For five days a week school, along with parental work routines, determines the rhythms of daily life for New Zealand children and teenagers. From the ages of six to 16 children are required to attend school, with virtually all starting at five years old and many continuing until the age of 18.
From Monday to Friday the mornings include dressing, breakfast and ablutions, then getting to school, usually on foot, or by car, train or bus. In some households children might also make their own beds, tidy their room, or make their lunch.
After school, they scatter. They may go home or to a relative’s or friend’s place, or they may head to after-school care, sports practice, an extra-curricular class or a parent’s workplace. Then it’s home for dinner, playing or television, a story, ablutions, and bed. Older children and teenagers may also do homework, hang out with friends, go into town, or if at home, may phone, message or skype friends, and play computer games.
As they get older still, going out in the evening, particularly on Friday or Saturday nights, becomes part of the routine.
Children under five have a different rhythm. In 2011, 90% of children aged three or four attended an early childcare centre, spending an average of 20 hours a week there.
For those with a parent not working or in part-time work, life can follow a relaxed routine of childcare and home, going to local parks or playing in the backyard. For those with working parents, life is more regimented. They are often bustled off to childcare in the morning and picked up on a parent’s way home after work.
Weekends and school holidays
Weekends are a time for relaxing, playing sport, doing household chores and catching up with homework. School holidays are a longer version of the weekend for children with a parent or caregiver at home. Those with working parents are often in holiday care programmes, with some time at home or on holiday.
Well into the 20th century the first few months of the year meant breakfast, chores and then out to work, all before school for some country kids. Some helped with harvesting or bringing in hay, others with milking. It was a tiring life, and they might end up falling asleep at their school desks before returning home to another round of work.
Change in the 20th century
Daily routines for teenagers used to be similar to those of working adults. At the beginning of the 20th century most children left school at about 13 and went to work. Their daily rhythm was dictated by their hours of work. This changed as increasing numbers went to secondary school and the leaving age was lifted to 15 (1944) and then 16 (1989).
Children’s and teenagers’ money-earning activities have been an important part of their routine. Most happened after school – newspaper rounds, working in cafés, babysitting, cleaning jobs – but a few, like milk runs, were an early-morning activity.