Q. Dear Barbara,
My wife and I can't agree on an after-school schedule for our 13-year-old and 10-year-old sons. I think it should begin with an hour of free time to unwind; she feels they should get right to their homework. My wife feels their grades are not what they should be, therefore they forfeit this privilege. What are your thoughts on this issue?
-- Will in Los Angeles
I'm with you. Research shows kids do a better job of learning after they have a chance to do something physical.
I first heard that advice when my son was in third or fourth grade. The next time he had a test to study for, I suggested he kick a soccer ball into the net after every question I asked. Needless to say, he loved the idea. Sure, it took more time. But much to my (and his) surprise, he had an easier and easier time concentrating as we went along and this strategy became his favorite way to study for tests for years to come. (We even got a softball for inside playing during winter.) This works because the activity not only burns off energy, it also stimulates the brain. It's one reason why it's such a shame that budget cuts across the nation are eliminating recess and gym.
Here's a caveat, though. Both your sons are old enough to be involved in this decision. I would ask them: Do you want to get your homework out of the way immediately, or have an activity first? Some kids like to get it out of the way, others need time to decompress.
I also have this concern: You don't say this is an after-school program, you say it's an after-school schedule. I hope that doesn't mean they are home alone. While a 13-year-old may be mature enough -- and maturity, not age, is the issue -- to be home alone for a few hours, the typical 13-year-old is not mature enough to be in charge of a 10-year-old sibling. There's a section on "Home Alone" in my book, "Put yourself in their shoes, Understanding how your children see the world."
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