Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Homework: The Great Divider of Families

My son hates homework.  He's like a puppy distracted by a shiny thing whenever he sits down to do it.  No sooner has he finished one math problem that he's out of the chair, sharpening his pencil, looking at the notebook paper curling at the edges--anything to take him away from the homework. He pretty much always finishes the assigned work, but it's grueling to keep him focused long enough to do what other kids can do in 10 minutes.  It can take 45 minutes to write five sentences.

And again, like I've mentioned in this blog, I blame myself for this dilemma because I am simply not there.  I'm not there when he does his homework at the after-school program where the kids are crammed around tables with everyone talking, moving around, and being distracted in their own ways.  I'm not there when the teacher gives out the homework and says, "You can do the packet but not this one page," which my son insists she says on a regular basis.  When I try to help him, it's usually at the end of the day; he's tired, and so am I, and I am worried about getting dinner cooked.  We both end up fried.

I am an educator.  I have students who don't have a lick of study skills.  I swore when my kids started school that I was going to know exactly what to do to make sure their love of learning was nurtured and molded in the best pedagogical way.  I had fantasies of sitting around the dining room table, the kids helping each other with their work and me sitting there grading my students' papers.  This is not what is happening, and I feel like I'm losing control, and that his love of learning is slipping away every. single. day.  It disheartens me.

I have a friend who is a huge believer in the current movement that argues against the value of homework for elementary school kids at all.  I read an article on Slate.com that reviewed 3 books on the subject.  I am beginning to see the point.  The struggle to help kids as they mire through pages of inane worksheets that practice the same math sums and subtractions in a myriad of ways is mind numbing.  It makes that time that we spend together laborious, contentious, and sad.  One article I read said, "If the homework is such that the child procrastinates, resists, surface-skims, and does sloppy work so he can get done, be advised that those are precisely the study habits being learned." 


My children's elementary school rolled out a new homework policy that limits homework to only 10 minutes per grade level per night.  No take home projects for long weekends.  They say this is to preserve quality of life for families.  I know what I have to do to have a better quality of life with my family.  I have to be present to give them meaningful experiences that include teachable moments throughout their day.  I have to inspire them to think critically and to explore learning because it's something they want to do to discover the world around them and to find their place in it. I have to let go my fear that what is happening now, in first grade, is any indication of how he will be for his entire academic career.

I have to believe in the hope that someday, I'll watch him pouring over some book or he'll come to me with a hypothesis he wants to research.  I have to have that hope.


Diane said...

Are you in my house doing homework?
DITTO all those problems!!!

Amy said...

My daughter is only 19 mos old and I am already dreading the homework that they pile on kids today. If I feel like this then it doesn't surprise me that a lot of kids feel the same way. What happened to playing?

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Like Amy, I fear the inevitable homework onslaught.

I just went to a parenting workshop with this guy (http://www.celebratecalm.com/CalmCDs.html) who recommended letting kids chew gum and bounce on an exercise ball and listen to music while doing their homework. That way, kids who have a hard time sitting still will get some of the physical release they need while still attending to the homework.

When you've got it all figured out, let us know! We'll need the help!