not as necessary for the kids. I’d love to know how to overcome that without the parents being so offended, especially considering I’m not a parent but with the understanding that I believe children are the most important demographic to educate on this topic.

  26. I am so with you. Our school today are just a place to put a child so the parents can work. Education happens when the child is motivated, not because they are sitting in a school. Motivation comes from many places, including parents and teachers. It also comes from movement, nature, experience, etc. Our current education system takes so much away from our children.

  27. Very nice wish list here. Can’t say I disagree. But after 30 years in public school education I have a few responses:

    First off, many of the things you want in schools I’ve witnessed and implemented during my career in the public schools. It does happen.

    No rules playgrounds – All I can imagine are law suits. Both for injuries of physical and social/emotional kinds. You might not believe this, but it’s true.

    Later starts – I’m all for it, but since schools are viewed as primarily daycare, parents’ job starting times would need to adjust too. Otherwise, kids are just in childcare before a later start school.

    Food – I’ve worked in schools that dropped chocolate milk (a start) and Michelle Obama’s nutritional ideas had a real impact in the schools where I worked. Fresh food, all identifiable. The food waste seemed to be the same amount regardless of food quality. Little kids can only eat so much and lots of people pack their kids huge lunches that would be too much food even for an adult. There was a real change from a rice-tater tot-white roll lunch to an array of fresh fruits and veggies which kids did eat. Even raw broccoli. No pork though because of Muslim populations.

    Although the custodian was never happy when he had the “rolling lunch” of grapes, garbanzo beans, peas, and the like. Always more of that in the floor rolling off of trays!

  28. As part of citizenship – teach what the Census is and what the benefits are to individuals and the community. Most of the non-responders I met are younger and/or in poorer neighborhoods, and some didn’t even know what it is for.

  29. Great stuff, as usual Mark. This is a lot what our homeschooling looks like.

    Minor correction: it was Aristotle who started the peripatetic school—not Socrates. 😉

  30. Wow. When your email hit my inbox, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. When I clicked on the article and saw the first paragraph about starting later – I was like, YES! A leisurely breakfast would make such a difference for us night owls.

  31. You only missed the advantage of being a musician at school – there are all ages in an orchestra – and respect comes from your ability to play and to join in well!
    I loved the article.

  32. Love love love this article Mark. I see this COVID disaster as a real opportunity to make radical changes in our educational system — which was set up, after all, to inculcate uniformity and make good workers for the industrial age’s production lines. We have produced generations of nicely domesticated humans now, and are suffering the consequences. We need to evolve and create an education system that teaches people what I call the four “Cs”: Competence (in daily living), Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Compassion. Any system of education that does not allow children to tap into their natural flow states is a tragedy.

  33. A lot of great ideas, loved most of them!
    I already think most people who have the opportunity should home school, possibly in pods, it would open up a lot of the possibilities you mentioned.

  34. I love these ideas! I hope lots of people implement them for their children.

  35. Mark, this is one of the best columns you have ever written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and could not agree more with your ideas and sentiments.

    I am a 65 year old woman who fondly remembers playing rough and rumble with the boys, having school recesses free of adult interference, walking to school on my own, beginning the school day at 9:00, sleeping a good 8-9 hours per night, playing for 2-3 hours outside after school and doing less than 1 hour of homework each day. I cannot remotely recognize the childhood experience of today’s youth. I do recognize the severe limitations and damaging effects it has wrought upon all in our society. It is way past time for major changes commencing at the grassroots/local level.

  36. Very much most all the same ‘reforms’ as my conclusions which just repeat insights on the internet: hope these might finally grow to be the expected rather than the exceptions when the same gets repeated over and over …!
    How is it that our systems have diverged away from the sensible in so many ways?

  37. Sounds like homeschooling! Combined ages, lots of free physical time, extra focus on subjects of interest, extended time on one subject (we spent an entire year on Middle Ages, with literature and history combined), healthy meals combined with home EC skills, competencies, trades (they worked half a day in our construction business from age 13). It gave us some of the best memories. Plus their standardized test scores rose dramatically the very first year and they had no problems getting into college.

  38. I don’t know Mark..these suggestions look too good and reasonable and wise…they would twist education administrators and school boards into knots trying to refute the sense that your suggestions make. The current system has been exposed unwittingly.(by the China flu response)..schools don’t want parents to know what they are doing…I have heard numerous parents complain how they are treated when they question what is going on in their school…bullying? Administrators are some of the worst!

  39. Your ideas are the kinds of things that give kids the tools to be lifelong learners, to graduate with their curiosity still intact. Education shouldn’t be done to a child, education should be personalized for a child, recognizing them as a unique individual with unique gifts and abilities. The values you wrote about are what we value, and our days look like what you describe because we homeschool. I pray that for those who cannot homeschool, they would have the choice to send their children to schools that offer an education that respects children as individuals worthy of the freedom to explore their natural talents and interests. Thanks for speaking out on this and opening the conversation further!

  40. I wish you were in charge of public education! This is so right on with how children work best. I homeschooled 3 sons and we used many of these suggestions with great success.

  41. I have a B.A. in Interior Design, but no one ever taught me how to design my own life; I had to discover that years later on my own. I would like to see classes in finding your life purpose, goal setting and developing good habits. In other words, classes in personal transformation.

  42. This article brought so much reflection for me. Before I ever had a child, I read Summerhill by A.S. Neil, and John Holt (an educator who was a proponent of “unschooling”…including many ideas above). I could only homeschool for two different years, but what a pleasure. A friend‘s child joined us when the boys were first and second graders. The kids played outside for hours (in one of the snowiest years on record), and played Legos for hours. I read so many books to them. On Fridays, we had a field trip. Sometimes we went to the city to explore, or we might go to a museum or an art installation. We spent days at the lake and the river. We picked huckleberries.

    I can’t help but think, in contrast, of the many many children who live in urban areas that are “concrete jungles.” Being outside can be a dangerous thing in some neighborhoods. Let’s figure out how all kids can have more of the things that make us whole human beings.

  43. Surprised no-one complained about the later start times because most parents have to be to work by 8. All the other options sounds great but will never happen. The indoctrination has become and is not turning back. Look at society today and there’s proof of that. Keep up the good work on health info, recipes and supplements.

    1. I thought about when I was a kid and when I had kids in school. I held down a full-time job and was expected to be in the office for a set amount of hours per day. But my kids were also involved in extra-curricular sports and prior to high school, those occurred in the evenings. So it was a race to leave work, sometimes picking them up from after school care, feeding then and getting them to practice/game. This all might be easier today with those of us who can work from home. But I grew up with a Mom who worked as a nurse in a hospital. Flexibility was not a part of her job. We’d need a 180 turn in adult attitudes to make this work smoothly. We’d also have to retrain the helicopter parents whose insistence and interference tends to bring about playground rules and such.

  44. Awesome ideas that I think are realistic and much needed with today’s youth. Thank you

  45. Sounds a lot like homeschool! This will be our 8th year of it, and we’ve never looked back. It’s been wonderful for our kids and family.

  46. Childhood should be a fun time to explore yourself and the world around you. It’s the natural way our species has developed for all of time. Sadly school Is not about growing kids into healthy well adjusted adults. Thankfully and unsurprisingly your community seems pretty on aware with this. The indoctrination programming of the past seems have been very effective though and the majority of regular people prefer to just go along and not rock the boat so long as it is convenient for them. Kids need to learn to be obedient and compliant if you ask the school system. I’ve spent years de-schooling unschooling myself and will doing the same for my kids.

  47. I do not have any children at home either but these are all great ideas! The public education system does need an overhaul!

    1. Our society needs an overhaul. It is interesting that we can raise money or taxes to build entertainment and sporting facilities, but not do the same for schools. Our society values entertainment over education and hard work.

  48. I have been following you for years! I agree completely with the above – sheer genius! Only you can lay it out in such a compelling and articulate way. I will share this article with all my friends who have children in school in the hope that they can effect some changes. Thank you for always being on point! Of course, you mentioning Calvino, blew me away! I own the book!

  49. Love this, and it’s happening all across the country already…except it’s called home school! Millions of families agree with you that schools are going in the wrong direction.

    1. I disagree with you. Society and importance of family is going in the wrong direction and schools are expected to fix everything wrong in society.

  50. Love this, totally agree! When my kids were in preschool, everybody went outside everyday. If it was raining they were under the eves singing “ rain rain go away”? in elementary school, it took longer to put on snow jackets and boots than time spent outside, but they got outside every day!
    Also love idea of trades, everyone should be required to take at least one – great ideas!

    1. I agree with you, but many kids today choose to be inside playing video games, taking selfies on their phones, etc. It isn’t the fault of schools.

  51. In contrast, we are started virtual learning here soon for my four sons, and they are required by attendance laws to be staring at a computer screen most of the day. Even my first grader!

  52. I agree with most of these suggestions, but the “form a pod or homeschool” solution because “politicians won’t do it” completely misses the mark. We HAVE to fight for these changes to be made systemically, for everyone, or the inequities that are already rampant in our school system will only get worse. Instead of forming a pod of privileged kids, use that privilege to fight for changes for all kids.

    Also, I’m tired of seeing people say “bring back home ec/real world skills!” Most high schools still offer classes that each cooking, budgeting, etc.

  53. Much insightful wisdom here, Mark.
    Thanks for sharing the antithetical model to the current industrialized system.
    Charlotte Mason would be pleased.

  54. I like a lot of your ideas, but I do find it interesting that parents are ok with hours of mindless hours of kids on phones, playing video games, etc., but upset about them using technology to learn. I also think most of this starts at home. For example eating well and walking, exercising, etc. I am a mom and a teacher and a healthy person. I get irritated by how some parents have a lack of interest in helping their kids be healthy and productive people.

  55. Your vision actually follows what I already put into affect. I homeschool my kids and always have. But I also “unschool” and focus on life skills. It worked out even better than I could have hoped. My eldest is 17 and will graduate both high school and college next year at a local tech school. She’s also a lifeguard and extremely self sufficient. My 14 year old is a homebody that loves to cook and bake wholesome foods and naturally cares for others. And one of the original reasons I decided to keep them out of school was because I could have control over the diet they would eat.

  56. Great article, Mark. I agree with everything. I’ve always thought the first class of the day should be recess. Kids are more apt to pay attention after a little running around. We live in northern Michigan. Snow should not stop kids from playing outside. And on the days it is too cold, hold recess in the gym or go on field trips.

  57. This sounds a lot like homeschooling. (Was homeschooled and now homeschool my own.)

  58. I have been an educator for over 25 years, and I have been disillusioned by the public school system for most of that time. I have been calling for many of the things you suggest for a long time, in particular longer recess, deeper work, and an emphasis on trades and specific tracks for students.
    One additional suggestion I would add is to revisit the concept of grading. although it is important for students to understand their progress in the subject, grades are detrimental to true learning. I homeschool my own child, not because of covid-19 at the public school he was losing interest in learning. All that mattered were the grades, and not his growth as a person and a student. Thank you for compiling these ideas in one place. If only we had an educational system willing and able to enact even part of these suggestions!

  59. Mark Sisson for President! JK, I would never wish that on you!
    But you’re thoughtfully written article would be a brilliant way for children to learn.
    The current Core curriculum is designed so teachers can teach the answers (rather then the kids really learning how to truly problem solve) and the kids get higher grades which increases the schools funding, plus the curriculum is basically set up for kids to grow into general office worker bees sitting in front of a computer. It’s sad.
    Numerous teachers I’ve talked to over the years all say (or seem to) they don’t like their jobs! That’s a problem right there!

    I do think that for the typical family a later start time won’t create a beautiful breakfast environment and will interfere with parents getting to work – but it’s a beautiful thought.

  60. Working as an educator for the past 35 years you may be surprised that I think your ideas are just what we need. Teachers know that students need time to struggle and puzzle and think and play – and not just little ones. Add to your list to get teachers involved – and treat them like the experts they are. They can help make your vision come true.

  61. BRAVO Mark! BRAVO! I have a 3rd grader with learning disabilities and she actually did better during the school shut down as we went about our day very close to what you’ve suggested in this article. I’m blessed to be able to work from home so we have elected to continue w/virtual school and I will be implementing all the ideas/suggestions you have written here. Thank you for the reassurance!!!

    1. What you are forgetting is that many parents do not want their kids at home. They see the school as daycare.

  62. My initial thought when I got ready to pull this article up was, uh-oh, where are you going Mark? But I was pleasantly surprised by the pragmatic read and largely agree with your thoughts. My daughter is 16 and her school has adopted late starts. Bravo. Previous 7 am starts were a square peg in a round hole. For the balance of your suggestions , I would like to see it. The strongest countries are those that can get contributions from the 90%. History has shown us that we never know where the next great mind will come from. And it is hard to achieve that if you are distracted by self-inflicted medical conditions.

  63. Would you rather have them face to face with 31 kids in a classroom? That’s what is happening where I live.

  64. I’d like to nominate you, Mark Sisson for Secretary of Education. Great article. I always enjoy your writings.

  65. I’ve been an educator for 25 years, and I agree with almost all of this!

  66. Amazing! Bring back Home Economics – all of my kids went to great schools and universities – but none of them know how to budget, take care of a lawn/garden, maintain their cars, or truly clean their apartments.

  67. I comp,Evelyn agree. I realise some things are easier said than done, but many of the things you suggest make like easier. I’m an American living in the UK and have felt so grateful for the country life experience my children are having. We’ve always taken time over breakfast and we’re lucky enough to be able to have a scenic walk to school. After our lockdown, the kids returned to school for a shorter day (9.15-2.15). I think starting later is so beneficial. As for interacting with children of other ages, even if it’s just at playtime, it’s so beneficial. It’s unnatural to spend all time with only people your own age. Best wishes

  68. This sounds a lot like my child’s school in New Zealand, and it’s a standard govt funded school. 9am start, lots of free-play, learning themes of the day, food is encouraged to be healthy and in variety, and eaten at the right times for learning support, homework at 5 is max 10mins and child guided plus any form of reading. We even get a pamphlet when starting to encourage getting to school by any means other than driving. Schools aren’t always perfect here, (and I know some of this is personal factors and privilege) but it’s nice to tick off a number of these boxes

  69. I want my daughter to go to the school you described!! Brilliant.

  70. Sounds like a Montessori school.
    Interestingly, I know a lot of regular teachers and they dread getting an ex-Montessori kid for bad academic and behavioural reasons.?????

  71. Wow – you just about summer up the entire homeschool movement. It’s definitely picking up steam, but we’ve been doing it for years and our days are much like you listed above…for much of the same reason. Clearly it’s not feasible for eve try one to homeschool, but it’s been such a growing trend because people safe fed up. I would love to see all of these changes happen in the public school system. Even though we don’t participate, our taxes still fund that system and we know many people in it – it would be great for it to truly work for our students (and teachers!).

  72. I so agree with your ideas. Our school system even in Canada very closely follows the rules of the US. Time to rethink the system

  73. I agree about eliminating hours of homework, but some is helpful. They learn something during the day, then go home and practice it a few times. Helps it settle into their minds.

  74. This is just so smart. If only the nation’s professional educators could all be required to read it.

  75. I have stressed throughout my entire upbringing and life about educating children more thoroughly in Yoga and exercise and nutrition. If you look into the benefits of healthier diets, proper stretching and good exercise, it’s benefits are far greater than the proportions of math, reading and science. Those are good but what good is an unhealthy mind if it doesn’t understand the neuro science and proper function of processing emotions and feelings.
    In teaching adults recovery from addictions and other ailing disabilities we finally find freedom from the causes of poor and inadequate systems that we have established in America. The state and government systems and school education is so limiting, we are producing far less knowledgeable and experienced young adults that have created absolute zero common sense. Common sense is so uncommon we elect closed minded politicians to hopefully change the process. We live in complete blind faith that unknown strangers with financial backing will invoke change. If we continue to raise immoral and entitled children through social media and uncensored television and movies and internet. We are going to continue plunging down the rabbit hole. Technology is not evolution and intelligent advancement. It is crippling and disabling our children and adults. It is blinding us from strengthening and building solid foundations for our children’s futures. Please examine a new way to recover a very poor and disgusting way to teach our children.

  76. This is an excellent, thoughtful article. As a homeschool mom of 25 years, I say a hearty “yes” to everything. The government really needs to get its nose out of education (and a whole lot of other things) and let parents raise their kids as they see fit. I could’ve done a lot more with my kids if I didn’t have to worry about regulations.

  77. Mark, this is awesome!
    Due to COVID, our granddaughters will spend their Remote, and Virtual learning time at our house.
    Your ideas are wonderful! I plan to include many of these in their downtime. Especially outdoor activities.
    The girls love to cook. We can teach them nutrition, fractions, weight, volume, etc. in a fun environment with yummy rewards!
    Thank you

  78. Wow – very interesting. My fiancé taught 8th grade shop for 32 years. When he retired, they ended the program. The stories he tells and the problems and focus on grades and testing are eye opening and frustrating. Education needs a huge overhaul. With the current system, it’s no wonder kids don’t know how to think, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, and analyze. He used ideas from John Dewey. (His college professor mentor was a mentee of John Dewey’s mentee.) And it’s no wonder kids don’t know what they want to be or what their passions are and have not goals or purpose in life. Most of school is a huge waste of time. And it’s no wonder so many kids dislike school and don’t enjoy it and don’t thrive and are bored and don’t have any energy. I think many teachers and administrators mean well, but they’re doing what they’ve been taught to do and perpetuating the mess. Change is difficult. And how can there be change when they’re a product of a system that didn’t teach them how to be creative and be analytical problem solvers. It’s a vicious cycle with no end in sight. Thanks for your article.

  79. That’s a Montessori school. She never got to establish a junior high or high school but she envisioned exactly the things you outlined. She even found a piece of land – in nature -where she would start a school/farm, where kids could study after having performed hand work or other physical and practical activity and some amazing Montessori schools exist today based on this model.

  80. As a teacher for over 20 years, I agree with everything you said in this article. Back when I was a newbie, rebel teacher, I would take my first graders out for an off-schedule 10 minute recess in the morning. It made a huge difference in both behavior and focus! But, alas, I am in a different school, with a different principal and would get written up for that now. She is always going on that the students don’t have a minute of instructional time to lose. But what an easy change it would be to implement more breaks throughout the day. My dream would be to open up my own private school, and I would certainly put into practice most of your points!

  81. I loved your article this is really great I think it’s just how it should be and nowadays the kids are stressed a good point and it’s hard for them to focus your ideals have great appreciation from a lot of us grandparents this is how we would love to see it then

  82. Mark, you basically described our years of homeschooling. Lots of hands-on, lots of play, lots of outside, combined with tons of reading, plenty of critical thinking and writing, good old arithmetic…all imbued with OUR values and input, not those of whomever happened to be teaching at school. Those were some of the most enjoyable years of my life, and my three now-adult children are glad they were homeschooled.

  83. I like how the Amish do it. They only have you go to school up to 8th grade. They look at higher education as nonsense. After that, you are focused on a trade. Schools is a waste of time with the nonsense they teach. Great article Mark!

  84. All excellent points. Only thing I would add would be to return to small neighborhood schools, not the huge schools that exist where I live. Elementary schools > 1000, Middle > 2000 and High > 3500. Kids spend lots of wasted time sitting on buses or in cars just to get to school and home as very few live within a mile of the schools.

  85. I agree on most points. But Wow, this is a big one I do NOT agree with, based on both personal and observational experiences..you say: “I’m not sure the math whiz kid needs to be writing essays on “Brave New World.” Simply reading it is probably enough.”
    Nope. Learning to write and analyze a piece of writing well, no matter what your major interest is, is a SUPER important skill.
    There are so many hidden but important skills built into this one exercise, that I would call it as important and basic as math, reading, and exercise.

    It is a real confidence builder in communication, it teaches how to think, then focus thoughts, then sequentially express (much more difficult than simple feelings expressing that everyone does everywhere today), and final write in an organized way about any one thing. “Organized” meaning a beginning (intro), middle (development of an idea), and conclusion- (why your pint works).
    These are, believe it or not, great skills to learn and benefit communication with anyone, from one’s child, to one’s spouse, to one’s students.
    Expression in writing is very important.
    Learning it actually saved my life.

    1. Spotted the English teacher 😉

      I can tell you from my experience that reading books (and plays) I was too young to relate to pretty much ruined reading for me. It took some time for me to pick up a book again after school.

      Generally I don’t believe forcing people to “learn” is a healthy strategy. Some students will get very good at gaming the system, others will just give up.

  86. Such a great article. I have a second grader and kindergartener, and I agree on all your points. Last year my son came home and said tag was banned at recess because someone got hurt. I told him to keep playing how he wants at recess. If someone wants to call me and complain about him playing tag at recess, I am happy to field that call. I believe kids are more unsafe overall if they are not given opportunities to jump, climb, fall, etc. thank you for this article and message!

  87. Our district is online this fall. One thing I like is that they made the lunch hour the same for all the schools. So your elementary, middle, or high schooler can eat and run around outside together. They’ve also given the kids multiple breaks to get away from the screen.

  88. Good thoughts and out-of-the-box thinking. Thank you!
    I was surprised that nothing mentioned a proven technique training on meditation. I think Goldie Hawn has a nonprofit that is working in hundreds of schools with this training.

  89. I love the basic skills and trade skills. One thing I would definitely include as a physical skill to be taught is to throw. How many times have you been to the beach and a girl doesn’t know how to properly through a ball? It happens too often.

    Love all of this. Of course, most of it would also mean bigger budgets for education, but that’s been needed for decades anyways.

  90. Fabulous article Mark! I grew up doing some of the same outdoor activities in neighborhood groups of various ages, walked to school 4 times per day(we came home for lunch back then). Had recess 2 times a day as well as home ec and the counter boys part learning to use tools, etc. YEs we need more craft people and young people need to know how to do all you listed. Tried to teach my own children all those things and more.