An Anxious Third Grader, Follow Up

Q: You suggested that I stop the regimented schedule and give him 90 minutes of playtime. There is just over 90 minutes between when he arrives home from school (3:45) and when we eat dinner (5:30). After dinner, we have our family devotional time/Scripture memorization, and then the bedtime routine begins.

I love for him to play outside in our very small backyard but he’s out there alone a lot. Does that matter? I try to play with him for 20 or 30 minutes a day. He has an incredible imagination and can occupy himself very well but I am sure he gets lonely. My daughter often doesn’t want to play the same things that he plays. There aren’t any kids who live nearby and his few friends from school are all booked solid with after-school activities. 

We don’t currently have a regimented schedule for the morning. The kids know what they need to do to get out the door on time. If I give him the whole after-school time (4:00 – 5:30) to play, I feel I’ll need to either give him a checklist or some sort of schedule to help him manage his morning hour and evening hours. He would need to add his assigned chore to the morning routine. He would also have to do all his homework in one long chunk right before bed. Unfortunately, much of his assigned homework is on the computer. Doing that work right before bed makes him wired, then it’s difficult for him to fall asleep.

He has a tendency to get distracted and lost in a book when he is supposed to be doing his chore or homework. What’s the best way to keep a kid like him on track without stressing him out more? He often says he likes the schedule because it’s mindless. He knows that if he just follows the time allotments for everything and uses a timer for the different chunks of time, that he’ll get it all done.

What do you think is a reasonable amount of homework for a third grader? The teachers says it shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes but just the reading alone is 20 minutes. Additionally, he struggles with spelling, so I try and do mini-lessons with him to bring him up to grade level. He really excels in other subjects but does poorly in spelling and writing. I actually homeschooled him in 1st grade. They weren’t teaching phonics in school and since I am a former reading teacher, I decided to homeschool him. His reading improved dramatically, to say the least. Nevertheless, the things we both didn’t like about homeschooling far outweighed the things we did like. 

We don’t like all the homework that his 3rd grade teacher assigns, but the teacher and the school are now quite helpful/compliant with the allergy situation. Even though our school district is the most allergy-friendly district around, it has taken me four years to train the staff about food allergies and to make changes that allow my son safely participate in school activities. I hesitate to have him move schools and have to start from scratch. I will talk with the teacher and see what can be done about the excessive homework. Most people don’t see the value in chores or a sit-down family dinner time, and they expect us to eliminate those in order to allow more time for homework.

If he has a dedicated 90 minutes to play but dawdles in the morning or while doing his homework, should he miss out on some of that time? How do we get him to stay on task and not waste time that could be spent playing without a strict schedule?

Please let me know your thoughts. I am grateful for your help.

A: You’re so welcome! As for him playing outside most of the time by himself, that’s perfectly fine. I get why we’re so focused (parents, teachers, etc.) on making sure our kids have friends, but he’s been around others all day long that all he needs is fresh air and his imagination after school. Seriously, this isn’t a big deal at all. I think he’ll appreciate the down time to recharge without anyone bothering him.

As for checklists, have him come up with a list of things he has to do in the morning before school and in the evening before bed. Go over it with you to make sure he hasn’t left off anything, then let him manage the order and time. Perhaps he plays outside for half an hour, then does some homework, then back out for another half hour, etc. He can still use a timer, but let him come up with the schedule. And my kids often “lose” themselves in a book at the expense of chores and bedtime. Timers work well for that too, such as setting a timer to read for 20 minutes, then do chores.

I think reading for 20 minutes each night is all a third grader needs in the way of regular homework assignments. Seriously. And frankly, reading is the best way for him to improve his spelling too. 45 minutes of homework for a third grader is ridiculous in my opinion. I get that your finally comfortable with school and his allergies—that must be a huge weight off your and your son’s shoulders to know he has a safe environment.

I advocate having a friendly talk with his teacher and simply share that you feel your family’s priorities have gotten out of whack and that your son will be pulling back from nearly all homework except for reading nightly and studying for tests or special projects. Say you appreciate her working with you on this, but that you’ve noticed an uptick in your son’s stress level and anxiety, and have spoken with an expert (ha, that’s me:) about the need for more downtime for his well-being. Then stick with it.

You can break up the 90 minutes of play, but I wouldn’t take it away as a punishment–he needs it like he needs water and food and sleep. Use timers, give him ownership of his schedule, and relax about getting it all done every day. He’s 9, and needs to have time to be a kid.

2018-09-13T21:34:30+00:00

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