Tuesday, August 18, 2009

College With Kids

It’s 10AM, my kids and I have just eaten our well-rounded breakfast and I am quietly finishing my cup of freshly brewed tea, reflecting on the eight hours of sleep I just got. The house is still and my children play quietly together in their playroom while I sit at my desk to begin my school work for the day.

Yeah right!

As a full-time mom and student, this is just a dream. Realistically, my day is filled with tantrums, snacks, cleaning, more snacks, reading books, taking car rides and finally ends with bedtime. In this hectic world of being a parent and student, when are we supposed to get our schoolwork done? Here is my list of the top ten things every parent should remember when becoming an online college student:

1. Strong support from your family and friends is invaluable when having to balance school and parenting. Let everyone know when you are starting school, what classes you are taking, and when mid-terms and finals are. You are less likely to burn out when you have everyone around you rooting for you to succeed. If you can’t find support in the usual places, check out online forums like meetup.com and Facebook. You could also do internet searches for your school to find groups or ask your college counselor for support information. Support is everywhere but it’s up to you to track it down.

2. A good approach to school is to examine your schedule at the beginning of every term. Don’t just look ahead at the big things like parent-teacher conferences, no school days, doctor’s appointments and vacations but also consider your schedule from day to day. Do you always eat lunch at noon and then the kids watch TV for half-an-hour? Could your partner take over the bedtime baths? Pay special attention to when you feel the most energy during the day. 
 Generally the day can be broken up into four time periods: morning, afternoon, evening and before bedtime. Different people function better at different times of day. Myself, I am most alert and ready to work in the morning and late at night. Since my kids are awake and running around in the morning, I know I should plan that I’ll be getting most of my schoolwork done after they are in bed.

3. Depending on the type of study habits you have adopted, you may try to get all your schoolwork done in one day or you may stretch it out over the week. Whatever style suits you, as a general rule of thumb you should be logging about three hours of schoolwork and study-time for every one credit you are enrolled in. For example, I am taking six credits this term so I’d want to add about 3½ hours study and homework time each weekday, preferably in my high energy time period that we discussed above.

4. Take advantage of the times you don’t have to parent. No, I’m not talking about that two hour movie they were plugged into last week - although, if that ever happens again, jump at the chance to get some schooling finished! I’m talking about the time your child is taking a nap, is away at school or has gone to sleep for the night. On those very rare occasions your kids sleep in, I give you permission to sleep in as well! Hey, we can’t be perfect all the time!

5. Take your schoolbooks with you everywhere you go. I’m a slow reader so I literally use every spare moment of the day to do my reading. You’d be surprised how much reading you can get done while at the doctor’s office or waiting to pick up your kids from school. If possible, have someone else drive so that you can use a car ride to get reading assignments finished. Several little blocks of time add up quickly and can allow you more time to work on papers and other homework.

6. As we discussed above, it’s a great idea to look ahead in your schedule. If possible, consider working ahead as well. If you know you have a big paper due on Friday and your four-month-old has her shots that day, provided the teacher will allow it, plan to turn your paper in Thursday evening instead. Working ahead is a great way to relieve school related stress, it won’t work with everything - such as tests - but it is a great way to get a jump on reading and assignments.

7. Depending on what lies ahead, you may still have years of school to accomplish - I know I do. Make sure you ask for help when you need it. During midterms or finals week is a great time for the grandparents to spend a special day with your kids or to set up play-dates so that your kids can be out of the house and you have the opportunity to fully concentrate on work. There are many people who may be willing to help, but you’ll have to ask.

8. There are times when, as a parent and student, unexpected events will distract you from your studies. Just before Thanksgiving last fall, my three year old fell off the front-porch and broke his wrist. I spent five hours at the ER only to remember that I had a paper due the same night. This is another great reason to work ahead and to stay flexible. You can’t always plan for events that could cause you to miss deadlines and due dates. Understanding this now and accepting it allow you to already have a leg up above the rest.

9. In the event of unexpected life events, not scheduling your time accordingly or, with all the hustle and bustle of being a busy parent, simply forgetting upcoming due dates be honest with your professors and classmates. Most people are understanding when you explain things truthfully and right from the beginning. Don’t make a habit of turning in late work though. Professors and classmates my be understanding the first time and maybe the second, but they begin to lose their empathy when you are emailing for the sixth time this term to apologize for not turning in your homework on time because your little one is sick - again.

10. You might find that balancing a family and school may be a bit harder than you originally thought. There is no need to burn yourself out when you can just scale it back. Consider becoming a part-time student to decrease stress and increase the time available for your family. You can always go for summer term to make up for lost time.

It won’t be easy, and you’ll need to spend some time focusing on priorities, schedules and being flexible, but you can do it. When you are a college graduate you should feel proud of what you accomplished, all with kids in tow.

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