By Allison Wedell Schumacher
When my daughter entered first grade, we were told she’d have homework. I remember looking quizzically at her teacher and saying, “But she’s six.” Her teacher nodded sadly and said, “Parents want them to be used to doing homework so it’s not such a shock when they get to middle school.” Apparently better to shock them at age six than at age eleven.
My kiddo is now in fifth grade and, although the nature of the homework has changed, the fact that she has things to do every day when she gets home from school hasn’t. And while we’re in a pretty good routine, that didn’t happen seamlessly, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
I’ll start by showing you what her after-school routine looks like, and then I’ll tell you how we got there.
It starts with two facts that may be specific to her situation but are worth mentioning: First, my daughter attends a public magnet school and is at the end of her bus route, which gives her a bus ride of about an hour (even though we only live about 20 minutes from her school). And second, she now has the ability to read in a moving vehicle without getting nauseated. (This hasn’t always been the case, as one iron-stomached Disney World bus driver can attest.)
When she leaves for school, we make sure she packs whatever book she’s currently reading in her backpack. This way, she can spend the bus ride home reading it. Because her homework is to read for 20 minutes and then write a short summary of what she read, she can get the first part of it done before she even gets home.
My daughter’s bus gets her home about an hour before I do. Once she arrives, she texts me and/or her dad to let us know she has made it home safely, then gets herself a snack. Being firmly of the opinion that kids need brain food for learning activities, I have devoted specific sections of the cupboard and refrigerator to her after-school snacks so that she can get herself whatever sounds good.
After her snack, she writes a summary of what she read on the bus. She also completes her chore(s) for the day, which are things like emptying bathroom wastebaskets and making sure the cat has enough water. Once she has completed those things, she texts me again to let me know. Then she is allowed to do what she likes until I get home, as long as it doesn’t involve a screen. I should add here that, occasionally, near the end of my workday, I receive a sweetly worded text asking if she can pretty-please have some screen time before I get home. I try to grant these requests often enough to discourage her from simply defaulting to a screen without asking.
Now, lest you get the mistaken impression that I am raising some sort of Stepford Child who conforms to her dad’s and my wishes without argument, let me assure you that is not the case. She doesn’t always feel like doing her homework any more than you always feel like working. But one thing we continue to impress upon her is that you do it anyway, whether you feel like it or not. She knows it is expected of her in the same way brushing her teeth is expected of her.
The second major factor for the success of this routine is communication. By the time I see her in the evening, we have texted at least twice. Her dad and I wouldn’t simply tell her what is expected of her once and then expect her to perform it every time. Think of it like math: Would you show a kid how to do long division once, then be confused when he or she wasn’t able to do long division two weeks later? Of course not, and the same goes for after-school routines. We remind her several times per week about what all she is expected to accomplish in the late afternoon on weekdays. In fact, as I write this, I’m inspired to make a list I could hang on the fridge that enumerates her after-school routine. The more guesswork we can eliminate, the less room there is for “accidentally forgetting” something.
The third factor that seems to help my daughter maintain her after-school routine is the fact that it’s not all “must-dos.” If she had to come home every day to the All Homework All the Time channel, I doubt we’d get much done. Instead, there are some pleasurable activities sprinkled in with the required ones: finding something yummy to eat, getting water for the cat (she and he are thick as thieves and may, at this very moment, be establishing a plot for joint world domination), and the prospect of free time.
I’m hoping (and I’ll keep you posted on this) that by entrusting our daughter with the responsibility of running her own show for an hour or so every day, her dad and I are raising a kid who will understand the importance of time management and the value of hard work. Besides, this way she’ll have a nice routine established once she and the cat have taken over the world.
Allison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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