Where and how kids do homework

I believe that where kids do homework matters. How much it matters depends on each family’s unique circumstances and the children’s personalities, ages and willingness to do said homework with or without supervision.

At our house, homework locations have changed as the children grew, and the white table in the first pictures that used to be in the kitchen became their table in their room a year later.

Homework kids

Until I had a child in school I would have easily answered the question whether a designated homework station is a requirement with a resounding yes. You see, I grew up in Switzerland where I attended public school until grade 6, and it was customary that every child at his or her home would be provided with a desk, a chair, a lamp and a few simple supplies in a room that was considered her own space. (This did not mean each child had his or her own room, but I have never seen a common table such as a kitchen or dining table function as a homework station while living in Europe. Also, I never saw, nor experienced, a parent, or any adult, supervise homework. This is all very new and…weird, to me.)

I moved to Canada when I was almost 12. Once I started making friends, and was invited to friends’ houses to do homework, I was culture-shocked into the many different ways kids in North America did homework. (Also, TV shows such as the Brady Bunch enforced this. Marcia studied on her bed, for example.)

I saw, for example, an assortment of kids studying in so many different ways by the time I reached grade 9, I was simply astonished. And there was no consistency either. Smart kids as well as kids who lacked interest in anything school related all had different ways of getting their work done, but one method never seemed to trump another. A smart kid with excellent grades might have worked on the floor surrounded by younger siblings, toys and a blaring TV while a disinterested kid would attempt to read a paragraph or two of a designated book in a room with the door shut. Both types of kids seemed to graduate highschool with acceptable marks…

I was fascinated by this entire experience. I tried to imitate some of these methods but without much success. From early childhood on, I was taught to sit at my desk in my room and to complete my homework. It was never different, and I always did it that way.

The point I’m trying to make is that my impressions of the study methods throughout my childhood, teen and University days were very different, unique even, from what I considered as standard, logical and uniform while in elementary school in Switzerland.

My biggest impressions were amongst two friends I had in my early years of highschool. One of them was extremely studious and inhabited a basement bedroom with her own bathroom. She had a desk and a lamp, plus a bed and a dresser in that room. Not much else, as far as I can remember. When she wanted to do something other than study it was clear that this activity would not take place in her room. There was a family room, a kitchen and living room, and younger sibling rooms upstairs with toys in them. The point is, she went to her room to study and I would imagine if she studied alone, she would do so at her desk. When I was over at her house, we studied on her bed, or on the floor together.

Another friend of mine also inhabited a basement room. I do not recall seeing a desk in that room, because the room was full of all kinds of stuff. If we studied together, we must have done so either on the floor or on the bed, although I don’t recall studying with this friend as much. We did other stuff…a bag of Oreos comes to mind. 🙂 Still, the image prevails, and she too graduated and went on to study and learn languages, among other things, in various places including in Europe where she now resides. She has become a keen promoter of homeschooling and self-learning, and has taught her own kids more than would have ever been possible sitting chained to a desk with a lamp and a few pencils, is my point.

At University l lived in a dorm for a couple of years. Because of the nature of my studies (languages and literature) I spent an enormous amount of time reading. I don’t read well sitting up, I prefer lying down someplace comfy…but the writing, especially prior to the explosion and common use of WordPefect and later Microsoft Word, was done at a desk, which was in my room. Off-campus housing also included a desk, even though sometimes it was only a piece of plywood on some crates. But I always had a desk.

Today I have two kids in elementary school. I cannot tell you how often I have changed their room, which they share, in the past years since Ben started Junior Kindergarten five years ago. A desk however was always included but it quickly became evident that

  • supervision by me would be required during most homework activity, which remains true to this day, and
  • homework can and does get completed on the floor on occasion, and
  • this prevented me from encouraging them to go complete their work in their rooms (while I was making dinner, for example)

Still, the desk remains in their room, along with their easily accessible supplies. When not doing homework, they can do other things there, like draw, create, play.

Homework station

This doing homework on the floor thing is something I could never quite understand. Isn’t it uncomfortable down there? How can someone write neatly while lolling around around with pillows and supplies all over the place?

I had to step back from this rigid idea in my head of where homework should be completed and look at my six year old daughter and her keen interest in taking ownership of her work, on her own, even when on the floor. Just let her do it, don’t interfere, I said to myself. Who cares where she does it, why impose my vision on her when she’s doing it already all on her own?

But this didn’t prevent me from implementing proper study habits which included a desk right from the get-go. It also included a holder of supply things, access to old or used notebooks for scrap paper or note making, pencils and erasers, sharpeners and ruler, markers and scissors….and a space for a laptop because, ladies and gentlemen, contemporary children are plugged in.

Don’t fight it. You can’t fight it. Work with it.*

One thing it does not include is a TV. Nor do I necessarily encourage music either, but I am willing to let them be their own advocates for that when the time comes. Frankly, when I look at my own studying habits (or blogging habits) and I see just how many distractions prevail around me…

But I digress.

Some people insist each child has his or her own space for homework. This could be in their room (which likely it will be when the children hit middle- and highschool) or it could be a communal area like a kitchen or dining room table, or possibly a spot in a family room. Some people have the kids at their feet, or at the table while making dinner. But most people would agree that a homework supply centre is integral. Annie @phdinparenting tweeted about this recently and stated that the time to find all the supplies took longer than the time it would have taken to complete a homework assignment.  (This is the statement that inspired this post, actually.)

Anyway, the point is that I have always insisted on having a relatively distraction-free environment for my kids to focus on homework and studying. I’m not inflexible here and sometimes it’s simple sanity saving that has me make room for one kid at the kitchen table so I can stay on top of the drama. Not all kids want to do homework, and those who don’t require a much different approach than those who do.

*One way of working with it is to insist they take some typing lessons, which will help them later and save you time and frustration. The day they will want to, or require to type their work will come sooner than you think, and regular typing lessons will help the family dynamic in ways I cannot stress enough. Trust me. 🙂


5 thoughts on “Where and how kids do homework

  1. My Montessori grade 3 kid has homework pretty much everynight. It can be done in 15 minutes, but she could potentially take an hour or more, it’s really up to her and how focused she is. She does it at the kitchen table, because I need to be on hand and that is when I am making dinner. She is quite diligent and accepting of it. The public school system kid, in grade 6, drives me bananas with her homework. Some days she has it, some days she doesn’t. Some days it’s a lot, some days it’s a little. Some days it’s clear, some days it isn’t. Some days it requires the internet, some days it doesn’t. The inconsistency drives me nuts. I am at the point where if there is no homework, she still has to take 20 minutes to read quietly (because they are plugged in and don’t have/make opportunities to read anymore). I let her do her work in another room, because my youngest can be distracting. This is going to sound really pretentious, but I allow music only if it is classical or instrumental jazz. I read somewhere that it’s good for their brains and selfishly it’s much more soothing for me than listening to Lady Gaga begging you to touch her bits.

  2. Hey, I hear ya. I have issues with the public system (see school tab) and never before has it become so incredibly difficult to understand just what is expected of my 8yo than when he entered grade 3 with this teacher/teaching style. BLAH. I fully and completely subscribe to the Montessori methods but alas…me=no$. So, I do the best I can. And you are right about the jazz or classical music, I have it going while I make supper, I’m sure the kids hear it while doing their so-called homework.

    Thank you so much for your comment! Sometimes I feel so alone in my struggles, and now I don’t. 🙂

    • I hear you on the $ thing. We decided to do it for one year in hopes of turning things around, which it has, ten fold. Our Montessori knows our strategy and have been very frank with us – our daughter will return to public school next year, and left on her own will likely not thrive. But, with Montessori based tutoring 2x a week she will stay ahead of the game. Our investment goes from 12,000 a year down to $40/hr, twice a week. Our public schools are a mess for some kids. Not enough support staff for kids with learning challenges but a nice shiny new plasma 50′ flat screen tv in the lobby! Yikes, don’t get me started!

  3. Fascinating to hear about how schoolwork is different in Europe – especially, for me, the lack of supervision. I also don’t remember any supervision when I was growing up – I was left to do my homework all on my own (on my bed, of course!). These days I feel like the kids have so much homework, at such a young age, there’s no way they can get through it without me talking them through it. Sometimes I think teachers send home homework as more of a “get your parents to teach you this” situation, because they just don’t have time to give each kid the one-on-one time required to actually make sure they are learning everything properly.

    And THEN, I worry that my constant supervision, and helping them schedule their time, is preventing them from learning themselves about how to manage their own work…but at the same time, they seem too young to understand the consequences of not doing the work, and if they don’t do it, the teacher comes to me to complain, anyway. So it seems like my supervision is necessary, and required, and expected, but GAH, WHY?

    Hopefully we can find room for a desk though, after the basement reno :).

    • It’s interesting how inconsistent public school is in the homework department. On my boy’s hockey team there are kids who go to different schools than him. There are about five or six different schools in total. Each kids also has a sibling, younger or older. And so each set of parents with kids the same age as Ben (Grade 3) and either younger or older siblings has a completely different account of homework at their school. Some kids have none. Some kids have way too much. Some kids have a type of work that is completely age-inappropriate (topic is ok but required to type it before learning how to type), and some have the right amount of homework, occasionally but not always, or over weekends and holidays. There is no rhyme or reason (and this is just my little corner of SW Toronto and its immediate vicinity, I have no idea how this would translate with the entire board.)

      Ultimately it is up to us to determine how each kids does the work, where, and when, and whether he or she requires supplemental teaching by you (or Google or books or grandma or the teacher or the TA or the dog).

      You are right though, in bringing up this point of scheduling them, and supervising. Do we, as on-the-ball parents, interfere with the kids’ learning abilities by being so involved that they never do take ownership of their own homework? What if we said or did nothing? (I am hyperventilating at the sheer thought of that…lol).

      I actually asked Ben this question once: “If I were to say nothing, would you do the work?” and then “You can tell me honestly, you won’t get in trouble” (pfff…) and he shook he head no.

      He said no. (He didn’t get in trouble, but I now have a red flag prominently waving in front of my face.) (And very likely his sister would have answered the question completely differently.)

      So…where does this leave us? Who is responsible? Me, the teacher, the school, the child?

      It’s just all so confusing.

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