July 12, 2024
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A Five-Point Homework Plan

As the last vestiges of summer disappear and the inevitable chill will settle in, each passing day brings heavier book bags and the realization that school is back in full swing. A common complaint around this time of year revolves around homework and the frustration that ensues. Due to the myriad posts and articles that have been floating around the web I have decided to lend some of my expertise both as a professional and as a mother to the discussion. I, in particular, wish to address the profoundly popular teacher whose letter home has gone viral. She has adopted a “no homework” policy and while I say “kudos to you and to the administration that are enforcing this,” the reality is that most schools still adhere to assignments that are to be completed at home.

And the expectations are heavy. As the onus falls squarely on the shoulders of harried parent who are already at their breaking point, it is important to create a digestible game plan that we can all live with.

Most homework is a concept that has been ingrained in society as a necessity to ensure that the work of the day continues at home. Unfortunately, too much of the work that comes home with the children is drills and ditto sheets. Occasionally some creative learning mixes into the fray and both the parent and the child get excited, but that is rare. So we need to face the reality. Homework in whatever form will continue. Hopefully it will evolve especially with the inclusion of the digital platform, but for the most part, let’s face it, it’s boring, tedious and usually dissolves into a screaming match between child and parent. The teacher is expected to follow the homework edict as handed down by the administrator, and the hapless child and frustrated parent are expected to jump through hoops to get the work done.

The very word homework conjures up negative images as something thrust upon a child—an expectation to perform at home after the rigors of the school day. The child feeds off the harried environment in the home generated by the anxiety surrounding after-school schedules and the caregivers who are multi-tasking and trying to balance it all.

I suggest that we change the negative to a positive and by way of example; we set up a positive connection that hearkens back to the days of early childhood. A positive mental attitude impresses upon the subconscious, which directly correlates to productivity.

Homework creates a strong work ethic, sets in place structure, repetition and a clear path that leads to success. Homework can also be a tremendous bonding experience for the adult and child, with the adult reliving and perhaps mending his own past experiences and the child receiving much-needed focused attention at the end of the day.

Yes, the work is maddening, frustrating and can create terrible anxiety that can lead to tears, fears and possible illness but we as parents can change all that and must make a conscious effort to do so if we want our children to develop their sense of academic self.

The following are some suggestions that have worked for me:

  1. Schedule/structure and continuity are a must.

Give as much power to your child in the decisions surrounding his homework such as when, where and what needs to be done. Come up with a plan together and make sure to keep to it. My son and I agreed on 15 minutes of downtime before work. We stick to this even on days where sports interfere with our schedule. We have learned that compromise is a must and that there are consequences for our decisions.

  1. Move! Move! Move!

“My child won’t sit still” is a chief complaint repeatedly echoed by parents, and my response is “Why?” Who said a child has to be sitting in order to do his/her homework? There are innovators in education such as my colleague Peter Riddle, a nationally recognized expert in parent involvement, who is embracing the critical need for altering the physical classroom to create the mind/body experience in his learning centers.

Ergonomically designed chairs that spin, rotating center time and standing desks are just a few of the newest approaches to teaching/learning. Why, my son sometimes stands on his head while practicing spelling words! There are no rules as to how homework is to be completed… Recognizing that it is our societal norms that cause us as adults to feel uncomfortable with “out of the box” thinking is the first step in allowing our children the freedom to learn through movement.

I cannot stress enough, especially with boys, the importance of physicality embedded in academics; again a nod to Peter (see above) and his fabulous program. With any assignment that does not require writing, my son has the freedom to do whatever he wishes with his body. I am the one who takes on the responsibility to make up for the lack of creativity in the work assigned, by being creative in its implementation. He runs laps while learning math mechanics, tosses a ball back and forth while memorizing vocabulary and he cherishes the 15 minutes I try to give him of a football throw in the front yard as a reward for completing his homework. By the way, we both look forward to letting everything go and feeling the fresh air, and even this old Mom gets a pretty good workout.

  1. To hire a tutor or not to hire a tutor, that is the question.

When frustration is at its peak and the child and parent are both banging their heads against the wall, it’s time to consider if there may be other factors at play besides the typical childhood growing pains. I have seen too many parents, due to the easy access and abundance of tutors available, hiring someone to work with their child. It is important to weed out academic issues vs. character and personality traits unique to your child. If you sense weakness in particular subjects, turn to your child’s teacher first. Get a true perspective of what is going on in class and then make your decision accordingly. I speak from experience when I say that I considered a tutor for my child after several particularly gut-wrenching nights. I conferred with the teacher and we agreed that academics were not the issue. Armed with this information, I, thinking and wanting the best for my child, thought about our personality conflicts and that perhaps someone else would be better suited to working with my child. To my surprise, he dissolved in tears when I even mentioned a tutor and begged me to continue working with him. Lesson learned—younger children already feel the stigma attached to “having a tutor.” My child was concerned that his needing help would signal to his friends that he was somewhere deficient and he also felt a sense of disappointment. I was “giving up” on him—ironic when I was trying to help! I suddenly saw homework from a new perspective and was determined to create a new environment around the work.

  1. Creativity—Sing, Dance, Rap, Draw…whatever it takes to get your child to love learning.

I am trying to strike a balance between generating curiosity and the responsibility of homework. I use his love of NFL football stickers as a math lesson that includes placing a valuation on the sticker, tallying how many he has, giving him a price point for earning the stickers and letting him search Ebay to determine the best “bang for his buck”!

  1. Consider enlisting enrichment and support by supplementing with Cognitive Training programs.

These are fun, engaging video gaming exercises used to tap into and enhance talents already present and skills that need more assistance, to reduce behavioral issues and develop internal moral temperature such as grit, perseverance and tenacity.

No, homework will never be greeted with joyous shouts of rapture but maybe if we change our perspectives we can help our children alter theirs as well. There was actually laughter the other day during  IXL!!!

Annette Simmons, or Ms. “K” as she is affectionately called by her students, is an early childhood consultant, academic interventionist and Kindermusik educator. A well-seasoned veteran of the NYC Department of Education, Mrs. Simmons brings her 20+ years of  experience to her presentations, workshops and events. She prides herself on introducing innovation in education to neighborhood schools and centers. Her most current initiative is seeing neural-based programming in the classroom.

 

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