Should You Do Your Kid’s Homework?

No! Of course not. Well…maybe. It depends. Here was the situation:

The 8-year-old, a.k.a the-second-grader, came home with an assignment. He was supposed to read two books by the same author, then DO something of his choosing related to that author. He could make a poster or draw a picture or write a letter or anything else. Hmm. Okay. I know which project I wanted him to pick (the letter!), but I knew for sure that he would not pick the letter (I can barely get him to write a single-sentence Thank You note.) So, I asked him which project he wanted to do without telling him what I thought he should do. And he said…

“I want to write a letter!”

What?!?!

As usual, he surprised me.  (Reminding me once again to be careful about the assumptions I make…you’d think I’d have learned by now.)

He had a month to do this. Here’s how it went down.

He easily chose his author. JK Rowling, of course. He loves Harry Potter, AND he has already read (or been read to) the entire series. When this assignment was given, he happened to be in the midst of rereading it. Easy peasy. Knowing how much he dislikes the act of writing and how upset he gets when the words don’t come out on paper as fast and as well they come out of his mouth, I began asking him questions to get him thinking.

“What would you want to ask JK Rowling?” “Which character do you like best?” “Why?” “What do you think Ms. Rowling would be interested in hearing about you?”

Sometimes he answered me. Most of the time he said, “I dunno.”

I was beginning to get worried.  So, with a week left before the assignment was due, I suggested that he start writing some of it.

“No. I don’t want to.”

Right. Okay. There’s still time. So, with 5 days left, I made an outline for him. Three things to tell Ms. Rowling about yourself. Three things to tell her you like about her books. Three things to ask her about herself or her books. I told him we could brainstorm together.

“No. I don’t want to.”

Hmm. Now it’s 4 days left, and I tell him that it’s really going to be a lot nicer for him if he just gets started. I offer my support. He growls at me. He sighs. He says, “I don’t want to do a letter. I am going to trace a picture of JK Rowling for my project.”

Trace a picture? Is that for real? I am getting a little ticked off at this point. But I take a deep breath. I remind myself that he is only 8 years old, and this is not really a huge deal. I don’t even think he should have homework at this age. I tell him, of course, whatever you want to do, just do it. I print out a picture of JK Rowling for him. He tapes it to the sliding glass door with another paper over it. He begins to trace. He realizes quickly that it’s not so easy tracing a rather detailed photograph. He does not like the way it is turning out.

“I am not doing this, either. I don’t like this assignment. I’m not going to do anything.”

Really? So, you’re just going to walk into school on Friday and be the only one to not turn in an assignment? You’re going to tell the teacher that you just didn’t want to do it? How’s that going to go over, kid?? Because if you at least try, I will help you. But if you don’t, you are on your own.

As you can see, I was starting to lose my cool. Starting to lose perspective. And my coming down hard on him like that was NOT going to do anyone any good. So, I stopped. I breathed. And I let it go for the time being.

Now there are 3 days left. It’s time to figure this out. So, I called my mom.

“Mom! What should I do? I really want him to write this letter, but he refuses to start! He has no idea how to start! The outline I made didn’t help him! I’m tempted to write the letter for him…but of course I won’t!”

“Why not?”

Huh?

“Why not write the letter for him but leave blanks? Like a Mad Libs story. Otherwise he really has no idea what a letter looks or sounds like.”

Oh. Yes. Brilliant. So that is what I did.

I wrote the letter and left blanks for him to finish sentences with his own thoughts, opinions, and questions. I dated and formatted it so he knew what it should look like. Then I said, “Hey. I set up your letter for you. You just need to fill in a couple blanks.”

And he didn’t fight me on it. He sat down and began to write. He did get stuck. But we talked through it. When he slammed his pencil down and said it was too hard to get his thoughts out, we stepped away from the table and just talked about the books and the author. During this process, I realized that a big part of what frustrates him is that his vocabulary skills are ahead of his spelling skills. He doesn’t want to misspell a word, so he searches for easier words. This takes a LONG time, and it often means not saying what he really wants to say. So, I removed that hurdle by spelling out the words for him as he said them. I could see the look of relief on his face each time I did this. The letter was written, and all that was left to do was to copy it into his own handwriting.

The day before the assignment was due, it was warm and sunny. The neighborhood kids were outside playing basketball and riding their bikes. The 8-year-old said to me,”I am going to finish copying my letter, THEN I will go outside to play. Since it’s such a nice day, can I work out on the front porch?”

YES! Yes, you can, kid! I’ll be inside taking a nap, because this was a LONG week.

(Mathematically…I know, this post wasn’t explicitly mathematical. On the other hand, how you support your child’s schooling in any subject is important. It is easy to give in to outside forces that tell you how you should be parenting. Or to give in to your own internal forces and quickly lose patience. I could have easily continued down the route of firmly telling my son to just get his work done and meet the deadline.  In the process, we would have both become more upset – me with his procrastination and he with my inability to understand his struggle. It is more important to know your child well and to understand how to coach him through his challenges. It was not easy for me to pull back and consider another way. It was not easy to see what kind of support he needed. Creating a template, showing him HOW, and not deserting him in the process helped to make the assignment- and ultimately the learning – a lot more accessible. I expect (I hope) when the next assignment comes along, the supports he’ll need will be different.)

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

 

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Should You Do Your Kid’s Homework?

  1. Yes! Isn’t it annoying how all the shoulds (and shouldn’ts), for how to parent and support AND for the child’s abilities (like, “he should be able to do this on his own”) get in the way of what we can observe is actually happening. Thanks for sharing how you worked this one through. I know it will help me get unstuck next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very interesting article Pam. And rabbitideas is right, your honest description of how you’ve been feeling during the process is really helpful.
    One thing is sure, children will never get this kind of coaching and support at school or from the teachers. But this is exactly what children need, who feel frustrated. In my experience, teachers prefer better students, and give up the bad students too easily, leaving them to hate school. But not every Bad student is lazy, each kid just has its individual problems.
    Unfortunately not every child has so caring and supportive parents or mentors.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. And I also know that it is a tall order to expect a single teacher to be infinitely patient and understanding with a classroom of over 20 children. On the hopeful side, just one adult who really undersands a kid can make a huge difference. That adult might be the teacher or the parent, but it can also be a neighbor or a friend. It takes a village…to fill in the gaps!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved reading this! I’ve never thought about it that way, this definitely showed me a new and perhaps better way of looking at this concept ^-^

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this! My eldest daughter is amazing in her school work. She does everything herself and wants to do extra work so she can get extra points. My son, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. Just like you said, he slams down his pencil the moment he gets frustrated and quits. My struggle is that i dont want him to hate school and projects and homework. I think some teachers are not realistic with the work they expect kids to do. So a mom does what a mom has to do. Your doing an amazing job. And i am sure your son will thank you one day 4 it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful and honest post of your struggle you wrote! As a mother myself I admire you. As a Montessori Elementary Teacher at first reading your post, I admit, I had one sentence in my mind: “NOOO, don’t help! Let him live through his struggles. Let him see the natural consequences.” BUT you opened my mind and I am hugely thankful for this. During my reading process I saw how not just your son went through a learning process but you too which is WONDERFUL! Respect to the two of you! You supported him all the way. AND it showed me again how the traditional system is failing us so often. Why do our children have to struggle so much? Why can they not communicate their fears and confusions to us clearly to us so we can help? Because they are under pressure, because they are scared. If I may can I advise you now to take this a step further:
    1) Perhaps go to the teacher and tell him / her what you observed where he struggles so she / he can support him (The teacher should have picked it up actually by himself, but well, we are all humans, remember.)
    2) Teach him to use the dictionary to find the right spelling.
    3) Teach him to use similar exciting words and sentences for writing- there are excellent cheat sheets you can laminate for him.
    4) Teach him to communicate clearly about his problem from the start to you so the struggle doesn’t take you weeks to figure out. I know some children are introverts. I have one of these at home. Frustrating. But you can give a lot of tools to them to give them simple short fact sentences (“I have a problem with…).
    You are an awesome mother. You actually didn’t do his homework. Believe me! I saw homework being done! You guided your child and this is support many children out there are dreaming of (I know, I see many children being lost because their parents don’t have or don’t want to take the time.) WELL DONE!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really appreciated hearing this story from your family. It sounds like you found a great solution for your child.
    I have one child I teach at home, and another enrolled in school. I don’t home school because I’m a zealot, but because I am meeting the individual needs of each of my kids in the way he needs. What MATTERS is that the child learns. How s/he does it is only important in an institutional settings for record-keeping and management of the group, but that is often forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

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