After-school activities

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 18, 2009 06:00 AM

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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

Hi Will,

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."

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just
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5 comments so far...
  1. As a special education teacher, I have mixed feelings about your advice. I like the idea of combining physical activity with mental effort, however, you're setting up a pattern of studying that your child will not be able to continue throughout his/her life. My suggestion, would be to create a schedule that combines studying/homework with regular intervals of physical activity. Also, you might want to think about " body breaks" ( as I like to call them) being conditional upon a given amount of work/studying done. I do think decompression is important, but should be limited to 15-20 mins.
    You can create a balanced schedule that addresses both you and your wife's needs.

    Posted by bevumass May 18, 09 11:17 AM
  1. My husband and I have the same argument, but because I am the one at home the afternoons that our 5th-grader is home, my view prevails. I think that it's vitally important that kids get outside for some sunshine and fresh air as often as they can. Living in New England means that for much of the school year, there is only an hour or so of daylight left after school and I would much prefer that my son have his downtime when it's light out so that he and his friends can go outside and burn off some energy. On days that he is home and doesn't have a scheduled activity, an hour or so of play (preferably outdoors) comes before homework and chores. Now that it's light out into the evening, homework comes in the afternoon before evening sports practices, etc. but even so, kids need time to relax and decompress a bit after school before getting back into the grind of homework. My oldest has ADHD and learning disabilities and I can't imagine making him go immediately from school, which is frustrating and draining, straight into homework.

    Posted by Jen May 18, 09 11:46 PM
  1. I tend to be on the side of "Get it over with ASAP, then play". My kids are still young - 1st grade and 2nd grade. They get very little homework at this point. They come home, blow off steam for 15 minutes, then sit down to do homework. Usually it doesn't take more than 15 minutes, and they still have plenty of time to play, eat dinner, etc. But if I wait until after dinner? Forget it - 20 minutes of whining ensues. But it really depends on the kids and the rest of the schedule. If you are a family with lots of after school activities, then you have no choice but to do it later.
    I also have had luck in getting them to do things in the morning. They are early risers, and often have at least 45 minutes to kill in the morning. Perfect homework time.

    Posted by BMS May 20, 09 08:54 AM
  1. A thirteen year old shouldn't be babysitting? Really? At thirteen I had business cards printed up advertising babysitting services that I handed out at picnics and barbecues around the neighborhood. I watched kids from four weeks to nine years of age.

    Posted by Mandy May 20, 09 01:39 PM
  1. I think it should be homework first and then free time. My daughter is in kindergartner and she attends an afternoon program at school. They do the homework first and then they are allowed to play until a parent picks them up. When my daughter doesn't attend afternoon program, it's homework when we get home. Once a routine is set children will understand and learn that the responsibility of learning should come first. Fun time from the time the leave from school to the time they get home should be the time a parent spends time with a child, asking and communicating how school was. After home work is done then free time should be introduced. Also, a 13 year old is a child and your child or any child should be responsible for caring for themselves and another sibling. Children are children until they reach an age of being considered a young adult and 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17 is not that age. You child shouldn’t have to be home and watch himself and the 10 year old, because mommy & daddy feel he’s responsible. they are not, when something happens you will never forgive yourself and the guilt of the children is wrong for them to take in. Afternoon program should be efficient and when you pick your child up from the program let them enjoy the free play time.

    Posted by Lee May 28, 09 12:19 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. As a special education teacher, I have mixed feelings about your advice. I like the idea of combining physical activity with mental effort, however, you're setting up a pattern of studying that your child will not be able to continue throughout his/her life. My suggestion, would be to create a schedule that combines studying/homework with regular intervals of physical activity. Also, you might want to think about " body breaks" ( as I like to call them) being conditional upon a given amount of work/studying done. I do think decompression is important, but should be limited to 15-20 mins.
    You can create a balanced schedule that addresses both you and your wife's needs.

    Posted by bevumass May 18, 09 11:17 AM
  1. My husband and I have the same argument, but because I am the one at home the afternoons that our 5th-grader is home, my view prevails. I think that it's vitally important that kids get outside for some sunshine and fresh air as often as they can. Living in New England means that for much of the school year, there is only an hour or so of daylight left after school and I would much prefer that my son have his downtime when it's light out so that he and his friends can go outside and burn off some energy. On days that he is home and doesn't have a scheduled activity, an hour or so of play (preferably outdoors) comes before homework and chores. Now that it's light out into the evening, homework comes in the afternoon before evening sports practices, etc. but even so, kids need time to relax and decompress a bit after school before getting back into the grind of homework. My oldest has ADHD and learning disabilities and I can't imagine making him go immediately from school, which is frustrating and draining, straight into homework.

    Posted by Jen May 18, 09 11:46 PM
  1. I tend to be on the side of "Get it over with ASAP, then play". My kids are still young - 1st grade and 2nd grade. They get very little homework at this point. They come home, blow off steam for 15 minutes, then sit down to do homework. Usually it doesn't take more than 15 minutes, and they still have plenty of time to play, eat dinner, etc. But if I wait until after dinner? Forget it - 20 minutes of whining ensues. But it really depends on the kids and the rest of the schedule. If you are a family with lots of after school activities, then you have no choice but to do it later.
    I also have had luck in getting them to do things in the morning. They are early risers, and often have at least 45 minutes to kill in the morning. Perfect homework time.

    Posted by BMS May 20, 09 08:54 AM
  1. A thirteen year old shouldn't be babysitting? Really? At thirteen I had business cards printed up advertising babysitting services that I handed out at picnics and barbecues around the neighborhood. I watched kids from four weeks to nine years of age.

    Posted by Mandy May 20, 09 01:39 PM
  1. I think it should be homework first and then free time. My daughter is in kindergartner and she attends an afternoon program at school. They do the homework first and then they are allowed to play until a parent picks them up. When my daughter doesn't attend afternoon program, it's homework when we get home. Once a routine is set children will understand and learn that the responsibility of learning should come first. Fun time from the time the leave from school to the time they get home should be the time a parent spends time with a child, asking and communicating how school was. After home work is done then free time should be introduced. Also, a 13 year old is a child and your child or any child should be responsible for caring for themselves and another sibling. Children are children until they reach an age of being considered a young adult and 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17 is not that age. You child shouldn’t have to be home and watch himself and the 10 year old, because mommy & daddy feel he’s responsible. they are not, when something happens you will never forgive yourself and the guilt of the children is wrong for them to take in. Afternoon program should be efficient and when you pick your child up from the program let them enjoy the free play time.

    Posted by Lee May 28, 09 12:19 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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