21 January 2012

Parenting a school boy: Imposing a fixed routine

More and more I am beginning to understand that one of the greatest challenges of parenting comes at the point when education becomes a serious matter for children. I'm talking about the transition from the play-and-learn style in kindergarten to a more regimented one in grade school. I thought of noting down some of the things I have been doing to take up this challenge, especially those that I have learned from my own parents, and from things that I have read from everywhere. (Will do this through a series of entries). 

In my son's Flemish school, the contrasts between kleuterklaas (kindergarten) and lagere (grade school) are very clear. Starting grade one, kids are asked to bring bigger bags that would fit books and portfolios containing reports and briefs from the teacher.  They now bring home work everyday (except Wednesdays and Fridays),  and have their parents check and sign their agenda (datebook). Performance up to the minute detail is measured and evaluated. Finally, attendance in classes must now be strictly observed (the Flemish government actually has a law that penalizes parents on the fourth unexcused absence of their child).

I seriously didn't mind this regimented style of learning since I have been educated in a somewhat similar way. Add to that the close supervision of my then very strict parents, I would say that my elementary years were not so far from those of a welfare-state school. 
Last summer, while anticipating these changes, I told myself that I will try as much as I can to balance this highly structured way of learning with some play and free time. However, the solution I thought of was not simply to contrast the time he spends in school with a totally unstructured one at home. Paradoxically, I came up with a routine that I wanted to be strictly followed once he gets home from school. It went something like this: 

1. Walk home from school
2. Snacks and rest (in my son's vocabulary, rest meant jumping on the bed)
3. Quick bath
4. Homework (to be done with Mum or Dad) 
5. Play 
6. Dinner
7. Bedtime story (English books with Mum, Dutch books with Dad)
8. Pray time 
9. Sleep (not later than 9 pm). 
(I deliberately scrapped off TV time since I thought that the no-tv-on -weekdays rule imposed by my parents worked well for me then. More on this in another blog entry.)

Some might think that imposing a fixed routine on their children adds more weight to the stress caused by a strict school.  On the contrary, I think that giving a totally unstructured time for the child at home during weekdays will make things more difficult for them  when they have to switch back to school mode the next day. I think a middle ground can be made for this. First, it's important to know what activities your child is most interested in when he's at home. And then try to harmonize it with other activities that he HAS to do, like homework. In this way, I believe we are helping our children develop a balance between conscientiousness and openness. (I got this through an insight shown in one of the episodes of the the BBC documentary, Child of our Time: The Big Personality Test).

I believe that keeping a routine on school days can also be a subtle way of saying that you care enough for your child to pay attention to the time they spend at home with you.  This has been somewhat confirmed by NYTimes article I discovered via Twitter last November. 

I am happy to report that applying this routine on my boy has not been very difficult.  Because of this, he has been enjoying the time he spends at home all the way up to bedtime. Hence, you can be sure that he will greet you with a sweet smile the next morning, wholly rested and refreshed.  

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