Jade Pittel, a colleague and teacher at Alta Elementary School in Jackson, Wyoming, recently shared her insight as both an educator and parent with regards to the nightly homework struggle. It is with her permission that I share her wit and wisdom on the subject.
ANOTHER SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS. August, for me, is a bit like Lent, or New Year’s--time for setting new goals. I make promises to become the idyllic mother, an impeccable teacher, and a graceful individual so that my children look to me with adoration and admiration. Birds will land on my shoulders, wolves will sit at my side, people will stare in awe… the world will stop spinning. I reflect on my past parenthood disasters and promise not to repeat them. Yes, I predict, this school year I can be more like Superwoman and less like the Incredible Hulk while hurdling through nine months of early mornings, packed lunches, homework, and bedtimes. I will be in bed by eight o’clock. I will not raid the candy drawer in the teacher’s room. I will make healthy meals that won’t make my kids gag at least four nights a week. I will not force my daughters to wear mismatched socks from the laundry pile. I will not yell profanities at my kids as we pile into the car with seconds to spare every morning. I will make homework a happy time.
Homework. Here we go again. Regardless of your own beliefs around the repercussions of the school day’s continuation into your family’s evening, homework is, for most of us, an inevitable event. As child psychologist Alfie Kohn puts it: “Death and taxes come later; what seems inevitable for children is the idea that, after spending the day at school they must then complete more academic assignments at home.” Since parents of school age children are destined to engage in a nightly homework routine, it appears best if we embrace the situation and create an affair that will add to, not frustrate and detract from, our time together as a family.
Children work extremely hard at school. Days are packed with expectations, rule-following, and academic rigor. Kids are mentally and physically exhausted after that. Even though weeknights are packed with demands, I believe that homework can be transformed from a resented duty into a positive experience. Here I offer some suggestions for creating a homework routine that enables the child, relaxes the parent, satisfies the teacher, and can be a stress-free part of the nightly routine.
1). Create a space that is aesthetic, comfortable, and calming. Instead of pushing aside the bills and papers at the computer table, have a dedicated homework space that is free of clutter. Spend a moment to set the dining room table up as an attractive workspace with nice light, maybe add a vase of flowers or soft music, and a snack. Provide sharp pencils, good erasers, pens, and coloring supplies that scream: “We value this work!” Avoid the broken orange crayon that’s “just fine,” or the corner of the counter that “will have to do.”
2). Sit together. Slow down and find time to be with your child. Do not leave younger children to do homework while you prepare the kitchen, or before you return from work. Unite the family around this task.
3). Be a part of the process. Homework should be a task that a child is capable of doing independently. Speak to your child’s teacher if homework is consistently not at their independent level. Still, choose to be present, showing you are behind each action your child takes.
4). Model lifelong learning and work ethics for your child. While sitting with your child, work on your own “homework.” If your child has reading to do, pull out your own novel, cookbook, manual, or magazine. When your child has math, pay your bills or balance your checkbook. When he or she has writing, attempt a letter, an article, or a list. Science? Make a to-do list for home improvements, or actually repair something. Use your own work and learning to encourage your child to do the same.
5). Do not struggle with your child. If you sit at the homework table at the same time every day, there is no need for the nagging “Did you do your homework?” or, “When are you going to get your homework done?” Do not correct your child’s homework. Often, children have a hard time responding when their parent is telling them they are wrong, or they didn’t do it right. They desire your love and approval too much to hear your critique. If your child is easily frustrated with your input on their homework, let the teacher be the teacher. Release yourself from the role of “corrector.”
6). Honor your child’s work. Ask questions. Share your pride. Be involved.
7). The gift of reading. Assigned homework aside, if you want your child to be an adult reader, show them one—you. Encourage them to start now. This can be done in bed, snuggled on the couch, or anywhere comfortable.
8). Laugh. Remember not to take the routine too seriously. Providing humor and comic relief will establish positive memories of the event.
9). Establish the same mood every day. Children respond to predictable patterns and routines.
10). Forgive yourself and your kids when things don’t go as planned. Every night offers a new beginning.
*Originally printed in Teton Family Magazine