My son’s new school supplies shine too brightly in the corner of my office. It’s the standard fare: glue sticks, soon to be dried out felt pens, a rainbow of highlighters, a cheap pencil sharpener made in China. The exercise books lay crisp and waiting to be filled with vocabulary tests and paragraphs about summer vacation. It’s kinda depressing.
Summer holiday is the best time of year for me as a writer. No more having to get up and trade PJs for pants to drop my son at the school. When I need to work until 2:00am on a feature, no problem. I just sleep in the next day until my ten-year-old boy gets up, which is thankfully around 10:00am. Time is elastic. Breakfast is late, and lunch is later. Eggs for dinner? Sounds good.
More importantly, I like to think it’s a good time for my son, too. He spends the summer dirty. His nails are jagged, and too-long with unknown substances jammed underneath. Sticks that double as guns and swords are stacked up against the stairs leading to our front door. His neck and legs are chewed from black fly bites, and his shins are bruised from falling out of the crabapple tree (I probably should have been paying a little more attention that day). It feels to me that this disheveled, feral animal is doing exactly what he should be.
The reality of the school year is a little different. Sadly, I must get dressed first thing in the morning, poor me. The boy must be roused from a coma. Snacks must be packed, volunteer hours signed up for, and cupcakes made. Extracurricular activities are chosen and paid for. The beautifully elastic pace of summer snaps back onto a schedule faster than kids on a bag of chips, and the dirty, carefree boy of summer disappears into new skinny jeans and a pile of homework.
I struggle with this. It’s not that I want summer year round. In general we like school, and have been blessed with caring, creative and engaged teachers, along with an array of affordable after-school activities. My husband and I have thus far encouraged our son to try hard in his schoolwork, and participate in music and sports to round him out and expose him to a few of the things life has to offer.
The problem is, that despite trying to limit the number of structured activities our son, and the family in general, are in, it’s still challenging to find unscheduled time for playing, whether that be running around outside or building a marble run. We are giant hamsters in the wheel for ten months. And then there’s homework.
Last year, in grade four my son had roughly an hour of homework each night. I’ve heard it will be similar in the year to come. It seems like a lot to me, yet I want my son to learn the value of putting in effort and working towards goals – he’ll need that skill. As a science writer, I naturally turned to science to shed some light. The homework debate has raged on for decades. In general, those in favour say it improves academic achievement, and provides life skills like self-regulation. Those opposed say it disrupts family life and stunts creative growth with debatable long-term benefits. The type and quality of homework, along with parental involvement, also seems to be a factor.
Whatever the science says, doing homework has improved our son’s report card, and I think has made him feel good about his accomplishments in school. He doesn’t want to be the one in the class that isn’t keeping up. But it has come at the cost of family battles, frustration and not enough time to play kick-the-can, or build dinosaurs out of Lego.
To be fair, we are not just balancing homework, but hockey and piano lessons, and all the other things I mentioned above. However, the majority of my son’s day has already been spent on academic pursuits. Some days making him sit for an hour of homework feels about as good as it does to run my fingernails down a chalkboard.
So this year we will try to limit homework to 40 minutes a night–the American Education Association recommends ten minutes per grade–and we will work with the teachers to understand the type of homework that makes the most sense for him. We’re hoping this frees up time for him to do something he likes–a recent study suggests free play can be good for a kid. Who knows. We’ll give it a whirl.
In the meantime, I’m holding on to the last week of summer holidays with both hands, stealing hugs when the boy comes in from building his fort and isn’t worried about looking cool in front of his friends. Oh summer, I will miss you and your easy livin.’ Goodbye PJs, and hello pants.
Niki Wilson is a science writer and mom in Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Locate her in the twitterverse @niki_wilson. She is curious how other busy people balance it all. Or do you? What is your secret? Tell her in the comments section below.
Photo by Nicola Jones on Flickr