It’s tough getting kids out the door for school on time in the morning. It’s even tougher working all day, then coming home to see that kids do their homework, get to their extra-curricular activities, eat supper, bathe and get to bed on time.
School officials and parenting experts tend to take the approach that parents and kids just need to be better organized, just as those who dole out financial advice often focus on better budgeting strategies. But what happens when a family truly doesn’t have enough hours in the day to get it all done?
Get the Kids Involved in Household Chores
Historically, kids played a much more active role in the survival of the family than they do today. Chores didn’t mean making your bed and keeping your room clean; chores were important tasks that made a significant contribution to the well being of the whole family. If a child failed to complete assigned chores, either someone else in the family had to do them in addition to their own work, or the family would suffer. There was a serious repercussion to not getting chores done – not just losing phone privileges or allowance, or getting grounded for a week.
You may not have cows to milk, chickens to feed, wood to chop or water to haul, but you can still assign your kids meaningful chores. Think about tasks that you struggle to get done when you are juggling your work as bread earner, chauffeur, cook, soccer coach, laundress, academic tutor, confidante, nursemaid, disciplinarian, chaperone, clerk, janitor and referee of sibling rivalries. Pick out a few tasks that you know your kids can do at least passably well, and ask each child to do some of these jobs each day.
You will be surprised at how capable your kids are, and it won’t take long before they see that they are doing something important. That makes them feel good! Being involved in managing the home also reinforces academic skills, increases a child’s self-confidence, and reminds everyone in the family that both kids and adults make important contributions.
Simplify Meal Preparation
Do you resort to eating out several times a week? Eating fast food or relying heavily on processed foods negatively impacts both your family’s health and your pocketbook. Recruiting the kids’ help with meal preparation may be an answer for your family. If that’s not enough, look into solutions like crock pot cooking, using home made meal starters, or once a month cooking (OAMC.)
If several of your friends are in the same boat, try starting a cooking co-op. If every member prepares large batches of one or more healthy main dishes and shares them with the others, meals can be frozen and later reheated in the same time it would take to warm up a highly processed meal. Your group may even benefit from savings by buying groceries together in bulk!
Avoid Battles Over Homework
The conventional advice has always been to put homework first, which worked fine when every Mom was a stay-at-home Mom, and all kids were home safely by 4 p.m. Life isn’t structured that way for most people today, and many families don’t get home until well after 6 p.m. now. Expectations for homework have to change with the times.
Parents need to take stock of the homework situation for each child, and advocate for kids with teachers or school officials as necessary. Many studies have failed to show any academic benefits to doing homework in the primary grades. There are also a lot of studies that show kids need more time for unstructured play, more physical activity and fresh air. And of course, there is a prevailing sentiment that parents don’t spend enough time with their kids. This lack of quality family time is regularly trotted out whenever someone discusses “the trouble with youth today.”
It isn’t easy to find any time to spend with kids if they’re on the school bus at 7 a.m. and don’t come home until after 6 p.m. Forget about homework and extra-curricular activities, they still need to eat supper and shower, and they need upwards of 10 hours of sleep a night. Where is the time supposed to come from? There’s no time for homework, let alone family activities.
No amount of organization can stop time to allow your child to complete homework. In my opinion, the child’s health should come before homework. Teachers get upset when they are robbed of their in-school planning time – and rightly so! No one should have to put in a full day’s work and then bring work home with them. It isn’t healthy. But if it’s not healthy for our kids’ teachers, why would it be healthy for our kids? Just because we’ve always done something, doesn’t mean we should keep doing it. Teachers used to whip children in school for not knowing their lessons. Does that make it a healthy thing to do?
Parents, don’t be afraid to advocate for your kids when it comes to homework. If you feel something about your child’s homework is not right, speak to the teacher. If weeknights are hectic, ask about in-school study halls or after-school homework help. See if the teacher will give assignments a week ahead, so your child can benefit from free time on the weekend.
In the primary years, especially the early grades, ask that teachers recognize reading and other everyday applications of academic skills as valid replacements for some or all homework assignments. If there is a global tendency to assign excessive homework at your child’s school, it is worth approaching your PTA or your school’s governing board to suggest changes to the school’s homework policy. You will likely find that other families feel the same way you do, and perhaps some of the teachers would even prefer to lighten the load a bit.
Above all, if your child is struggling with homework daily please let the teacher know! Teachers may miss signs of learning difficulties in school, especially in large classes or in situations where group work is stressed over individual seat work. Many children hide their challenges in an attempt to meet expectations for performance, making it even harder to spot their unique learning needs. Ask the teacher how long an average assignment should take to complete. If your child consistently needs more time to do the work, be sure the teacher or school resource department checks into it. The sooner a learning disability is detected or ruled out, the better.