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Athabasca University

Studying in the Child Zone

by Ken Dickson and Julia McDonald, AU Counsellors

A typical AU student is often someone who works either full-time or part-time, is raising a family, and taking AU courses part-time. Many students find it challenging to juggle all these activities especially trying to combine effective study time while having children underfoot. The following strategies come from students who are parents. Some may work for you some may not. It depends upon the age of your children, whether you are working full- or part-time or not, and what your particular needs are. The following creative suggestions are ways of integrating the planning principles below, so adult students with children can parent effectively while pursuing success in their academic studies.

In This Section
  1. Establish routines
  2. Organize your environment
  3. Lean on your social network
  4. Children first!
  5. Plan for the unpredictable

1. Establish routines

Setting routines for yourself and your children will assist you in planning your studies.

Plan to study before your children get up in the morning or after they go to bed at night.

Schedule their nap times, and study while they are napping.

Set your study time (say, 6-8 in the evening). Then sit down with your children and teach them that this is mommy or daddy's study time, that it is very important, and that you will spend time with them before and after that time. Let them know that they will be doing homework when they go to school.

If your children are older, have a "family study time" together. Take your study breaks together as well.

Organize your study time around their favorite TV show times, during pre-planned play times with their friends, or while they are gone to outside activities.

Play during study breaks. Use these short breaks from studying to enjoy time with your children in pre-planned activities. This will be good for you as well as them.

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2. Organize your environment

If the place where you study is organized to support your academic efforts, you will achieve greater academic success because of your planning.

For infants and young children create a "child-safe" room where nothing can be broken or pulled down. Bring all the games and toys that you want for your children and that your children will want. Study there together while your young ones play safely, and with minimal distraction for you.

Plan for play. Create a list of special games and activities for your children that only happen while you are studying. They will come to associate this special fun with your studying.

Have surprise events. Although your children may know they get to watch a new video or play a new video game on Thursdays while mom is studying, make it a surprise so they will be looking forward to the surprise event.

Use technology. If your children wear headphones while watching TV, listening to music, or playing video games, there will be minimal noise distraction to your studying.

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3. Lean on your social network

Studying while parenting can be overwhelming at times. Don't go it alone. Use your connections to help support your academic efforts.

Schedule study times around your spouse's availability. Let him or her take the kids out for supper or for activities, or supervise them at home while you are studying.

Ask for support from your parents, siblings, other extended family members, friends, block parents, and classmates to take care of your children during specific scheduled study periods when you are studying at home. This may involve the adults coming to your home or you dropping your children off at their home. Try to involve a number of people so you don't become dependent on one person, and no single person becomes overwhelmed or burned out with the support they provide.

Make child-sharing arrangements with other adult students so you each get some distraction-free time for studying on a predictable scheduled basis.

Car-pool with other parents with children in the same activities as your children. By spreading the responsibility around, there is more available free time for everyone. Also, by shared chauffeuring (if you drive your children to school and pick them up) there will be periods of study time made available when you would be otherwise be driving.

Encourage the socially engaged child. There are various community-sponsored clubs for children, as well as many kinds of extra-curricular sports activities they can become involved in. Day-care services for younger children can free up some time for your academics. Plan your studies around their outside activities.

Your local public library will likely provide regularly scheduled activities for children, so go there with them and study while they are involved and supervised during such activities.

Support your children in finding neighbourhood playmates. They can play while you study, and might only require periodic supervision or checking in.

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4. Children first!

Although your studies are a priority for you, you will likely have more time for studying (without feeling guilty!) if you give to your child first.

Set time aside for your children before they go to school and when you get home from work. Even a few minutes of focussed time can be an investment with big dividends by meeting their needs at those important times of day. Hugs are essential. They haven't seen you all day and will want to get reconnected. You may want to play with them after supper or read to them at bedtime. Let them know ahead of time when you plan to spend time with them so they can look forward to the treat.

Try to set some time aside to help them with their homework. They may become more supportive of you trying to do your homework.

While you give to them, also explain your need for their co-operation at other times with your study efforts.

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5. Plan for the unpredictable

Murphy's Law feeds on the plans of students! Although you can plan for accomplishment, the world (and your children) may not always co-operate. Don't get discouraged! There are always ways to study effectively even in the middle of disrupted plans.

Attitude is everything! Mentally make allowances for interruptions and disruptions. It is important for your sense of hope and optimism not to get too rigid about your study plans, or else you will get angry or upset with the disruption. These reactive emotional states will be more disturbing to your overall study efforts than any single disruption. Expect the unexpected because it will inevitably occur, and…. know that you have some alternatives.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Think ahead for the kind of studying you will do during times when large blocks of uninterrupted studying are NOT going to happen. Use broken periods of time to skim chapters to get a rough sense of what they are about, note highlighted parts of books such as chapter learning objectives or introductory paragraphs, read small snippets of key information, peruse chapter summaries and terminology lists. Remember that you will be going back to that same material in depth when things quiet down.

Enter study notes on a smart phone or tablet that you can carry with you anywhere, or jot hard copy notes on index cards. These are the student's equivalent of "soundbites." Review these when there is a lull in the disruption, or when waiting for your children at their activities.

Commit yourself ahead of time to the attitude that you WILL digest some small piece of information no matter what kind of disruption occurs. Remember, you don't have to get it all done in any given study period. It is the effect of your total study effort over the duration of the course that will typically have the greatest impact on your academic success. However, if you find yourself always studying in the middle of a war zone, you should seriously re-evaluate your study plan so as to give yourself the best chances for success.

Give yourself permission to study in public places. The time you use while riding on buses, standing in line-ups, waiting in restaurants, etc. can be put to good use learning small pieces of information, reviewing study notes, memorizing terminology lists, over-viewing chapters, and so on.

Be a friend to yourself. Don't be hard on yourself if things aren't working out in one session. There is always another day and another way for studying. Your attitude toward your studies is one of your primary resources.

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If you have special tips for studying and time management, please send them to us and we will share them with other students. You can e-mail your suggestions to counselling@athabascau.ca.

More study tips from our students...

Updated February 28 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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