Dear parents: you have homework

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My first grader brought home two homework assignments in the first six weeks of school which required several days, or up to two weeks, to complete. The instructions were given verbally to the children in class and came home in written form for the parents.ย  There was no written instruction sheet for the child. Although I appreciate and welcome the additional information which is provided to the parents, it is my view that if the written instructions for the child are omitted in the early grades of elementary school, it will formulate an early dependency in the child. In essence, my six year old child has already learned that she cannot read her own homework instructions and that a parent has to sit with her to help her interpret and complete the assignment. This example, compiled with other observations from her older brother’s homework experiences, launches an entire train of thought in my head which I have a need to illustrate here.

Aside note: Prior to my first grader’s assignment being due I spoke to her teacher about this. She welcomed the feedback and collaborated with the other first grade teachers to provide an updated instruction sheet for each child. The resulting outcome for my child has been phenomenal.

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The subject of homework continues to baffle me.

For years, people all over North America have complained that their children have too much homework. Let them play, we said. The kids are too young for this much homework, we complained.

Well today, where I live, homework is almost a non-issue at my children’s elementary school.

It’s not that they don’t get any homework at all. They do. And depending on the teacher, it is either semi-regular, or sporadic. Usually it’s a case of semi-regular with sporadic periods of freedom in between.

Not sure if I like this method, truth be told, but now that we are into the second month of school, I have already seen a somewhat disturbing development in the homework department.

First off, I think that homework in small, regular doses as early as grade 1 is a good thing. I like the fact that a regular routine develops a healthy study habit. I like that when the habit has been established, an increase in homework in the later grades will be easier on the child to transition to. (Not to mention his family. They’re the ones who will have to endure possible tantrums when the homework starts to pile up by subject.)

So far, the only thing I can say about homework is that it’s inconsistent and sometimes completely age-inappropriate.

Let’s talk about my third grader first. His teachers, past and present, have remarked that he is intelligent, well behaved, and well liked. From Junior Kindergarten to Grade 2 he has brought home stellar report cards. Neither they, nor us, have any complaints at all about our boy at school.

What these teachers don’t know however is that my 8 year old child seems to have developed an allergy toward homework (that is to say, IF he has homework).

Over the years he has brought home semi-regular homework once a week or so, and sometimes none at all for weeks. If he did bring home some unfinished work, it usually appeared to be in reasonable amounts. Probably no more than 10 minutes in total. (This is a theoretical estimation I came up with. I have no idea if any homework he did bring home would actually only take 10 minutes to accomplish because on the day he does in fact bring home something, I usually have to endure a 30 minutes complaining session.)

My boy has very little experience with regular homework, and he has to date never had to do a big, multi-day assignment. No wonder he complains when he does have to sit down and complete a math sheet, or study some spelling.

In the meantime, my first grader is on her second multi-day homework assignment. This completely and utterly baffles me.

Her most recent assignment included a sheet of paper with several paragraphs on it. Now, Sonja is a great reader and probably surpasses many of her classmates with this skill, but there is little chance that she could read the paragraphs by herself and execute the assignment on her own. She would not know how to interpret the instructions.

The point I’m trying to make is that the assignment was designed for the parent. The assignment, even if verbally discussed in class, was not written for the child. In my parental opinion, the child cannot be made responsible for this assignment since she cannot do it herself.

This Grade 1 child has already, while only six weeks into grade school, learned a very important lesson. The lesson she has learned is this:

Mommy or daddy have to help me with my homework.

The days where the child takes out her sheet of paper, or notebook, reads her own simple three or four word instructions, and completes her assignment on her own with little prompting from her parents are over. Children in today’s elementary schools appear to be taught how to become dependent on other people, adults, to help them accomplish their assignments.

Homework in today’s public school system seems to be designed for the parents.

My six year old child freaked out when I read the instructions to her. I changed my attempt by translating the assignment into simpler, shorter sentences. She still didn’t want to do it. She was completely stressed out. I asked “did you talk about this in class” and she couldn’t remember. (Of course she did, but she had nothing concrete to look at to help prompt her memory.)

A few days prior to the assignment being due I approached her teacher. I explained that my daughter was completely stressed out about this assignment and perhaps if she had an instruction sheet addressed to her specifically her outlook would improve. Her teacher welcomed the feedback and the next day my child brought home a newly typed sheet with space to write an answer and draw a picture.

I saw it before she took it out at home.ย  Mentally I prepared a time-frame during the weekend where I would suggest that now is a good idea to do homework. But by this time it was Friday late afternoon and no one wanted to talk about homework.

Here’s the most impressive part about this entire situation: by the time I started fixing dinner on that Friday night, she came to me with her homework. It was complete. She took it out of her bag at some point when I was not looking, disappeared into her room with her supplies, and wrote out the answers to the questions in that adorable learning-to-write first grader style that always puts a smile on my face, illustrated her picture with multiple colours, and proudly handed it to me to look over.

My child took ownership and responsibility of her homework without a single prompting word from me.

Jumping back to my third grader, the one who never had to take responsibility for homework or multi-day assignments, he has been told in his class that he is free to accomplish his work whenever he wants to. It was emphasized that as long as the assignment (usually a spelling or math sheet) is turned in on time, he can do the work whenever he feels like it. Does he have to do it in class? No, he is free to read, play with lego or cards, or write in his journal. He is free to choose to leave the work for later.

And later, when the sun beckons or hockey practice looms, when dinner or chores are imminent, when he is tired, or would rather watch tv, later is when he suddenly remembers (or likely is prompted by his parent) that tomorrow he has to have 20 sentences written, or will be tested on some math thing.

The entire family dynamic is now stressed out. Why does it have to be this way? The child is not really at fault here, even at age 8. He has never been taught HOW to be accountable for work, (and let’s please not start about the quality of work, requiring extra time to re-read and correct mistakes, since that is also not enforced in equitable terms). My 8 year old child does not understand about consequences of poorly done assignments turned in late. Not unless he was nagged about this by a parent.

The child does not want to do homework and only will if his parent sits beside him and forces the issue.

What will happen to this boy when he enters Middle School, and High School? How will he handle not only doing homework each night, but homework by subject each night?


5 thoughts on “Dear parents: you have homework

  1. So, so true. I often think of homework as a time when parents are expected to act as a child’s personal tutor. Homework is expected to be done as a parent-child team, with the parent acting as a personal teacher (or…maybe my kids are just dumber than others?). In any case, I personally spend hours each day, and on the weekends supervising homework, talking them through homework, helping them schedule their workload, reviewing how to do certain skills, etc, etc, etc. I struggle with this, because aside from the fact that I don’t WANT to be doing homework (already made it through school once, thank you!), both my husband and I feel very strongly that our children should do their own schoolwork, for their own growth and learning.

    But as you point out, many if not all of the assignments and projects they bring home seem too big, too hard, and much wider in scope than anything I ever did in the primary grades. It doesn’t seem possible that they could do this kind of work on their own – and that they aren’t expected to. Maybe it’s a way for teachers to make sure that each kid is getting some individual attention, as they are too pressed for time and stretched too thin to do be able to give this kind of attention to each kid. But also, I think the assignments need to be easier in order to foster more independence.

    And also, so I can have my damn evenings back. SHEESH.

    • I don’t even know if all homework is too hard or too large. I guess my point is that if they are to do a bigger, longer project they should have had some short, small ones to do first, just to get into the habit and gain some experience.

      Case in point, I just spent this weekend explaining to my 8yo that if he can’t think of what to write on a certain topic, he could make some notes of things that pop into his head. He said they were not told to do it this way….well, seems to me they are not taught anything in terms of HOW to approach a homework piece. Jotting down notes on related topics may get those creative juices flowing…but he’s waiting for a teacher to tell him to do this first. The suggestion coming from him mom isn’t received quite the way I had hoped… It just boggles my mind. It’s like I, the parent, has to jump over road blocks just to get my point across. And to get him to DO the work. But no, he’d rather sit there and say “but I don’t know what to write” over and over again.


      And yes, evenings back would be lovely, wouldn’t they. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your comment!

  2. My experience is that there is a disconnect.

    Between what the teacher thinks they are doing (based on past experiences as an adult, as a teacher and perhaps as a former student), what the child receives and understands as “actionable” and how the parents are left scratching their heads to determine where/if there is a breakdown somewhere as we simply *expect* communication between teacher and child to function.

    I think your post demonstrates this actually very well. It picks up the issue exactly where one needs to first look if there is a problem: what is the teacher thinking? And what is the teacher intending? And how is the teacher presenting? And how is the child receiving?

    Those questions need to ultimately be asked before one starts to doubt the intelligence or capabilities of one’s own child.

    Problem is, we get hyper, tense, worried because we fail to see that the key issue lies in the school at this point and not necessarily with the kid.

    As Javamom shows: a talk with the teacher in this case actually resolved the issue well enough.

    The real issues arise with those rare teachers who, for whatever reason, are unapproachable.

    • Thank you for sharing your view. Knowing you have many years experience in these matters is immensely helpful to me to help broaden my own sometimes limited perspective. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Pingback: Do calculators belong in elementary school? | Javaline

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