Cathy Arnst

Many of the high-achieving parents I know worry about whether they are enrolling their kids in too many activities, and a study I wrote about in October from the American Academy of Pediatricians didn't help.It concluded that children today are overscheduled, stressed out and need more unstructured playtime. This week, an article in Time Magazine titled The Overscheduled Child Myth begs to differ. Writes author John Cloud:

Last year a team led by Joseph Mahoney of the Yale psychology department wrote a paper for the journal Social Policy Report showing that most of the scheduling is beneficial: kids' well-being tends to improve when they participate in extracurriculars. The paper notes that only 6% of adolescents spend more than 20 hours a week in organized activities. And there's no consistent evidence that even these enthusiasts are worse off. Instead they report better well-being and less drug use. They even eat meals with their parents more often than those who don't participate at all.

Along those lines, a new report from a think tank called Education Sector calls on schools to make both the school day and the school year longer. Currently, the national standard calls for 180 6-1/2 hour days, settled on in the 1960s. But students in Europe and Asia attend school anywhere from 190 to 240 days a year, usually until 5. And they have higher test scores.

Several states are experimenting with longer days and more of them, particularly for low-performing schools. The Education Sector report notes something that could get lost in the rush to more school hours, however:

Research reveals a complicated relationship between time and learning and suggests that improving the quality of instructional time is at least as important as increasing the quantity of time in school.

I think kids could easily handle more time in school if it kept them engaged. My 3rd grade daughter is in an afterschool program run by the PTA that goes until 6, and she complains when she doesn't get to go to it. Of course, it's mostly playtime with her friends, but they do set aside time for homework and offer many afterschool enrichment classes. Better there than at home watching TV or playing computer games--I think.
Anyone out there have experience with longer school days? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

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