Some kids might have to put in a regular 40-hour week at school instead of getting their afternoons off while their parents are still slaving away, according to a recent Associated Press story. Instead of ending school around 2 or 3ish, some school systems are trying longer school days, the article reported. Meanwhile, here in Spain, a longer school day, roughly 9 to 5, is the norm (although kids might go home for lunch).
So having experienced both shorter and longer school days, I should be able to tell you which works better. And the answer is…hmm. I mean, it’s a toughie from the parents’ point of view. From the kids’ point of view, I haven’t the slightest idea which is better. I imagine it depends on what the kids are doing in school and what they’d otherwise be doing outside of school. Maybe they’d learn more with extra school hours, and that learning stuff is a good thing. But of course as a kid, there are times when an extra hour in class would seem an infinity. Especially in high school at times, but according to the article, few schools are adjusting high school schedules because of teenagers’ sports and work commitments.
From the grown-ups’ point of view, there’s no question that when all the adults in the household work outside the home, longer hours are absolutely more convenient. Not to mention that having school in the summer would make sense too. Is the current school calendar really a holdover from days when more families farmed? In any case, current U.S. school schedules are ridiculously inconvenient for many families’ situations these days.
For the younger kids, if there’s a parent who works in the home – doing paid or unpaid work – it’s less clear. Having an adult who can be cruise director in the afternoons can mean that there’s a little more breathing room in the schedule. At least when everyone’s not being chauffeured to activities, there’s more time for kids to just play, or get homework done or even do a family activity during the week (while in school they’d get more group activities of course). (The fun home activities are naturally a best case scenario; sometimes everyone ends up spending the afternoon at Target buying urgent school supplies and detergent. Or in front of a video while Mom finishes an urgent project.)
A longer school day means everyone’s scrambling at night to fit in homework, dinner, bath, story, and get the kids off to bed by a decent hour. Which is what any work-outside-the-home parent could tell you. It’s also hard to figure how Americans would fit in all the extracurriculars they like to load up on (here, activities don’t start until 5 p.m. at the earliest) but it sounds like some of the schools might use the extra time to fit in different types of activities.
The trade-off to having kids off in the afternoon, of course, is less time for the adult to have for herself. And with so many “full-time, stay-at-home” parents also working “part-time at home,” the extra hours needed to hold down all the jobs that end up equaling full-time-and-a-half work often get added to the 10 p.m. mommy shift.
Having the kids in school here does open up luxurious vistas of time not seen since son the elder was born more than six years ago. But it also gives me an idea of the clockwork rhythm it helps to have to count down evening activities and hit the kids’ bedtime. Because Spaniards tend to have later hours, I hear more complaining from English-speaking than Spanish-speaking moms about the evening scramble, but it is tough on everyone.
But oh those open hours. To get work done before sunset. Or run a vacuum without interference (if one were to run a vacuum).
There are points on both sides. A longer day is very practical. But for me, since I can be around, I’d still rather have the kids off in the afternoons, particularly since they’re still just in preschool and first grade. (Not that they aren’t home regularly when they’re sick with one of the 27.8 colds per month that kids average.) The school here wasn’t ready to change though. Apparently some U.S. schools are, going the other way.