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The Homework Blues 😦

Homework. To the teacher it is an opportunity to reinforce skills, complete an awesome project, or read a great book. To the parent it is rushing home to try to finish before Scouts (fill in your activity-of-the-night), dinner, bath time, and then getting the child to bed before 10:00.
Often when parents try to help the youngster with homework, they get frustrated, and start yelling; the kid cries and complains that the work is too hard. He yells that he didn’t get it in class, how could he understand it now? He (she if you have a daughter) whines, procrastinates – goes to the bathroom for the 9th time, tells you a funny story of two friends in school today, even ask you about your day. Then the melt-down: thrashing, whining, crying. You wonder “who is this child?” This cycle continues for over an hour, then another hour. Nothing is getting done. You dreaded this at 4:00; you’re hating it at 6:00. Just before bed he remembers the 3-D cell project due tomorrow for Science.
Meanwhile, in another house, the daughter (son if you prefer) sits down quietly to start homework. In only 15 minutes she nonchalantly mutters “finished – did it all”. You wonder “what is the point of doing this type of homework at all”? But you hesitate to say anything to the teacher. You don’t want more work for your child but you believe the homework, if it must be assigned, should have more quality than this.
Each scenario has valuable information. The teacher is smart to use non-class time to complete longer and related activities. School curricula are jammed-packed these days with more information being generated by growing technology and access to world information at lightning speed. There’s just not enough time in the school day for students to read books and create big projects. The curriculum pace can be frantic with little review time built in, so homework is an opportunity for kids to relearn and solidify the information.
But all that is wasted if, like in the case of the boy, he didn’t “get it” in the first place. The melt-down can be a loud signal that he feels stupid, is frustrated, and he doesn’t understand this assignment. It can be exacerbated by his desire to play Mind Craft, hunger, fatigue, or his need to do nothing in particular.
Zooming through homework usually means it is busy work or too easy for your child. There’s really no value in assignments that involve copying, or answering problems that are too easy. Quality homework asks the student to reinforce skills, reframe the information, or restate it in her words. Students should be challenged to use a variety of resources to help them complete the work. Every day, each child should be reading a good book: good being progressively harder vocabulary and greater sentence complexity, age-appropriate, memorable and interesting. They should be offered a variety of reading materials: magazines, fun books, popular books, and the classics.
The arguments for and against homework will continue endlessly. Meanwhile, getting through the evening with quality work completed and enough time left over to enjoy that little person can be a daily grind. Parents wrangle with their own emotions over how much to help or not help their child. The best action when frustrated over the homework is to talk candidly with the teacher. Approach the subject open-mindedly so you don’t end up yelling: “I’m so over homework! We’re not doing one more page of it this year!” Your child will be caught in the crosshairs, and you never want to put your child in the middle of a discussion between adults.
Best case results: the teacher and you will make some compromises that will be in the best interest of your child. Examine options like fewer problems, less writing (young hands sometimes have fine-motor skills under-development), and applications of major homework points in ways that appeal to and fit your child’s interests and skills. Hopefully, you’ll walk away with a plan that will turn the homework blues into a homework dance.

Dr. Susan Ray

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