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  • Lauren Loos

The School Day Paradox

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I've been a School Mum for three weeks now. And in my newness to all of this I'm brimming with bravado, frankly I'm nailing it — I'm sure it's not unlike when I figured out the whole parenting thing in my head within weeks of first falling pregnant. So stay tuned for updates as absolutely everything I think I know inevitably unravels over the coming months (first parent-teacher interview is coming up this week). Anyway, today I'm here to tell you that there is a massive problem with the school day.

It's not a new thing. But it's new to me.

When I speak to parents whose kids haven’t hit school yet, I've been asked, "So, what are school hours now?" And the answer is, they're the same as they've always been: 9am to 3pm. And whoever I'm speaking to at the time seems to take a moment to think on this, then responds, "But how do you go to work?"

And that, my friends, is the first problem with the school day. How do you hold down a job between the hours of 9am and 3pm? And, realistically, knowing how buses tend to operate, your work contact hours would be more like 9.30 to 2.30, at best! School is really close to my work, and, if I'm being honest, having the computer fired up and going by 10am is a pretty massive feat.

I'm not afforded the luxury of working from home (and neither is my husband), so this short work day thing has a very obvious impact (particularly to any colleagues who may be paying attention). I am, however, extremely lucky that my husband's workplace is pretty flexible, so he's able to start at some ungodly hour each morning in order to leave early enough for pickup. We're also fortunate enough that cutting back my work hours to accommodate school drop off is something we can do. Plus, my mum is helping one day each week too. So, yeah, I admit that my situation is not exactly dire, but it still feels like an absolute shemozzle. It’s not easy.

And there are so many people who aren't as lucky as I am — people who work in industries that aren't flexible, people whose careers would be torpedoed by prioritising family or even just the perception of it, people who don't have family help, people who don't have a partner to share the load, people who aren't in a financial position to have as much choice. For many of these people, school hours are bloody impossible.

If this problem existed in a void, if the only issue was the impact that school hours have on work, there would be a pretty simple solution: make the school day longer.

This is where the paradoxical issue comes up.

Prep kids (in Queensland, at least) are 4 and 5 years old at the start of the school year. That is incredibly young. Long days, full of learning at a desk, are really hard for these small children, especially 5 days a week.

And prep isn't like daycare or kindy. They sit still. They don't nap. The activities that the children engage in are structured. Their brains are learning so much, while they're adjusting to a new environment, a new schedule, new people, and many of them are having growth spurts and leaping through developmental milestones all at the same time.

In the few weeks since my son started school, at school pickup I have often seen a child sleeping on the couch at the back of the classroom. Apparently they have the couch there for this reason. Prep kids fall asleep at their desks so frequently and so commonly that it necessitated the school getting couches in each classroom so that there's somewhere for them to sleep.

I'm not sure if I feel sad or outraged by this. Though I am sure I feel begrudgingly accepting of it, because what else am I going to do, home school him?

I'd like to quickly say: I'm not judging anyone who sends their kids to before and after school care. My judgement is reserved for people who don't know the difference between there and their, and people who leave their trollies next to the trolley bay.

Most parents are trying their best. And what works for your child and your family is specific to you.

My point is, on the whole, we are forced into this impossible decision. Do you work less, therefore earn less? Do you choose to not work at all, sacrificing the study and hard work it's taken to get you to where you are? Do you make a long day even longer by putting them into care? There's no easy choice for many families.

And don't even get me started on what you're supposed to do during the twelve weeks of school holidays each year. The kids badly need a break and most Australians are only entitled to 4 weeks annual leave each year. Assuming that there are two parents involved, and these parents are willing to accept that they will never have time off together again, you're still short 4 weeks, where your kids aren't at school and you don't have any accrued annual leave to use.

The school day paradox doesn't have a simple solution. Flexible work environments and fathers sharing in the load more (not just men wanting to, but their workplaces being accepting of men doing so) is certainly a step in the right direction. But it's not enough.

Like the first time parent realising that Peppa Pig may be the only way you get to go to the toilet by yourself, I'm going to admit: I can see that there's a problem with this situation, I can't see a solution, so I will humbly follow in the footsteps of the wise women who came before me, and take the path of least resistance. I will muddle through, with the Peppa Bloody Pig theme song jangling through my head, and try my best, and hope to God that this all gets easier soon.

Want to read more on life as a new school mum? Check out this article about my baby starting prep.

What are your thoughts on school hours? Comment below or contact me here, I'd love to hear from you! Don't forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page to stay up to date with my musings on motherhood.

What I’m Reading

Three Hours is a pacey book about a siege at a school. Rosamund Lupton has a beautiful style of writing; and this book is gripping and a little bit poetic. There’s a tie-in to Macbeth throughout the book, as some of the students in lock down continue to rehearse the play in a sort of delirious rebellion to the gunmen; coming to realise how the play mirrors the siege situation.

If you’re familiar with Lupton’s other books, which are often a bit unconventional, particularly towards the end, be warned: Three Hours doesn’t fit that mould. It’s a fantastic book, but not like Lupton’s other works (if you haven’t read Sister, you should definitely check it out, it’s one of my favourites). I really enjoyed Three Hours.

Click here to read the full synopsis of Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton.

What are you reading right now? Comment below or contact me here, I'd love to hear from you! Don't forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page to stay up to date with my book recommendations.

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