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Friday, April 02, 2004

College Plans 

Well, I guess my back-up plan has changed and I will have to finish this degree at UT.
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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Parental Math

Yesterday, Bryan Higgins blogged about a new study that indicated young children and parents are not getting enough sleep. Joanne Jacobs blogged about the financial impossibility of offering universal child care. Read both if you have the opportunity.

As an instructor on the issues of human development, child development, and family, I have had the opportunity to verbally slap undergraduates into awareness of the issue of parental math. Parental math is my term. Parts of the issue have been referred to as work-load, overload, stress, family-work conflicts, career-family conflicts, the high price of child care, the child care dilemma, and on and on and on. I am not using a reductionist argument when I say "the biggest problem for today's parents is math." I get a good many blank stares. The explanation is quite simple. Math, you know - adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying - parents in today's society seem to be unable to do math. My students also know that saying "I can do the math, just not the word problems" will get them my full attention. A calculator from a box of Froot Loops can do math. It takes the human mind to use math to solve problems.

Bryan posed a sample problem in his post. Here are a few more:

#1 School lets out at 3:20pm Jana must take her daughter, Suzie, to ballet lessons at 3:30pm and her son, Mike, to soccer practice at 3:45pm. In afternoon and afterschool traffic, the dance studio and the soccer field are 30 minutes apart. To solve this problem, Jana must -

a) invent a time machine, a Star Trek standard transporter beam, or both
b) drive cross-country using her SUV's four-wheel-drive capability
c) enroll Mike in ballet and know that he will thank her when he is older and out of therapy
d) stay up late worrying about her children's futures if they don't get adequate after-school activities

#2 Margaret makes $1500 per month after taxes. She and her husband, Frank, just welcomed Frank Jr., their second child. Margo, their two-year-old, has been enrolled at the Happy Faces Child Care since she was a baby. Margaret and Frank want Frank Jr. to go to Happy Faces also. Happy Faces charges $450 children over 2 years, $550 for children between 2 years and 18 months, and $650 a month for children under 18 months. To solve this problem, Margaret must -

a) return to work 40 hours-a-week for $400 a month after taxes
b) rob banks on the weekends
c) use the copier at work to make counterfeit money
d) stay up late worrying about her children's futures if they don't get adequate preschool activities

#3 Michael, the stay-at-home-dad, is really proud of his daughter, Keesha, for making the soccer all-stars. The promotion means another 2 hour workout with a district-wide team at the soccer complex across town on Wednesday nights. The drive is 30 minutes one way. Keesha has youth choir at church from 6-8pm and needs about one hour for homework each night. Keesha needs 9 hours of sleep and is in school from 7:30am to 3:30pm. To solve the Wednesday night problem, Michael must -

a) buy an RV to allow Keesha to shower while commuting
b) move choir practice to the soccer complex across town
c) yell homework questions to Keesha from the sidelines during practice
d) stay up late worrying about his child's future if she does not get adequate sleep, afterschool activities, and
homework time

#4 What are Jana, Margaret, and Michael ignoring -

a) the reality that some things are too far apart
b) the reality that money can influence decisions
c) the reality that good opportunities are not always great for family life
d) all of the above

Math. It is a necessary parental skill. How many hours in the day? How much money is my time worth? When is my child attempting too much? How many afterschool activities equals too many? How much time do I actually spend with my child? How much must I earn to make paying for child care worth the loss of time? Should we buy a house we can barely afford in a neighborhood with a good school, or buy a house in cheaper neighborhood and pay for private school, or live with relatives and home-school the children? I think Dave Ramsey said that "if normal people are in debt, broke, and can't afford to pay for the food they are eating, then I don't want to be normal." In Mr. Ramsey's personal financial training program, he states that his course is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior. We need for parents to start thinking long-term and acting short-term. We need parents to start using the word "No" effectively.

I was very proud of one of my former students. She and her husband just had their first child. Despite the correct use of birth-control pills, the child was conceived. Her husband is in his last semester of college and has a good job prospect from an internship. She has decided not to return to work after maternity leave because 1) she wants to stay home with her child and 2) the cost of high quality child care for an infant would have eaten most of her earnings. Yes, it will be tough on them. They have the support of both their parents, our Sunday School class, and a little savings. They know the road will be hard and some sacrifices have to be made. But they are happy with their decision.

As a child care director, I never hesitated to defend the prices we charged. About once a quarter, I would send out a memo to the parents explaining the issue of quality, the reason for charging more for younger children, and our firm policies. We cared enough about all our families that we expected them to take the care of their child seriously. If they were not willing to make the commitment to pay for quality child care, then they could easily move to one of the neighboring child care centers that would happily charge less. Well, what about those families caught between wanting quality child care and not being able to afford it. REALITY. Most families CANNOT afford high quality child care. They could have done the math and figured it out. It was not hard. The formula is Income - Expenses = _____ . As a parent you must be able to do parental math.

Honestly, math is not the harder element as you can see. The difficulty comes in setting priorities and making hard decisions. Yes, participating in soccer all-stars will boost your child's self-esteem. But is being an all-star worth the sacrifice of family time, the stress of commuting, and the extra wear-and-tear of life?

As a parent, I know the reality. My wife and I have set our priorities and frequently discuss them. We are aware of the sacrifices and have resolved to work through it as a family. And we both do the math.
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Sleep ... Children Aren't Getting Enough!!

The National Sleep Foundation's newest findings from a telephone survey show that children under 10 and their parents are not getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age. (Read it here on CNN.com)

In our busy society, we run here and run there and it seems that trying to fit in everything is reducing the amount of sleep that our children are receiving. Let's demonstrate this scenario: Mom and Dad both work and have to be at work by 8:00am, child has to be dropped off at school or childcare by 7:30am, which means he is either roused around 6:15 for breakfast and dressing or he is dragged out of bed asleep, tucked in a car seat and dropped off at the childcare center. Depending on the day, child care centers try to get children to sleep at the same time each day to establish a routine, but a thousand things can happen and easily interrupt the sleep of a toddler. Mom or Dad then pick up the child at 5:30 pm. Then they speed home and feed the children dinner--7:00pm already!! Now it's time for a bath and to get ready for bed -- 8:00pm.

8:00 pm - 6:00am = 10 hours of sleep + 2 hours at the childcare center for nap = 12 hours of sleep (the minimum for children between ages 12 - 35 months).

However if these parents want to spend quality time with their children subtract any of that time

OR

If the parents have a social / church function that evening again we chop into the child's hours of sleep.

OR

Imagine if this was a single parent family.

How do we deal with this phenomia? Is it safe to say that we cannot have it all?

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Monday, March 29, 2004

Why Johnny Can't Run?

Kimberly Swygert draws attention to a recently escalating problem. Public schools serving children is disadvantaged neighborhoods are eliminating recess and physical activity to allow more time for academics. It would seem to be cutting of the school's nose to spite its face. Are the children behind on standardized scores because they have too little time in the classroom? Was recess cutting into valuable time spent reading? I would argue for one simple winner-takes-all research showdown on the matter. Test the children in the four R's, reading, writing, arithmetic, and running. Seriously, take the children's test scores and physical exams and compare the groups and individuals. Are children in better health better learners? Is there an age when health is especially critical to learning? Is there a time of day that is better for physical exertion and a time of day better for reading?

If I can find the article, I will post it later. I read a few months ago of two schools in or around San Francisco. One served a more affluent student body and had specific goals in physical education. The other served a more economically disadvantaged population and the kids in mass failed a physical performance test. Very telling.

The long view is: the better your health, the better your learning. Can kids in poor health learn? Yes. But what would their learning be like if they were in good health? Cutting recess or PE is not helping the academic situation. Quite possibly, it is making it worse.
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