Balancing Success in the Classroom with Everything Else

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balancing school and lifeThe good news is that Lesley’s focus has greatly improved. Her grades are good – mostly A’s. Another piece of good news is that she auditioned for the school play and got a fairly good role. Life is busy.

I thought we were all fine, but unfortunately, Lesley was stressed. She made straight A’s for the year in 8th grade, and her expectations were that she should continue doing that in 9th grade. With the demands of play rehearsals, drama club and piano lessons, her schedule didn’t allow as much time for homework and study. Her grades were moving from an A to a B in a couple classes, but I didn’t see this as reason for concern. My moment of awakening to these facts occurred on a Friday afternoon recently.

“Mom, Mrs. Taylor is downstairs.”

It was after 4 p.m., and although I had expected Lesley a little later that day, I hadn’t expected her speech teacher to be at our house.

It turned out that Mrs. Taylor had intervened at the prompting of the drama coach because Lesley had been upset in drama club, started crying and couldn’t easily stop. More troubling, she had difficulty breathing for a short time. As Mrs. Taylor put it, “From what we know right now, we’re calling this a panic attack.”

Initially, there didn’t seem to be a direct cause for the panic attack. After some discussion, we all realized that Lesley has high expectations of herself and her schedule is just too full.

I know there are kids who seem to thrive on a hectic schedule; my daughter’s not one of them. She had some activity after school every day of the week plus Saturday rehearsals over the weekend. Schedule “surgery” was our first step.
First to go – a fun class that took her out of Stupendous Study Stretch, (Real name: Learning Lab) a fantastic study hall with a couple teachers there to answer questions or tutor as needed. Good bye “How to Play Bridge,” and Hello again to Stupendous Study Stretch /Learning Lab!

Second to go was Drama Club, which is different from being in the school play. Drama Club puts on original short plays once a semester. Lesley was facing a February performance of the school play, writing a drama club play in February and performing that play in March.

The next step was intervention by her speech teacher. In my opinion, every kid needs an advocate like Mrs. Taylor. She emailed all Lesley’s teachers, diplomatically explained the situation and asked for them to employ a kinder, gentler approach with her for the next couple weeks until the play is over. She pulled her out of PE one day last week to let Lesley catch up with homework. She and I have emailed each other to keep each other updated.
My new focus is to make sure Lesley eats and sleeps well and has ample time to recover from what’s required of her. Down time cannot be overlooked.

Here’s what I’ve learned from school and activity overload:

1. Make a schedule of each day, so your child will be aware of time.

2. Work with your child to estimate how long it will take to do each homework section, read a page, etc. The goal is not perfection; the goal is for your child to learn to be a REALISTIC predictor of how much time certain tasks take.

3. Don’t over schedule. Leave what a friend of ours calls “Lego time” – unstructured kid time. Even when your daughter outgrows Lego’s, she still needs free time.

4. Redeeming time. Do easy parts of homework – reading, math facts review, composing sentences (they dictate and you write), short worksheets – in the car waiting for Jack to get out of piano, during commercial breaks, any small piece of time you can find.

5. Use that PAC-kit. Keeping a planner is vital.

Next post – how medication plays into this situation.