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Sidestep Homework Battles

Sidestep Homework Battles

By Mir Kamin

Confession: I have very mixed feelings about homework, especially at the pre-high-school level. On the one hand, learning how to organize yourself outside of a classroom and attend to an assignment on your own is a good and important skill, sure. With my kids’ executive dysfunction challenges, I know that homework can be a skill-building situation. But on the other hand… if you’ve already been in school for close to eight hours, is it really necessary for you to come home and keep working (especially if you haven’t even reached double digits, yet)? I don’t think so, especially for younger kids. (I like this The Case Against Homework Fact Sheet as a quick-and-dirty overview. 10 minutes per grade level, per night, maximum. And sleep is more crucial than homework.)

During the years where I homeschooled my youngest and my oldest was drowning in middle- and then high-school homework, there were bitter complaints about the fact that it’s no fair that he doesn’t have any homework. That’s when I started looking at the sorts of work my daughter brought home with a more critical eye. I mean, the “here’s a project for you which you cannot complete without your parents spending $100 on craft supplies and a minimum of 10 hours wiping your tears” sorts of things have been reviled by everyone for forever, but now I looked at the math worksheets and even journaling assignments (I love journaling!) and wondered why there was never time for that work during the school day. My daughter was right; it was unfair. But she got to do a lot of fun and enriching things, too, so I hope it balanced out.

Anyway, now both kids are in public high school together and taking advanced coursework and both kids are in the marching band (you may have heard me mention the marching band once or twice or a hundred times…?), and that means time is short and assignments are long. I’m not saying we have a perfect system going, but after years at this rodeo, here’s some Dos and Don’ts that are (mostly) working for us.

DO get organized up-front. Maybe you have neurotypical, independent, naturally-organized kids who require no assistance in keeping track of things. (If so, please tell me what that’s like… slowly, so I can savor it.) Most of us have kids with a few foibles, though, and I believe everyone can benefit from front-loading with an organizational plan. How and where will they record their homework? Make it simple and suited to their style; my son uses his school-issued agenda, my daughter prefers electronic tracking. My son has a “turn this in” folder for each class and my daughter just puts completed work in her binder. Have a plan.

DON’T make homework the center of the universe. I know families where homework time is “as soon as you walk in the door.” If that works for your kids, fantastic, but lots of kids need some time to decompress before getting back into their work. On a good day, my son will do his his work immediately to get it out of the way… but if he’s had a hard day, he needs to take a break first. No homework is so important that it can’t sometimes wait. Balance is key.

DO keep a watchful eye, but assume independence. Even with my kids’ particular challenges, I don’t want to have to micromanage their homework unless I’m planning to go with them to college (spoiler: I’m not). Even when they were younger, the two cheerful refrains ’round here were always, “I already went to {insert grade here}, this is your homework,” and “Be a problem solver!” On the other hand, if frustration reaches dangerous levels, it’s time to step in and suggest a break, a change in strategy, etc.

DON’T hesitate to contact teachers with concerns. You don’t want to be That Parent—don’t go running to the teacher for every little thing—but if you find yourself fielding a situation where homework is consistently too hard, too long, too soul-sucking, start a conversation. (Pro tip: Kindness and openness goes a lot farther than indignation, no matter what your tearful child tries to tell you about the supposed monster teaching the class.) It’s possible the class is too difficult for your child, and it’s possible the teacher is a sadistic jerk. 99 times out of 100, the reality is somewhere between these two possibilities, and communication is key in figuring out a workable solution.

DO have reasonable expectations. In our household, the expectation is that you will complete all assigned work in a timely manner, because going to school is your job. Furthermore, we expect that time and attention will be budgeted accordingly, and any “I have to stay up into the wee hours to finish this” situation will be rare (it does happen to even the best planners, sometimes). Due to the time demands of marching band, both of my kids often do homework during lunch, class downtime, and in that break between the last bell and the start of rehearsal. I think this is wise of them. And we do have some consequences here at home if I discover work isn’t being completed and turned in on time. But also… they’re still kids. Fridays and Saturdays are homework-free days at our house; they need the break. What’s more, sometimes they make the choice not to finish something, and (if I know about it, anyway) as long as they agree to speak to the teacher about it and deal with it without my participation, I think that’s okay, too.

DON’T freak out. This is good advice for just about every life situation, but especially pertinent here. Homework is not a life or death matter. The more you’re able to keep it in perspective, the better you’ll be able to help your kids stay calm and focused. Don’t get sucked into arguments or angst. It’s just homework.

But, um, Science Fair is coming up, so someone please remind me of this last one in about a month, okay? Thanks.

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Comments

  • Jean

    Mir, once again, you are me a few years from now. My son is in 5th grade with the transition to middle school looming. I am scared (HOLD ME). I really try to use your very sage advice to prepare all of us.

    • You’re very kind, Jean. Bear in mind that it’s easy to say and hard to do—I’m still working on it!!

  • Pingback: Pretend I know what I’m talking about | Woulda Coulda Shoulda()

  • Ally

    I’ve been on both sides here. I was a high school math teacher before I became a parent. I gave my students homework, but it was always pertinent to what was being taught, and I felt very reasonable. I currently have kids in elementary school. I don’t mind reading, spelling, and math. I have a hard with how much busy work the kids get. My kindergartener is in school all day and comes home with a book to read every night (which I really like), and at least two sheets. Some of the sheets are fine, but so many of them are elaborate craft projects and I feel like it’s way too much. My kids usually have good attitudes, but I still feel like some of it is quite unnecessary. 

  • I have one in each level this year: elementary (K), middle (6), and high (9). Three schools, three different places. That’s another conversation, sorry. Even the kindergartener has homework daily, almost 5 sheets a day. I am much more laid back than my husband hwo think she HAS to finish it all, sit still, write on the lines. When daddy ain’t home, though, I’m all eh, write some B’s. Or don’t. Here, let’s read this book and call it done. I have stepped back from asking to see the high schooler’s work each night, explaining that I trust that she’s doing what is required. We’ll find out at conferences if she’s not (and we have the online tool that most teachers update weekly to let parents/students know what’s missing/what’s been graded). As for the middle schooler, MAN. Word problems. Mommy is very very busy and can’t help you right now (read: Mommy’s answer to what was Suzy’s mph to reach her desitnation is usually Suzy decided to stay home). She is high strung and afraid she’s failing already. It’s painful. I’d really rather just read together and practice cursive.

  • Ladybug

    Does anyone else have the situation where the homework is assigned, but never corrected?  I’m trying to figure out if relocating will do any good or if this is just the new school standard.

    It’s an ongoing problem for us.  I can’t really insist on any standard when the teacher isn’t providing any feedback to back me up.  And going over the work in class is completely useless for my ADD kid; if it’s not written down she can’t refer to it later because it’s just GONE.  I’m not thrilled about spending hours standing over a child to keep her focused when the work is useless.  And then no one gets dinner, and the spouse gets upset about that and it’s tears all around.

  • Brigitte

    The busywork is our bane as well. 5-10 math problems are enough to tell me my 5th grader gets the concept. The other 50 problems are pointless torture.