The hare ran furiously towards the finish line as the tortoise had only a few feet left to go. Despite his best efforts and closing rapidly on the tortoise, the hare lost the race.
The Aesop fable of the Tortoise and the Hare has been a classic tale told to generations of children. The lessons are that slow and steady wins the race and that overconfidence leads to your downfall. The lessons have been taken to heart in our society as putting in long hours at school and work has become an ideal held up for children and adults to follow.
What is often overlooked are the lessons that can be learned from the hare. In the tale, the hare is boastful and quickly has a huge lead over the tortoise. The lead is so large that the hare even takes a nap during the race. In some versions, the hare talks with friends and plays a game or two during the race. The hare’s overconfidence and distractibility are held up as things for children not to do if they truly want to succeed.
However current research is revealing that the hare, while a bit full of himself, had some good long term habits. One habit was to take little breaks while working on a task. People are more productive if they take little breaks while working on a larger task. Children can use this habit when working on homework. For every 15-20 minutes that they work, they should take a couple minute break. This can include getting a drink of water, getting up and stretching, or going to sharpen a pencil. The breaks can help stave off fatigue and children end up completing their work more quickly than going without breaks.
A second habit the hare exhibited is to get enough sleep and incorporate naps into his day. Naps as short as 20 minutes can help increase alertness and improve attention. Longer naps can even help with learning as sleep allows the brain to make new connections and even assist in helping to solve problems children are working on.
While schools typically don’t allow naps, parents can do the next best thing and ensure that their children are getting an adequate amount of sleep at night. Many children and adolescents become sleep deprived during the school year. This can make them irritable and make it harder for them to concentrate at school. Parents should set a firm bedtime to make sure that this doesn’t happen to their children.
The last habit the hare exhibited in the tale is to take some time to be with friends and to play. Taking a break to play and have some fun can recharge children and get them ready to learn. This is one of the reasons that generations of students had recess in the middle of the school day.
While the tortoise won the race, his approach would be difficult to maintain over the long run. Taking breaks, getting enough sleep, and stopping to have some fun are all ways to minimize feelings of burnout and make children more resilient. The next time you read the Tortoise and the Hare, think about the lessons the hare teaches us just as much as that of the tortoise.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on July 22, 2016