In gymnastics, as with many other competitive sports, practice schedules only get more demanding the more an athlete advances. Some parents and children struggle to find the right balance between hours in the gym and time for homework. Still other families decide to seek out alternative approaches to schoolwork that will allow for more rigorous training schedules or daytime practice. So what’s the right answer? How do you fit it all in without sacrificing anything?
I think the first step in finding the answer is to acknowledge that there isn’t a solution that is guaranteed to give you everything you want without giving anything up. No solution is going to be perfect and what might work for your daughter today just may not work for her next school year or the one after that. Then, make sure you know what you’re hoping to find on your search. Are you looking for more time before or after practice for homework? More time in the gym? And what does your daughter hope to gain from a new school schedule? If she is perfectly happy going to school on the same schedule as all her friends and going to gym in the evenings, let her do that. If she isn’t on board with making a change, no change in the world is likely to be the right one. Finally, the other thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing—neighborhood school or home-school.
The first place many families start is by talking with the administrators at their child’s brick and mortar school. While many schools have off campus P.E. options that are only offered in the higher grades, some families have found more flexibility than they expected by having a conversation with their student’s principal. Some public elementary and middle school administrators have been more supportive than expected.
Families looking for options without giving up a traditional school setting often find high quality education and scheduling flexibility in charter school programs. Responsive Ed’s Vista Academy elementary and Quest middle schools are favorites of many families in our gym. These schools are often accommodating of student athletes’ schedules, allowing them to leave school earlier while they get their P.E. credit at the gym. Some even offer a compressed class schedule for student athletes attending specific campuses. This can allow kids to get a few more hours of training in a week or more time outside of school and gym to do homework.
Private schools, too, can offer a blend of flexible scheduling with a traditional school environment. Schools like Denton Calvary Academy, for example, use the University-Model School schedule that allows students intensive classroom hours two or three days a week, depending on their grade level, while the rest of their learning is done in rigorous assignments meant to be completed at home. Some will also allow students to use approved distance learning options for credit for one or two classes outside of the core school schedule to allow for even more flexibility. Depending on the student’s schedule, this can mean alternating days of daytime and evening training to get the right balance for her.
When gymnasts, parents and coaches have decided that a daytime training schedule is a desired option, there are several choices for online learning. In many states, including Texas, online charter schools like K12, Connections Academy and iUniveristy Prep are offered completely free of charge. Students are still taught according to state guidelines and requirements and they participate in standardized assessments just like kids who go to brick and mortar schools. Too, there are virtual private schools that offer options parents can choose to use exclusively or in combination with home-schooling or other programs.
Finally, many parents choose to blaze their own trial by home-schooling their children. In our gym, there are families who were homeschooling before their children became athletes and they serve as a great resource for those just starting out. While home-schooling involves much more time and involvement from parents, the practice has become common enough that there are many networking groups—in person and virtual—that can offer tips and support. Too, many metropolitan areas have home-schooling co-ops for parents who feel like their students would benefit from additional resources or expertise in given subjects.
Whether you are trying to help your daughter find more time in the gym or more time before or after gym to keep up with homework, start by doing your own—homework, that is. Talk to other families who’ve tried alternate approaches and be sure to find those who won’t mind telling you the challenges as well as the benefits they’ve experienced. And finally, if something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to go back to basics or try something else after a while.
By Leslie Jenkins