Crunch Time: How Do You Fill the Hours Between School and Sleep?

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Whip my hair back and forth! #pjuniversity @photojojo

 We spend more of our crunch time doing goofy stuff like whipping our hair around

and less time whipping from one activity to the next. How about you?

I listened to a story on NPR the other day that brought me to tears.  The piece was titled “How ‘Crunch Time’ Between School and Sleep Shapes Kids’ Health.”  The crux of the piece was how the things American families do between the time kids get out of school and into bed affects their weight.  It’s specficially those hours between school and bedtime when families have the most control over choices that have a direct impact on their health.  The piece concentrated on food choices and exercise, but to me the issues raised over how families spend this “crunch time” encompasses so much more.

Parents polled and interviewed for the piece lamented how, after working, after-school activities and homework, there was little to no time to spend preparing a healthy meal and/or exercising.  Hours of homework meant no time for the kids to play outside.  Late hours at the office or running from one activity to the next meant pre-packaged meals or drive-throughs.  But it was Paige Pavlik’s response that made me cry, as it did her:

“It’s really hard,” she said, regarding the relentlessness of the work-eat-homework-bed schedule.  “This isn’t how I thought family life was going to be.”

And it’s not only our physical health that’s impacted, it’s our mental health as well.  Are we rushed, stressed, angry, frustrated, snippy, tired?  Do we have to be?

It involves asking some really hard questions about the things that fill our kids’ “crunch time,” those precious hours between 3 and 8 p.m.

Do both parents need to work full-time?  Can one parent cut back, or start earlier to get home sooner?  Are we working to pay for things we don’t need to fulfill our families basic needs – expensive clothes, new cars, big vacations?

Do kids really need to be involved in organized sports and activities at a young age?  Are they gaining valuable lessons and life skills that could just as easily be learned through tag and touch football with their friends?  Are we doing it for them or for ourselves?  And what benefits are younger siblings reaping by tagging along from practice to practice, or spending an entire Saturday at big brother’s hockey tournament?

Is an hour or more of homework really necessary after a full day of school?  Can we help our kids learn to manage their time better during school?  Can we work up the courage to challenge our schools to come up with a better way? Can we explore other schooling choices, such as Montessori, that do not put an emphasis on homework?

These are just a few of the questions I think of when confronted with this problem.  Of course, every family is different, and there are things about our lives that can be changed and others with must simply be dealt with as best as we can.  But I do encourage you and the Paige Pavlik’s of the world to really question whether or not this is the way family life has to be.

It’s a risky thing to do, to choose a different path.  I am a fairly confident parent, but every time I see the other kids my daughter’s age go off to their various extracurricular activities and sporting tournaments I feel pangs of doubt and guilt.  Should we make her do more?  Be involved more?  Are we protecting their free time and their childhood, or are we just cheap and lazy?  Despite the second-guessing, I always return to my conviction that we have to do our best to shield our kids from the busyness that will eventually take hold in their lives.  It’s a small window they have, to simply enjoy childhood.  Let’s do what we can to make that time be “free” instead of “crunched.”




  1. Although we have not actually experienced having a kid in school all day and having all the craziness between school and bed, that craziness is one of the reasons we’ve decided to give homeschooling a try. I can teach Nathan everything he needs to know (hopefully) in less than 2 hours a day and he has the rest of the time is PLAY time. I feel like I’m letting him be a kid longer. Hopefully I can help fill that time with some risky fun. 😉

    • When Elena was little, I used to wonder why parents of older kids looked forward to fall break, winter break, spring break, etc. Now I get it – it’s a reprieve from the constant schedule … and my kids aren’t even close to overscheduled! Enjoy it as long as you can, by whatever method it takes!