It seems like the school day is both too long and too short. I don’t mean this in the classic paradox of time way (You know, “the days are long but the week is short” or “time flies when you’re having fun.” Rather, I mean that the days are too long for kids (mine for sure!) to have enough down-time and unstructured time in addition to having enough time for meals, homework, bath and chores. And, they are way too short for a working parent to ever manage to finish up their work in time for pick-up!
We have really been feeling this tension in my house this week. We had a wonderful Winter Break. We read, slept late, did art projects, cooked, hiked and played (more on some fun ideas in another post). My Fitbit even reported that I slept for 11 hours and 45 minutes one night. It’s not true of course, but what I did do: lay in bed taking turns with Big Girl and my husband reading a great book for two hours before bedtime and then sleeping in, is basically paradise.
Now, I knew this blissful state of harmony and relaxation was temporary. It was vacation, after all. So, I did my best to prepare: Mid-way through the break I persuaded Big Girl to get her book report done (1 paragraph) before she started reading another book. The girls and I baked three batches of orange blueberry scones and froze them to have for school morning breakfasts. I did the food shopping. Husband and I did a whopping 7 loads of laundry and even put it all away! Three days before school started back up I started setting the alarm so we could ease into the early wake-up. We laid out outfits, packed backpacks and pre-planned lunches too.
All of this was just to buy us a little more time for relaxation and fun during the coming non-vacation weeks. But even being hyper organized and getting enough sleep wasn’t enough. By Tuesday afternoon we were all already tired. Big Girl took over an hour to write her spelling sentences. Little Girl spent the afternoon in a fog of post-nap crankiness reminiscent of a startled Black Bear. We barely made it to bed on time and then we were tired again when we woke up, almost late for school and completely stressed out.
In the midst of all that, I realized that for my kids, at least, the school day is too long. It doesn’t allow us enough time for all the things that are supposed to really matter for happy and healthy kids: family time, reading time, unstructured play time, outdoor time, getting enough sleep and family dinners! Big Girl is in school for 7 hours. Little Girl is in Preschool for 7 ½ hours. Both girls go to schools that prioritize art, music, and play. Big Girl’s school is awesome about getting the kids outside for playtime during recess and gym sometimes as well.
But, add in commute time (45-60 minutes of walking for Big Girl, 25 minutes for Little Girl), getting ready for school (1 hour), homework for Big Girl (about 1 hour all together because she drags her feet), and dinner (1/2 hour to eat, ½ hour to set the table and clean up) and those kids are busy for 11 hours a day. Big Girl needs about 10 ½ hours of sleep and Little Girl needs more like 11-12 hours. That adds up to 21 ½ for Big Girl and 22 hours for Little Girl of busy-ness. No wonder they are so cranky!
Of course we could use some time differently. Drive instead of walk. Not make the kids help with cooking and cleaning. Banish Big Girl to her room to do her homework quickly and on her own. And, we also take pleasure in many of these scripted parts of the day: walks and dinner for sure, homework sometimes as it includes reading aloud, and bath time is great fun! But, these are all obligations and they come at the expense of free time and relaxation.
In thinking about this issue I did some research: It seems that my kids are in school a little more than average but not a ton more. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average school day for elementary students is about 6.7 hours a day… a slow increase from 6.3 hours in 1988.
At the same time, 7 hours (minus 35 minutes for my side of the commute) is nowhere near enough for me to ever finish my work. I spent my work days this week writing syllabi and prepping classes, aware the whole time that I wasn’t giving any time to research and writing. I postponed email responses, classroom correspondence and other miscellany until the evening. The semester has just begun. I know I’ll soon be grading students’ work late into the night after getting my kids to sleep and replying to emails at 6 am. And, I’m in a profession (for this semester anyway) that allows me extensive control over my time management and prioritization.
The average number of hours a full-time employee reported working in 2014 was 47 hours a week (http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx). If someone is home for the kids in the afternoon, then that means that other working parents are doing the same thing I am—squeezing in more work early in the morning and late at night before and after work.
No wonder parents are so cranky too!
These are two non-complimentary schedules: Extending the school day helps parents but is generally detrimental to kids (especially young kids) as it often means more structured indoor activities. Decreasing work time undercuts parents’ advancement in their careers and can lead to financial insecurity.
What is a parent to do? Count the days until Summer Vacation, I suppose…