Helping Kids with Homework: Yes or No?
Confession Time: If I’d tackled this topic a couple weeks ago, I would have come down pretty hard on the “no helping your kids with their homework” side of the argument. I mean, I’ll play the two-person math games my first grader comes home with, I’ll buy the art supplies for the geography project, and I’ll do my best to help if a particular homework assignment seems to be stumping or stressing my child out. But other than that, hands off, no hovering or micromanaging, homework is THEIR responsibility to complete, and it’s important to let them turn in their mistakes so their teachers can see what lessons need review/repeated.
And then…report cards came home.
You guys. My children weren’t doing their homework.
Oh, they were doing SOME of their homework. My first grader would happily complete the math packet that came home on Monday, but was consistently leaving his vocabulary notebook or additional assignments at school and then fibbing to me about it. “Oh we don’t have that this week.”
My fourth grader was GREAT about the “read for 20 minutes every night” aspect of his reading homework, but was skipping the accompanying comprehension worksheet, and was reading the same couple books over and over again. Any math or science assignment he deemed too difficult was simply not getting done. Entire assignments were getting turned in without a single correct answer to be found. And his grades were suffering as a result of both his failure to complete homework and his refusal to admit that he needed extra help across several subjects.
And I felt like an idiot, and a really lousy parent. A lot of the stuff they were (and weren’t) turning in required a parent’s signature, and they just…ignored that part, and I had NO IDEA. How could we have been so clueless? How did I not realize my oldest son is struggling academically, when he’s so cheerful about going to school, full of good reports each day, and most of all always perfectly willing and even HAPPY about heading to his room for homework? How did I get duped by a 7 year old?
Turns out the level of independence I thought was reasonable and appropriate was not, at least for my kids, for right now. They skated through a couple months without major consequences and thus simply didn’t care. I certainly wish their teachers had maybe sent an email about the consistent homework shirking, but I guess they assumed we either knew or didn’t care. Both of which couldn’t be further from the truth.
It was a very humbling moment. And we’ve drastically changed our approach to homework now. It’s done at the table, not in your room. I want to see your list of assignments and I’m going to check for completeness. If I see something blatantly incorrect or sloppily done I’m going to ask you to take a second look, and if it’s clear you have absolutely no idea what’s going on we’re going to Deal With That Appropriately.
And yes, kids, I know you liked the old way better. So did I! I really believed my completely hands-off approach was the right one. And maybe one day I won’t have to supervise quite so strictly, but I do think I learned a lesson as well. “Helping” kids with their homework takes many forms. You certainly don’t want to complete homework FOR them, or provide so much “guidance” that you’re basically leading them to the correct answer they wouldn’t get to on their own.
But by not being involved in the homework process at all (beyond just telling them to “go do it”), I was missing out on crucial AND CORRECTABLE information. My oldest has severe ADHD and takes medication…one look at his homework, comprehension and organizational skills would have signaled that he’s had a growth spurt and needed his dosage adjusted. (We did that, and the difference was immediate.) We’ve also called for an extra meeting to make some changes to his IEP and figure out some better teacher/parent communication expectations. Likewise, my first grader needs more accountability and better strategies to keep him organized and help him remember the various notebooks and and folders he needs to bring home. (AND ALSO HEY DON’T LIE TO ME, CHILD.)