Saturday 20 September 2014

The Twelve Labours of Homework Time

"We all you YOU can do your child's year 3 maths questions, or write a story about a caveman," said the teacher at the recent parents' talk at school. "We want to know if THEY can."

Sensible words of course, but oh, how hard when you're standing over your child as they struggle with a homework question. The rational me knows that you mustn't help them, it's for their own good, the teacher needs to know that they can cope with the work.

But the mother  in me, and the journalist in me, desperately wants to copy-edit their English homework, come up with creative ideas for their project, and help them do the very best they can. And there's another voice whispering in my ear: the one that says: "I bet all the other mothers are helping too, so if I don't help, my child will end up with the worst project in the class."

I can't stand to see smudgy writing, bad spelling and little errors such as full stops left off the end of sentences, and it takes a Heraculean effort for me to hold back from correcting such mistakes, or at least hinting to the child that they need to read through the work again.

I could, of course, book them into after-school club every night and leave them to do their own homework on their own, without hovering nearby with my 5pm mug of tea. The rationale is you then cast a cursory, relaxed glance over the work to check they've done it before signing the homework book (at our school, the children get reprimanded if the book doesn't get signed by a parent). But does this really happen? Or do such parents still agonise over messy work and wrong answers? (Funny anecdote time: a Mum I know told me recently that one evening she noticed her child had written, for a geography assignment on a "place I've visited", all about Mount Everest. "And he'd written it all in pen, so I couldn't even ask him to rewrite it!").

Then there is the homework that clearly they can't do on their own - the assignments that involve, for instance, looking things up on the internet and printing things out. (I'm sorry, but how many 9 year olds know how to use the family printer? I can barely work out the combination of different gizmos that are required before it actually does something other than give me an "error" message.)

In the past year, I've slaved over looking up homophones, making a fez, putting together collages and more, while gritting my teeth over mis-spelled words, messy writing and silly words inserted in stories. And I know it's only going to get worse, as they're really piling on the homework at school this year. I know at some point in what seems like the distant future, they're going to be doing homework alone in their rooms -- but in the meantime, how do I stop myself from having a nervous breakdown over it?

 How do you cope with homework - and what's your involvement?


Trish said...

I'm sure I hovered like you, desperate to intervene, but I think I refrained, probably because he made a decent stab at his homework anyway. It's more frustrating at secondary school when they disappear to their rooms and you have no idea what nonsense they are writing which no doubt would benefit from a bit of parental tweaking.

Circles said...

Exactly the same here A! The sub editor in me can't bear to see all the errors, and so I end up heavily hinting about the punctuation needed, the letters missing. And we're nowhere near them being able to do it solo, especially because the schools keep setting things that need adult help (the thing that really bugs me being all the pictures needed off the internet, or photos. There's no way the boys can resize pics, change printer ink, etc! Our clunky printer just manages, but usually I end up doing it at work. Today we had to do role models and their attributes. M did Barack Obama, but it took a lot of parental involvement to get him to list his leadership qualities - left to his own devices, M would have just put that he lives in a mansion! And for M2, I had to come up with passport-size photos of all of us and grannies and grandads! And tomorrow, they want us in at 7.40am to talk about the weekend and watch the children draw pictures. Last Sunday, M2 drew him and his mates sitting on our sofa with guns, and a huge sword on the table! Oh boy!!!

Iota said...

I don't find it too hard to let them get on with it. I just think, teaching them is the teacher's job. They will, in time, learn punctuation etc. My job, as a mother, is other stuff - gets a bit touchy feely at this point. So no, this isn't one of my helicoptery things.

Also (and when I've told you this, you might conclude - probably rightly - that I've made a virtue out of a necessity), I find it aggravating beyond description. I am NOT a teacher at heart. I get frustrated, annoyed, impatient, and perfectionist. I've ended a few homework sessions saying things I know I shouldn't, like "why on earth can't you understand this?", or similar.

So no homework hovering for me! The exception is that in America, I seemed to have to get involved in various craft projects (though never made a fez). And there were various projects when they had to choose a character from history, dress up as them, and write a short speech, having researched the biography. Those kinds of things seemed a little beyond them, unaided. But back in Blighty, there seems much less of that kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

Ideally teachers assign homework that the kids can complete independently (without assistance from parents).

Homework is supposed to reinforce skills already acquired in the classroom. When this principle is followed, parents do not need to provide assistance.

Nobody wants to see their kid fail. Assigning homework that kids can not complete on their own is a setup to fail.

Parents have become teachers as required by homework demands. How can we communicate this problem to teachers?

Was Living Down Under said...

I think I wrote a post about this sometime last year (I've been slack at writing lately...)

It's still an issue for us. I don't hover in the sense that if there is something the child doesn't understand, I will encourage them to go and ask for help from the teacher. I do however insist that the child reviews his/her work. I never give the answer but might explain something if something needs explaining. The problem for me, is that if my child does her homework and makes mistakes, I don't see the teacher asking the child to correct the mistakes. I feel like they just go on to the next thing. So I make them redo it. Not to get a perfect mark but just so that they become more careful. My partner is more brutal. If the child is doing something "easy" that they know very well how to do, and they make a mistake, he'll ask them to check their work and he tells them that if there is a mistake on the page, he'll erase the whole thing (we've had tears over that one). She's only had the page erased once. Now she checks her work. I also erased her work once when her writing was sloppy - it was sloppy because she didn't want to do the work, not because she couldn't write better. Now she writes neatly most of the time :)

We too have "agenda" books that we have to sign every night. I usually put notes in there so that the teacher knows if there was any work we had to assist with.

A teacher friend once told me that parents do need to be somewhat involved in their child's school work. Not to say you're doing their work but rather that you're on top of it. She said that children whose parents are involved in their school work tend to be more successful overall. Particularly in high school, when most parents tend to lay off and leave the children to it.

As with everything involving raising children, I think it comes down to balance :)

Family Affairs said...

As little as possible - they need to do it for themselves - they won't have us at university! Lx

About Last Weekend said...

Gosh I love that teacher's attitude - I think the teachers here fully expect and love parents to do the kids' homework which I dread (though i can't help T and Cy with math even at their age) There are too many macaroni castles that I've seen being carried in our schools that are the product of Mum and glue gun and a whole night of work.

Muddling Along said...

Tell me about it - I try and hold back but, especially when you know they can do better, it is so frustrating

Our homework also frequently needs parental involvement and I'm beginning to resent the significant chunk of weekend that will be spent 'helping' them

MsCaroline said...

Speaking as a teacher, I would have to say I agree with those who've said that homework (in educational theory, at least) is supposed to reinforce/practice what has already been learned in class, and should therefore (in theory) not require help, although there are some things (for example, spelling words) that really benefit from having someone work on it with you - and the occasional project, of course.
And I should tell you that we teachers can absolutely tell when parents have been doing the child's homework. This is usually confirmed when a child who has been completing all his homework assignments flawlessly suddenly and inexplicably doesn't remember any of that stuff on a test.
In my own classes, homework is always checked. It is a great way for me to see if they 'got' what we did in the last lesson. If I see that everyone missed the same thing, it is a simple thing for me to re-teach (or try to do it a different or better way) before we go any further into the new material.
With my own kids, I provided supervision in elementary and the very early part of middle school - looking over it to make sure nothing had been skipped or that something hadn't been completely misunderstood, and suggesting a 2nd look if that were needed, but not 'doing' any of it - pretty much the same way you do. Ultimately, you are doing them a favor - letting them learn how to do it themselves.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I can relate!!! I work full time so spent all of last year having to review homework at 7pm...what a nightmare! I agree, kids should have homework that they can do without too much help for parents. I can't help but think "I don't remember homework being such a pain when I was a kid. I just did it." Probably because it was super straightforward stuff - no crazy assignments and obviously no internet. This year, because my second one is also getting homework, I have a tutor who comes once a week in the afternoon to "supervise". That helps a lot.

DD's Diary said...

Nightmare, isn't it? I tended to do as little as possible unless it was an 'artistic' project for Child 2 who just wouldn't/couldn't produce the goods ... mind you my efforts were terrible and in the end she begged me not to persist :)

Anonymous said...

That's the problem when you write professionally; the awful compulision to 'edit'. My youngest - at nearly 18 - says 'I just want to know what you think Mum, i don't want you to edit it'. I'm crap at maths though so they never have to suffer me in the numeracy arena!