CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Some Sure Start parents on Okinawa are being assigned homework seven days a week so they can have more free time.

Those with children in the special preschool program at Zukeran Elementary School on Camp Foster have to take at least 15 minutes for themselves each day — then write their activity down in a journal and call a fellow parent to check if they also did their homework.

The school’s Sure Start instructor, Louise Thompson, said she started the 15-minute requirement in February because she noticed during home visits some parents tended to be harried and stressed.

“They told me they weren’t doing anything for themselves,” Thompson said. “So I thought, ‘What can we do to help them?’ Sometimes stay-at-home parents don’t feel like it’s OK to take a break.”

Sure Start is an early childhood development program for 4-year-olds. It’s modeled on the successful Head Start program in the United States that helps give children of low-income families the same learning advantages as their wealthier peers.

Home visits and parent volunteer time in the classroom are required to participate in Sure Start, and priority for the program is given to the children of those ranked E-1 to E-4.

Leilani Adolpho, 29, who has five kids aged 10 and younger, said she’s had fun with the homework so far.

“It makes me stop and think about what I can do today just for me,” she said.

Thompson gave the parents a mini spiral notebook to write down the activity they do each day and to record what they’re assigned partner did that day. She checks the book periodically, and parents who fail to make a call to their partner have to spend those 15 minutes in the classroom volunteering.

Sharon Carter, the early childhood specialist for the Okinawa district of Department of Defense Dependents Schools, said there are basic guidelines Sure Start teachers must follow, but other than that they are free to improvise and add requirements.

“I think it’s good,” Carter said about Thompson’s 15-minute rule. “I hope it will catch on with our other Sure Start teachers.”

Kyla Markham, 28, said the program has been popular among the parents and has been a good way to form relationships with others in a similar position.

The lone father in the group, 25-year-old Jacobi James, said it’s a pain “keeping up with the book and my partner,” but he said he couldn’t really complain about someone requiring he play video games.

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