“My children were such fun – until homework entered the picture.” ~ Anonymous Parent
Homework is necessary to reinforce what kids learn during the day, according to educators, but it can drive a wedge between parents and children at times. What can be done to change that?
Parents Anonymous was a godsend to me many years ago when six-year-old Chelsey and I were clashing over homework issues daily. I had been under the impression that I had to sit her down every afternoon until every spelling word was practiced, every language assignment was finished and every math sheet was completed correctly. Chelsey was spending as much as three or four hours on homework every day and sometimes even more on the weekends.
During those first few meetings at Parents Anonymous I learned valuable lessons that carried me through Chelsey and Katie’s student days. Here are some of those lessons:
Homework belongs to the children. Parents are not responsible for doing a child’s homework. Parents are not graded on how well children do the homework at night and school educators do not think less of a parent if something is answered incorrectly by the child on homework.
Parents are responsible to provide sufficient time and space dedicated regularly for homework. During school months parents need to keep in mind that, while chores are important, homework must take priority. Parents are also responsible for providing materials and supplies (any cost/quality) for the child to use.
Long-term projects belong to the children. Parents may need to help children come up with a timeline to map progress: Research, writing, editing, physical portions and so on; each to be completed by a certain date, all by the child. Children may need to research at the library and use web resources during information-gathering stages. When asked by the child, the parents need to give appropriate assistance and information to help – not do – the project. Schools do not want projects and homework done by parents; they want projects produced by children. “Children learn when children do.”
Anecdote: In first grade, Chelsey was to choose an animal (she chose a jaguar) and create a shoebox diorama of the creature in its natural habitat and the jaguar was to be made entirely of clay. Working from a picture in a library book, she worked hard picking shrubs, trees and rocks for the habitat and then spent time blending and shaping the jaguar, right down to its spots within spots. Seeing her pride in her work made me feel good that she completed the project on her own, even if it looked a little weird. The school welcomed parents to view the dioramas at night so working parents and relatives could also attend. As soon as we arrived, it was clear that many parents had created their children’s dioramas and some were actually museum-quality works. Chelsey’s teacher said some parents are so invested in their child excelling that they go overboard, with some not allowing the child to even touch their own project.
Helping with homework is encouraged. When children do not understand concepts and need help, it is wonderful if parents are available and knowledgeable enough to assist. By providing instruction, parents are helping their child and perhaps saving classroom time the next day. Parents want to take care, though, that they are not doing the actual work.
Example: Explaining three math problems is helping; helping with twenty is doing the homework for the child. For the child to learn they need to do the work.
Allow children to make and own their mistakes – and successes. It is true that the only real mistake is one that we do not learn from. According to Raven, one of the parents in my Parents Anonymous Group, allowing the child to take homework back to school with errors is also showing the teacher what the child is struggling with. If the homework always comes to school correct, the teacher may incorrectly assume the child has mastered the work.
When children make discoveries or realizations are when learning occurs. Those little ‘aha’ moments when the lights turn on and buzzers go off are what spark excitement in learning for a child. This is not to say that parents must hire a brass band and dole out praise, but a simple ‘you worked hard on that’ or ‘wow, look at you’ will mean a lot to a child. Children also understand approving looks or a smile so be sure to give them that. That is ownership of success to a child.
When homework strains the parent/child relationship it’s time to back off. Ultimately, homework is the child’s responsibility and they need ownership of it – acceptable or in need of improvement. Parents can explain the connection to future wages, cajole, lecture or threaten but only the child can make a change in grades. Constant pressure can only add stress to parents and children and is counterproductive.
Patience abounds for children that are not our own. Parents have much more patience with our neighbor’s children than their own. Parents can imagine they are assisting the child next door and instantly become more polite and patient. If that is a stretch of the imagination then parents can pretend they are working with themselves as children. Parents will see themselves – a much younger and innocent self – and help with more patience.
Anecdote: A friend who taught school once hit her daughter and berated her in front of me. I asked her how she could treat her daughter so badly and asked if she treats her students that way. She said it was different when it’s not your child. We do tend to take liberties when we are with our own children; being aware of that can help us to see our children differently. The teacher also felt more pressure to make her child perform since her own teaching skills would be reflected.
Raising hands and asking for help is truly a sign of strength. Parents can help children tremendously by teaching them to raise their hand to give answers or to ask questions. In the beginning children may be shy or embarrassed but the more they do it the easier it will become. Children may be asking questions that other children think about but are too afraid to ask. Teachers actually pay more attention to children who appear more interested and that can translate to more learned and better grades.
One failing grade or marking period is not the end of the world. Parents should not panic over a single bad grade, mainly because the material taught changes and it is normal for grades to fluctuate. Some believe the most important year to excel in school is the junior year since it is the last year before applying to colleges. The message here is, not to sweat the small stuff; better yet, teach children to try their best, ask for help when they need it and to always eat a healthy breakfast.
Study buddies can make learning more fun. Studying for a test often means working with a parent giving the question and the child answering. Having a classmate or friend to study with instead can serve two purposes – studying and socializing – to make study or projects more enjoyable.
Free homework help websites are plentiful. Parents and children can google “Free Homework Help” and there are many results that are free. The Soup To Nuts blog has a tab with educational resources for parents and children. Resources are free but some are also by subscription, it is up to parents and children to read and know which they are using. Example: One resource I like is SurfNetKids that is free but to get the printables portion with extra resources, parents must subscribe to a once-yearly fee of about $40 or monthly fee of less than $6.
Parent Signature Tip: Educators may require children get a test signed, especially tests or exams with low scores. If a parent discovers a child is forging signatures, they can work out a secret code so teachers will be alerted. Raven told her daughter’s teacher that right after her signature there would be a very tiny dot after the letter ‘n’ in Raven. When the teacher did not see the tiny dot, they knew the signature had been forged.
Lighting and Sleep Tip: When children or parents use computers late into the night, the bluish light from the screen may be disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm and causing loss of sleep. If that occurs, parents can install a free, downloadable program that will ‘warm’ the screen’s light. The program works on a timer that changes the color based on the location and type of light emitted. There is also an easy, temporary disable switch (one hour) if actual color is needed as in working with colors on a Photoshop project.
Chelsey and Katie are both finished with college and as I look back, I believe the best things I did to educate them was to promote reading, providing with different experiences, encouraging them to think and explore and to have an open mind. In my Parents Anonymous Group, I also learned to find out what my daughter’s interests were and to feed into that. When Katie wanted to become a chef, I let her use and clean the kitchen and bought her an ice cream machine and anything else she needed. When Chelsey wanted to visit cemeteries, I took her and the camera to take pictures then we joined FindAGrave to post them online.
My advice to parents is to find out what gets their child excited – hiking, microscopes, sports, cooking, illusions, and so on – then help them learn more about it. When their interests change, focus on that. Do what works for you and your child. Remember, life is not just about money.
“Parents parent, educators educate.” ~ Anonymous Parent