Ask the Teacher

Sign-ups for fall sports and activities start in just a few weeks. The options and commitments are overwhelming. What is a reasonable amount of afterschool activity for a fourth grader?

The opportunities for kids to participate in sports, music, theater, art and more seem to keep multiplying. As parents, we want our children to have the chance to experience as much as possible to help them discover their interests and passions. But when we add the ever-increasing demands of school, there is a lot to juggle.

Use an appointment-style calendar and work backwards. Block out time for non-negotiable commitments like school, church and any other activities you have on a routine basis. Allow an hour each night for homework Sunday through Thursday (or more if other parents have indicated that the homework load is heavy this year). Mark time for bath and when “lights out” should happen. Keep in mind that while missing a bit of sleep for a worthwhile activity is perfectly fine on occasion, missing too much sleep will compromise your child’s well-being.

Consider your child’s temperament. How much downtime does he or she need? Some children require very little and prefer a people-filled, activity-packed schedule. Others need time to be alone and decompress; too much social time is a stress-inducer for those kids.

In what activities has your child shown genuine interest? Do not make the mistake of signing up for lessons or teams the first time your child mentions it! If he or she is truly enthused about trying a new activity or if you find something that you believe shouldn’t be passed up, look objectively at the time required and see if the calendar allows for it.

Our culture pushes a high volume of activity as the ideal. Don’t overschedule your family just because that seems to be the norm. Prioritize what is important and add new commitments only if they will be truly beneficial. Experiencing a variety of new things is good for kids, but trying to do everything at once is not.


How do I know when my daughter is old enough to be left at home alone?

Indiana has no state law that dictates the minimum age a child can be left home alone. Determining when your child is ready for this responsibility is a judgement call on your part as a parent.

Role play with your daughter, having her act out what she would do when the doorbell rings or when she sees an unfamiliar car parking in front of the house. Develop an extensive list of do’s and don’ts that you will amend together after she has some experience being on her own. Focus on safety measures: no cooking, no bathing, no leaving the house, etc.

Commit to leaving your daughter alone only for very short periods at first – 30 minutes maximum. If she is comfortable with this, gradually increase the time you plan to be away. After each time she has been left alone, go over the experience and discuss any concerns. Make adjustments to the process that make her feel more confident and give you peace of mind when she is left alone.


There seems to be a trend in our community to hire tutors for kids during the summer. I had not really considered this until I heard a third mom arranging one. Is this really necessary?

Before you seriously consider hiring a tutor, think about your child outside of the context of what your neighbors are doing. If your child showed academic progress over the course of the school year that kept him on pace for mastering the skills appropriate for his grade level and had a positive experience, a tutor is probably not necessary. However, there are some reasons to pursue the idea.

A student who struggles to retain skills gained from one grade level to the next would benefit from summer work. When retention is the goal, the schedule and the curricula do not need to be particularly rigorous. Perhaps coupling workbooks with a few practice websites would save the cost of a tutor.

If your child is challenged by transitioning from one grade to the next, reviewing the skills taught over the previous school year and introducing the skills taught at the start of the next year would provide a solid confidence boost. A casual approach to review with practice sheets along with a tutor to teach the early skills taught in the next grade level would help your child enter the next year on strong footing.


Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four who holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and InstructionDeb has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected]

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