A radical suggestion for tired parents

Shift school day from 8-1:20 to 9-3 with an extra 40 minutes for lunch (yes, lunch).

cute school kid 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
cute school kid 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
There is a running joke among parents this time of year: The kids' vacation is over on August 31, and the parents' starts on September 1. Well, not for me. I really do not see the start of school as a vacation. For me, as a parent, school is a lot of hard work. It's the morning routine, the afternoon routine, the homework, the meetings, the endless notes, the forms to sign, the messages from teachers, the arrangements, the special events and extra instructions, the packing lunches and constantly buying rolls and on and on and on. I always manage to miss something, despite all my efforts, and someone always ends up upset. Honestly, I hate school. Part of what makes my life as a school parent perpetually trying is the Israeli culture of education in which even the slightest deviation from norms is treated as sinful. From the time children are in preschool, they are expected to eat the same foods at the same time of day and in "correct" amounts - not too much and not too little. Kids are expected to sit when everyone sits, to listen when everyone listens, to speak when everyone speaks and to play in the sand when it's sand time. Rights and wrongs are absolute, like multiple choices about the interpretation of literary texts. School culture is all about creating and conforming to norms. What really gets me, though, is the morning routine. Getting four kids out the door from 6:35 to 7:30 is, I'm sorry to report, a nightmare. This, combined with the culture that does not allow for any slight deviation - not even an 8:01 arrival, heaven forbid - is bad for parents, bad for kids and bad for culture, and probably contributes to the rate of car accidents. The 8:01 punishment time is as hard on teachers as it is on students, a rare moment when both teachers and students are subject to the same glares and finger-waving from the administration. Teachers, who are often parents as well, have to jump through hoops to make it to that first class. One woman I know leaves home at 7 to get to the 8 a.m. class at a school five minutes from home - between drop offs and morning traffic, that's how long the commute takes. But no matter what, teachers are reprimanded just as students are for not immaculately navigating what is undoubtedly a high-stress routine. BUT IT'S worse for the kids. For a child to walk into school at 8:01 is considered an excuse for shaming, ridicule and anger. In my son's elementary school, the "policy" was to place students who walk in late, whether at 8:02 or 8:42, for an hour in the principal's office. I only learned about this on the day I drove my son and pulled up to the school as the clock read 8:01. I thought it was fine, but he went into hysterics and refused to get out of the car. So I said wrote a note to the principal, explaining that there was some extra traffic that morning. After school he came home and told me that the principal did not accept the note and said instead, "Tell your father to leave earlier in the morning." The principal's message was not only drenched with misguided assumptions about our family life, but was also a troubling example of a principal using a child to reprimand his parents. That's just revolting. Mornings are legitimately difficult. Planning an entire day, predicting every possible scenario for the next eight hours and remembering to include all necessary items into one easily toted bag is challenging enough for an adult. Facilitating this process for an entire family while everyone is still yawning, and adding to it the demands of personal hygiene and its accompanying resistance, it particularly draining. Getting it all done at an hour when the rest of the Western world is still drinking coffee is a little insane. Doing it six days a week without a proper weekend leaves little respite. The constant struggle to get everyone out with their bodies and souls intact, make it through rush hour and arrive everywhere on time is enough to make me want to give up and homeschool. I WOULD like to suggest something else: Maybe we shouldn't care so much about students' presence at 8:01, or even 8:20. Maybe the first thing kids should hear when they arrive is not, "Why are you late?" but rather "How are you doing today?" Sounds obvious, but it's unfortunately not the standard practice. Moreover, the first activity in the morning can be something other than one that requires absolute silence and stillness on the part of the students, such that the slightest motion such as the swinging of a door ruins everything. Maybe that first half hour can be spent in small groups working on puzzles, games, building and other educational activities, where kids brains slowly warm up while they socialize with their friends. Maybe the first half hour can be spent in group sharing, going around the room and finding out what's happening in people's lives and whether they can use support and friendship. Maybe the first half hour can be spent on stretching, exercise or yoga, activities that are considered a quite healthy way to start a day and where late arrivals can blend in. Or maybe it can be a reading and homework time, where kids can get some extra help if they need it, or find some space to enjoy a good book before the rush of school starts. This way, coming on time has extra benefits, positive reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement and shaming for being late. We should really be thinking about how we spend those first few minutes of the day to make it a time of goodness and care rather than of force and control. BEYOND THAT, I would like to suggest something a bit radical. I think schools should actually start at 9 instead of at 8. This would not only ease up on the morning pressure, but would provide a useful solution to one of this country's worst problems - a school system that finishes midday. I'm suggesting shifting the school day from 8-1:20 to 9-3, with an extra 40 minutes for lunch (yes, lunch). The inspiration for this idea is a recent study by the National Sleep Institute reported in The New York Times that found that 28 percent of kids miss the first hour of school because they fall asleep. Schools in Jameson County, Kentucky conducted an experiment: They made school start an hour later. The results were so astounding that they shocked even the researchers. After six months, not only did students increase their arrival time and not sleep during the first hour, but they also found that students' grades improved on local and national levels. Moreover, there was a significant reduction in incidents of violence and substance abuse, as well as, get ready, a significant reduction in car accidents. A look at any city in Israel at 7:50 a.m. will give a clear picture of where road rage is located. Moreover, this is a way for the country to squeeze in the much-needed afternoon school time without costing the Education Ministry any extra hours. Kids can relax through their day, achieving the same amount without all the stress. It makes no sense whatsoever to rush at 6 a.m. so as to finish school at 1:30, then rushing there to rush home. It's a recipe for a stress-inundated culture. And that is, indeed, what we have. Life for schoolchildren should be less about conformity, rules, punctuality and stress and more about care, warmth and acceptance. Then maybe the education system will be playing a role in forming a better society.