Patch Twenty Seven – Shoebox Shuffle

By Dawn-Marie Potter, Trent University Durham

As a mature student, I came to the university already a mother. While mature students are increasingly becoming a common subset of the student body, the realities they face are often not considered when allocating space for various aspects of university life. While financial considerations are mitigated some by different bursaries, or loan options, the struggles they face are often not given an in-depth look.

The biggest hurdle I faced was not my tuition (although it was daunting), instead the biggest hurdle was finding the physical space to study, to write papers, and to research assignments. My socioeconomic background is not robust enough to allow me an “office” at home as there are 7 of us living in a 3 bedroom apartment. While yes, I could go to the small library or the quiet room on campus, I had to go alone. Finding the time, and finding childcare were often impossible as financially hiring a babysitter wasn’t in my budget.

When I first went back to school I was at Durham College, and I was able to book private study rooms so that I could bring my young children with me, have a whole desk/table to myself and have them set up as well. Since it wasn’t at home, it was at “mom’s school” I was able to make it into a grand adventure for them. We packed their backpack with snacks, colouring books, simple crafts and toys, and mine with everything I needed to work with, and off we’d go on the bus. 

Then I went to university. A university that had two private study rooms for the entire student body to use. My first year I struggled so much trying to work at home, when my kids were so used to the concept that if I was at home, I was “just their mom” and not a student. While they’d happily accept that I needed to work when we were at my school, they couldn’t grasp the concept that I now needed to work at home.

During nicer weather I learnt to take my school work with us when we’d go to the park near the library as there was free wifi with a library card. I applied for a YMCA family membership so that during the winter, or when it rained I could take them to fun programs that they’d enjoy while I studied at whatever table I could find, or in a pinch on the floor beside the Y’s gym. I learnt to look and find out if any of my textbooks were available as e-books so that I could read them on the bus ride to/from school, or with us whenever we were out.

I involved my kids in my learning as much as I could, and my youngest daughter will still gleefully tell you the time we painted a plastic skull from the dollar store to remember the different bones that make up the skull, and how we used homemade play-doh to learn the different bony prominences that identified different species of primates across their evolution.

However, I missed, and still miss the ease of being able to bring them with me for a few hours to “my school”. I miss how excited they were too to be able to go “where mommy went”.

I would love to see this aspect considered as universities move forward with various construction/re-configuration plans as going back to university as a mature student is becoming more common than it was decades ago. There are larger university campus’s that have full daycare centers working within them for university students. The idea that only major cities have mature students isn’t conducive, nor is it accurate. While I understand it may not be feasible to have a daycare in every university, I don’t believe it’s impossible to just have more private study rooms added. 

I see many mature students struggling to balance family and academic responsibilities, a big part of that is when we assume they have to be separate. But by encouraging the amalgamation of both, many mature students will thrive far more than if they attempt to separate the two.

If you find ways to involve your kids in your learning, you’ll both learn lots!

“Shoebox happiness” flickr photo by redphayze shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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