Research and Reports

February 22, 1984 3 min read

A nationwide survey of 709 “latchkey” children reveals that most of them are not afraid, lonely, or bored when they are at home alone, and that many actually enjoy the experience.

The survey’s findings, which were published in the February issue of Working Mother magazine, included answers from 6- to 14-year-old children of mostly rural and suburban magazine readers.

“Their feelings about staying alone do not resemble the usual picture of the despondent ‘latchkey kid,”’ writes Andrea I. Burtman in an analysis of the survey results. “These youngsters feel capable and independent at a very early age.” In fact, most children who were still involved in some kind of day-care program by age 10 said they were eager to be free of that arrangement.

The survey found that only 6 percent of the children under 7 years old who responded (with parental supervision) took care of themselves.

Thirty-three percent of 8-year-olds and 38 percent of 9-year-olds took care of themselves. Most children 10 years old and older said they cared for themselves (and their siblings in some cases).

The survey also found that most of the latchkey children are by themselves for two hours or less; for 8-year-olds, the time alone is usually an hour at the most.

The children who are at home after school said they are involved in a variety of activities, including watching television (soap operas are a favorite), doing homework, completing household chores, watching younger siblings (termed “one of the worst things about the afternoon”), caring for pets, and snacking. And many indicated that they enjoy the feelings of independence, privacy, and self-reliance.

However, although most of the children who responded said they did not feel uneasy being at home alone, the survey pointed to some children’s negative feelings. Many of the 6- and 7-year-old children surveyed, even the large number who are in organized day-care programs, indicated that they would prefer to be with their mother after school.

Improving student motivation and self-image, dealing with teacher “burnout,” encouraging the professional development of teachers, and establishing programs for gifted and talented students are the most critical needs of the nation’s smaller schools, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Smaller Schools.

The center, located at Texas Tech University, surveyed superintendents, principals, and teachers in districts with fewer than 1,000 stu-dents; secondary schools with fewer than 300 students; and elementary schools with fewer than 15 students per grade.

The survey asked teachers and administrators to rank the importance of about 100 items dealing with curriculum, instruction, administration, professional preparation, and professional development. They were also asked to rate their performance in the various areas.

According to Weldon E. Beckner, director of the center, the problem of teacher burnout is likely to be “more critical in smaller schools because of teacher work loads, community expectations, and fewer opportunities for variety and release.”

A teacher “may be asked to teach several subjects, supervise club activities, take tickets at the football game, and teach Sunday school,’' he said.

The incentive for professional development is generally low because of geographical isolation, little free time, and the poor financial condition of the districts, he said.

Mr. Becker also noted that in small towns, students often suffer from an “inferiority complex” that tends to show up, especially when students must make the transition to a larger city for college or work.

The study is available for $5 from the eric clearinghouse for Rural Education and Small Schools, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M. 88003.

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 1984 edition of Education Week as Research and Reports