I was talking to a family who was considering the Academy and was asked a couple of questions that I had not considered in my planning, “What is the expectation of parents? What can we do to help?” These two questions are absolutely critical questions as there is a very close partnership between parents and the school when working in concert to raise and educate children.
I’m not certain if the question referred to a request for volunteer hours, but here’s my interpretation and the answer I provided.
Providing children the best possible environment that helps them succeed is the single best thing that parents can do to help the school. Providing for the basic needs of the child is conducive to learning: sufficient sleep, nutritious food, and comfortable clothes. If there is anything that parents can do to help us, it’s helping kids get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and come to school appropriately dressed.
The single best thing parents can do to help teachers is help the kids get the amount of sleep they need the night before. Tired children can be cranky children. Tired children have a difficult time concentrating. Tired children can be fidgety children. Just think about those days when you’ve had to concentrate for extended periods of time but only slept 4 hours the night before. How difficult was your day?
Eating a healthy breakfast before school can’t be stressed enough. The effects of nutrition on learning are well documented. There are many children who skip breakfast every morning. I was one of those kids in high school. The first step is to have breakfast. The second step is to have a non-sugary breakfast. I grew up eating cereal for breakfast. Imagine my shock as an adult when I saw a nutritionist that considered most cereals to be breakfast dessert. To me, breakfast dessert was a warm Krispy Kreme donut, cereal was healthy. Her recommendation to me? Don’t eat carbs first. Give your body protein to break the fast first.
This is an odd one, but something that a teacher brought up. The moment she mentioned it, it made complete sense. The clothes should be appropriate for what is being done in school that day and something that feels good to them. If we’re going to be outside for 30 minutes in 30 degrees, we need coats, gloves, long pants, closed-toe shoes. Not only are there safety considerations when working on experiments or engineering projects, but also it should be one less thing to think about when trying to learn. Too tight clothes, clothes not appropriate for the weather, too loose clothes, too short clothes, or too long clothes - many of today’s styles can get in the way of learning.
If parents help kids with these three things, as teachers, we’ll be eternally grateful. We know that it’s hard to get a child who wants to keep reading to go to sleep. Or we know it’s hard when a child can’t fall asleep because they are still wound up from the video game he or she had been playing that you had asked to be turned off an hour before. We know that it’s hard to rush home to make a healthy dinner. We know that it’s hard to get that same child that was up until 11:30 pm reading awake in time for breakfast. We know that a power struggle can quickly develop when the clothes the child chose to wear are not appropriate.
These three seemingly simple and basic requests, can in fact be a lot of work. So, when asked what, as a parent, can be done to help, getting kids to bed so that they get about 10 hours of sleep that night, having a healthy breakfast (and diet in general) and coming to school in comfortable, appropriate clothes is what we’d answer.
Homework. The single word that strikes fear in every child. Well, not really. But it’s generally a bad word in children’s vocabulary…
From parents’ perspectives, I have heard opinions ranging from the belief that the amount of homework assigned determines the rigor of the program, to advocating for less homework in favor of after school sports to create healthier children. To determine our philosophy on homework, we analyzed different perspectives to make our decision. There are conflicting research studies; some support the benefits of homework and others argue that homework negatively impacts children. To make our decision, we considered the purpose of homework, the child’s schedule and the requirements for homework given the unique nature of the school.
Homework can be used to practice what was learned, extend what is being learned, and/or help a student learn study skills. When looking at the purpose of homework in a silo, the three goals listed above all make logical sense.
It makes sense that if you need to practice division problems, then homework time spent practicing them would be a good thing. It makes sense that if there is additional material to learn that wasn’t covered in school, then it could be done at home. It also makes sense that a child should learn to plan his or her time. However, one must look at the purpose of the homework in combination with the school’s setting.
Many experts recommend 10 minutes of homework per grade that the child is in. Therefore, a third grader has 30 minutes of homework, an eighth grader has 80 minutes of homework, and high-school students would have from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours of homework per night. Depending on the purpose of the homework being assigned, the time component may or may not make sense. However, given that there are 24-hours in a day and provided our longer school day, we looked at the available time a child could reasonably have to maintain a “school-life” balance.
Our goal is to teach children how to think critically, understand concepts and solve problems, more so, than memorizing facts. Our goal is to teach children why and how formulae are used to explain the world, so that the formulae make sense because they understand the relationship it describes. It’s not an exercise on how well a child can memorize what equation should be used with a certain type of problem. Therefore, the purpose of practice has less emphasis in our school as it does in a traditional classroom.
When we analyzed the purpose of extending material, we looked at it under the lens of small class sizes and individualization of each class. With small class sizes and the individualization of the hands-on, project-based curriculum the extension is already part of the classroom. Simply, we spend the time to extend learning in school rather than taking that work home
This brings us to study skills. Learning study skills is an important life skill and a goal we wanted to incorporate into our curriculum. But how much is enough to grow and reinforce it as a skill?
For that, we looked at our school day and analyzed how much time for homework is realistically possible. With the school day ending at 5:15, we assumed that children wouldn’t be getting home until about 6 pm. Assuming 30 minutes for dinner and 30 minutes getting ready for bed, that would put us at 7 pm. We budgeted one hour of play and relaxation time, which takes us to 8 pm. According to the Centers for Disease Control, school-age children should get at least 10 hours of sleep per night and teenagers should get between nine and 10 hours of sleep per night.
We assumed that in order to be at school in time for the school day to start at 8:30 am, children would spend an average of 30 minutes commuting to school and about one hour eating breakfast and getting ready for school. Therefore, they would have to get up at 7 am. Therefore, the latest time that children would have to go to bed by is 9 pm. This workup of time assumes no after school activity.
That leaves one hour that could be assigned for homework.
Using the analysis for available time in the day and our analysis of the purpose of homework, we decided that we would require 30 minutes of reading per day. The reading selections will be mostly based on the child’s choice, and is intended to be an enjoyable and relaxing activity, that is intellectually challenging at the same time. By making reading required homework, it teaches planning and organization, as well as the learning skills that can be taken into adulthood.
In summary, our philosophy on homework is that at least 30 minutes daily will be required for reading and learning and practice will be done during the school day.
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