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Locate White Space in the Sea of Activity on Your Child’s Calendar

If free time can’t be found, it is up to you to uncover it

Dear Dr. Fournier:

Teachers at my children’s school complain about the quality of homework constantly. They want me to check it. I do have my children prove to me that they have done their homework, but I do not know if it is correct. I don’t remember much math beyond arithmetic and I haven’t read Shakespeare in years. On top of that, I am a single mother.

One teacher recommended that my children do their homework as soon as they get home from school and have it ready for me when I walk through the door. While this may look good on paper, my children are tired when they get home from a full school day, and I believe them. They take the school bus at 6:20 in the morning, which means they have to get up at 5:00. They get home between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. If I was in their shoes, I’d want a break when I got home, too.

I care about my children and their education is a priority, but I do have to put food on the table and clothes on their backs, deal with dinner, cleanup, baths and bed. I am trying to do everything I am supposed to do, but I am at a loss as to what to do.

Jane C.

Southaven, MS

Dear Jane,

ASSESSMENT

In society’s rush to ask more and more of students, and to demand it sooner and sooner, we often overlook just how much we are requiring of our children.

Imagine getting up at 5:00 a.m., being out the door by 6:30, and then getting home at 4:00 p.m.

You have no time off during the day: Your only break is a thirty minute lunch that in some schools takes place in an enforced silence. Any time you make a move from class to class, you’re forced to carry an extra 20 pounds of weight around on your back.

Once you arrive home, you can look forward to two or more hours of additional work. Still, there must be time to eat dinner, take a bath, and take care of family responsibilities.

This schedule sounds more like forced labor in a third-world country than an educational opportunity to explore and discover. Is it any surprise that, with a schedule like this, so many children rebel and decide not to do all that is asked of them?

In my work with students of all ages, I see more and more children come to my office absolutely exhausted. When I ask why they are so tired, many do not know.

I ask myself: “What is missing?” And, invariably, the answer is: “Time for children to be children!”

WHAT TO DO

Instead of dividing your life into various parts, start looking at the whole – all the demands that are placed on you and your children from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.

For one (typical) week, record your family’s schedule, either digitally or with pen and paper. What you want to be sure you can view is the time in chunks. For example, if your son’s school and extracurricular activities appear as red and blue on the chart, respectively, you will be able to appreciate the blocks of time that are being used. What this will show you is two things:

  1. The first is the number of activities and alternate responsibilities in addition to school that your family must manage.

  1. The second is how much time is not being used. I refer to this as “white space,” as it is the only uncluttered area on the calendar. Pay careful attention to how much– or how little– of this space your family has.

At the end of the week, sit down with your children and let them talk honestly about their schedules and their tiredness.

Take a long, hard look at your schedule and decide where you and your children can cut activities or conserve time. Make sure that you provide adequate rest, family time, and activities that let your children be children. Then work together to develop schedules that make sense for each of you in terms of your physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Remember that every good schedule is a flexible schedule. Instead of mandating that your children do their homework the minute they get home from school, set a reasonable time each night by which all work is to be completed and put in a special “Homework Place.”

If work cannot be completed within that time frame, then talk with your children’s teachers to find ways to compromise. What must never be compromised is peaceful family time together.

Our children are not machines that can keep going based on a mandate. Insist on a schedule that makes sense for you and your family, without letting one part of your life – namely school – take charge of the whole.

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].

 

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.

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