Categorized | Canadian Politics

UofT opens exclusive study space for parents

Posted on 11 April 2018 by admin

The family study room at Robarts Library will help keep kids busy while their parents study

As a single mother raising two kids and attending university, Chelsea Chen admits she has often had to resort to offbeat parenting solutions when she needs to do some schoolwork.

The 38-year-old post graduate student is pursuing a certificate in teaching English to adults at the University of Toronto. For someone relying on part-time jobs, hiring a babysitter is expensive. So too is daycare.

“If I’m up against a deadline, I have to find a creative way to do my assignments with them,” said Chen.

Her tricks have included taking kids to private Chinese or music classes and concentrating on her work while they’re there. Other times she’s had to sit at McDonald’s and study while keeping a watchful eye on them as they play. She’s even occasionally taken them inside the library, much to the angst of other students who complain about the noise.

“They’re basically flanking me, one on my right, one on my left, all three of us on the computer. It’s very cumbersome,” she said.

A new family study space at the Robarts Library was designed to help ease some of the burden Chen and other student-parents in similar situations face.

Modelled on similar spaces at academic libraries in European countries and in the USA, the free study space at UofT is believed to be the first in Canada. It has enough room for about 20 parents and their children under 12, and includes work stations, child-sized furniture, chalk boards, TV screens and a bunch of toys to keep young hands busy.

Chen said the designated study room for parents, which opened in March, has brought her some peace of mind. She no longer has to worry about her kids disturbing other students in the library. She can even leave them briefly in the study room and go look for study material while other parents watch out for her. It has created “a sense of community” among student-parents, she said.

 “My kids, they’re very happy when they know we’re going to the study room,” said Chen.

She’s far from alone in needing the assist. At UofT, as many as 600 student-parents contact the Family Care Office each year looking for advice and assistance with childcare, said the school’s director of family programs and services Francesca Dobbin.

The university’s own survey in 2016 found that between 10 and 15 per cent of PhD and master’s students ranked raising a family as a major obstacle to their studies and academic success, she said.

“We are always looking at creating spaces that are inclusive to our employees and students with family responsibilities,” said Dobbin, noting the university has also created designated breastfeeding spaces and family-friendly washrooms throughout the campus.

The study space will for now operate as a pilot project. Its usage rate could inspire the creation of similar spaces at other libraries in an effort to “make common places friendlier to parents,” she added.

Chen said other universities and colleges have to start thinking about these kinds of programs to facilitate a growing breed of students, who are marrying and/or having children early before going back to school.

“A lot of campuses don’t make allowances for student-parents. It’s like we’re invisible on campus,” she said.

Faced with a similar issue and lacking an appropriate space and resources, Ryerson University library recently launched a Busy Box initiative. Each Busy Box contains age-appropriate items, from kids’ books and craft supplies to colouring sheets, Perplexus and Lego boxes. A student-parent can borrow the box for a period of four hours and use its contents to keep their child busy.

“A university library is not by any stretch like any public library. We don’t have children reading sections or anything like that,” said Ryerson librarian Jane Schmidt. “This is just a nice, fast, relatively low-risk, easy and inexpensive project to help parents as they study or do research.”

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