the newsletter


September 17, 2022

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that have the biggest impact. And sometimes, the simplest things are the things that do NOT come naturally. This is how I feel about wait time. 


In the early 1970s, Mary Budd Rowe, a Science educator and education researcher, released some enlightening research on a concept she coined “wait time”. She claimed that teachers weren’t waiting long enough for their students to respond and that pausing for three seconds (as opposed to the one second most of them had been waiting) for students to respond to questions – before rephrasing or repeating – would have a substantial impact on student thinking and learning. 

Robert Stahl expanded on Rowe’s research, and, in 1994, published a paper that got more specific, encouraging educators to embrace both “wait time” and “think time” (where you ask the student to pause before answering) in their classrooms. He argued that purposeful pauses of at least 3-5 seconds – after asking a question, before responding to a question, while presenting information – allow students to digest and prepare information more thoroughly. 

In a nutshell: wait time provides space for the students’ minds to process, wonder, and feel safe going out on an intellectual limb. 


If you take a moment to consider it, waiting makes so much sense; it takes more than a second for most of us to consider a question (especially if it isn’t a routine one) and formulate an answer. If we know we have time to think before someone expects a reply, we will have more time to create thoughtful, perhaps more nuanced response. We may even take more risks (the good kind!) with what we say. 

My husband had to go through a media training for work a few years ago, and he told me that they suggested pausing before answering a question. They instructed to avoid filling space with “ummm” or rambling words before getting to the point. They were, of course, suggesting he use think time so that the media won’t quote filler words instead of the actual answer.

People generally aren’t comfortable with silence.

But we all need to be more comfortable with silence, our own time to process, and the possibility for thoughts that extend beyond the first thing that pops into our minds. Wait time gives us permission to think, which, I find, is becoming much more difficult in our fast-paced, race-to-the-right-answer world. 


Educators know and talk about and try to practice “wait time” and “think time” in the classroom. Sometimes, we forget about how powerful it is or have a group that feels especially awkward and uncomfortable in silence. But we understand and work at the technique. 

Parents and caregivers who aren’t teachers have no real reason to know about wait time.  But I know you need to know about and practice it


I want you, as a parent or caregiver, to be able to incorporate wait time into story time and conversations with your children. You deserve to know how to help your family deepen your thinking, your discussions, and embrace the wonder and inquiry that can come from a little bit of extra silence. 

Silence, if you’re not used to it, can be awkward, but aren’t a lot of great things awkward at first? Just think: if our children are used to practicing this at home in a 1:1 or 2:2 or whatever kind of adult to child ratio, imagine how well they will respond to wait time in their classrooms. 

I’m energized just thinking about what we can do for our children with a little bit of patience and permission to wait.

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