Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Homework: From the Trenches

Millie writes:

You want homework? Six kids: two college graduates, one still in college, one taking Army classes and two still in high school. I gotcher homework right here.

We have seen a lot of assignments come and go, and we've learned a few unusual truths about homework:

1. Boys will be boys. This means that most of them will not do homework until they are juniors in high school. I don't know why not and neither do they. Perhaps it's a testosterone thing. One of our boys was too cool, one was too distractable, one was offended by homework on a cellular level and one smiled and agreed to everything and then just didn't do it. I don't know what it is about being 16 or 17 that makes the kid catch fire, either, but so far that has always been the year for boys in our house to suddenly take school seriously. Our youngest started his junior year yesterday, so . . . I'll let you know.
2. Girls will be girls. This means that even if they hate homework with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns (which, who doesn't?), they will usually do it because someone told them to do it. Girls figure out early on that teachers are people who are already exasperated because there are so many boys in their classes, so girls can expend minimal effort on the homework and still shine by comparison as long as they hand it in. Of course, sometimes handing it in is the stumbling block. I will never understand how I can sit on top of a kid and make sure the homework gets done only to find it at the end of the quarter crumpled up in the bottom of the backpack, never having been seen by the teacher.
3. Teachers will be teachers. Frankly, many of them give homework just because they think they are supposed to. In some cases it reinforces what the kids are learning in class (math, vocabulary) and in some cases it teaches a skill that it takes a lot of practice to master (research, violin practice). In most cases? It's a waste of time. And teachers – I am not your student. Don't even think about giving me homework. (Those of you with children in school know exactly what I'm talking about with this one.)
4. Parents should be parents. Up until about middle school age, we can and should ride the kid about homework but after that point, if you are checking in with your child AND his teachers AND his adviser every single day about his homework – your child is not learning responsibility, you are. We learned the hard way that this is one area where we must butt out sooner rather than later and let the chips fall where they may. We're tempted to stand between our kid and the consequences of his action or (more commonly in this case) inaction – which is why he knows he can get away with never doing any homework. This being said, I do still ask if homework and chores are done before any playing around commences.

In the single-digit grades, we had a set homework time when everybody worked together around the dining-room table and there was always an adult nearby to help. Even if they didn't have homework, they had to read quietly during this time so they didn't bother anyone else. This had three benefits; it made them less likely to play the “I don't have homework today, Mommy!” card and head for the playground, it kept them reading, and it acted as a “place holder” to keep that time as Homework Time. If you do this you must be adamant about no phone calls, no chatter and no distraction, but it needn't be the Gulag Hour either; have a nice (non-smeary) snack available and set the kitchen timer so they know it will end eventually.


1. Teach your kid to type. Some schools and community centers have keyboarding classes, or you can buy typing tutor programs for any computer. By the time a child is in the eighth grade he will be writing papers and reports, and it will all go so much more quickly if he can touch-type; not to mention the legibility factor.
2. Make sure your kid has his own desk. It should be in a quiet area with sufficient light for reading. He also needs access to research materials and supplies like paper, pencils and scissors. By the time he is in high school he should also have access to the Internet, even if he has to go to the library for it.
3. When older kids say that the screeching loud music helps them concentrate better, they actually mean it. Let 'em wear headphones to spare the rest of you.
4. If your kid is knocking his head against a concept he's just not getting, let him quit after a while. Too much frustration is going to set him against the subject forever. Follow up with his teacher by email, if necessary, and see if there's another approach that will make more sense to your child.
5. I don't care if everyone else in the TAG program is making nuclear fission for the Science Fair and your kid is taking in a cup of mud – don't do his homework FOR him. You'd think that would be obvious, wouldn't you? You would be wrong; sometimes it's almost irresistible.
6. Try not to sweat it too much. This is your kid's fight, not yours. You've already passed the seventh grade.


  1. I love this. I especially love the bit about boys being hard-wired NOT to do homework until they're juniors. that's what friends of mine with boys have told me.

    Last year, I accidentally did my girl's English vocab homework for her one evening when she was asking me, "So, what does THIS word mean?" about several different words. I, being a walking thesaurus, just thought she was reading a hard passage in a book. But it turned out she was scribbling down my answers on a worksheet about synonyms.

    And you thought I was semi-smart.

    thanks for this. It reminded me that I really need to make my kid take care of her own issues (she has a scheduling glitch that I tried to fix for her because she asked me to, but I've failed, so it's her turn). (LizzieLu)

  2. Ah, middle school. I don't know why this is so problematic, but it is. Hang in there, and let your kidlet deal with the schedule. You'll both gain from the experience!


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