Monday, 11 January 2016

Mommy Hates Homework

My barely 7 year-old comes home from school with homework every day.  EVERY. DAY.  We have flashcards which we are encouraged to 'incorporate into our daily practice'. We have weekly spelling tests, daily sentence writing practice, and math problems.  We also have designated reading books to read together with our son and to make comments on.  I am not joking, and I am probably forgetting something (that has certainly happened).  What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, a few things...

1.  Mommy hates homework. Let's be honest, when you are sending an engergetic 7 year-old homework, you are sending ME homework.  Note the word 'we' on that list of homework above. WE have spelling tests, WE have flashcards, etc.  Not a whole lot on that list is or even can be accomplished independently by a wily boy who has just spent the better part of six hours sitting in a desk.  So if you're asking if I would like to spend the precious few hours I have with my son everyday cajoling him, engaging in phonics exercises, and fostering a general distaste for school?  The answer is no.  I am 35, well past anything to do with school, a business owner, and mother of three.  I hate homework, and I've got other shit to do, and if I don't, I would like to enjoy that rare opportunity.  But more importantly...

2.  HE has better things to do.  The average kid my son's age spends 6 or more hours in a school environment.  That is a lot of time for a young child, and it is more than enough to be engaged in structured, academic-y activities.  When my son comes home at 4 o'clock and wants to go sledding, I'm going to say a resounding, “Yes!” And then he has soccer practice or a play-date and a nice family supper, and maybe he wants to read a book or veg out or play with his toys.  He should be able to do ALL of those things without the thought of homework interrupting or cutting things short. And what about tennis, music lessons, crafting, joining scouts, playing make-believe ghostbusters with the neighbour kids, skating, dancing, helping out around the house??  All of those things are equally valuable to his life-long education, and that is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  I think we can all agree that childhood is a crucial time to develop talents and foster diverse interests in our children, so let's do that instead of fighting about homework every night.  What's more, let's let our kids just be kids sometimes!

3.  Kids are going to learn, whether you teach them or not.  As it is, our children spend a huge chunk of their weekday time in a structured learning environment, and that serves its purpose, but no one is going to tell me that at 3:30 the education stops. NO WAY! The structure of school/homework may or may not even be the best way for any given child to learn, and it is certainly not the only way.  The hours after school, in my opinion, should be left open for other opportunities to access learning.  For example, a child who may not excel or particularly enjoy drills in PE class may just really like playing at the park after school and may learn the same, if not more, physical skills. Or maybe that boy who struggles with structured reading exercises, whether it be due to lack of interest or an incompatibility with his learning style, may just really like cuddling up and reading bedtime stories with mom and dad. And I will say this first hand—the opportunity to cuddle up and have a nice book with my kids has OFTEN been foregone in order to engage in an end-of-day battle to get homework done.  That blows.

4. Learning happens, whether it is measured or not.  I think as parents we often get caught up in the parts of education that can be easily quantified or tested in a school environment. We feel we have to do homework so our kids don't 'fall behind', especially when all the other kids (ahem! kids' parents) are doing homework.  We over-focus on material that can be graded like reading, writing, or math, for the simple reason that it is the thing being measured. I'm not immune to this.  How many times have I had thoughts like..'So-and-so's kid knows his whole alphabet', or 'Little Johnny can already count to 100', and then my next thought is 'I should really do more such-and-such practice at home with O' (presumably like Little Johnny's parents).  But rare is the time that I think 'Wow, O has a really developed sense of personal responsibility. I'm really proud of him.  Maybe Little Johnny's parents need to lay of the abc's and work on that.' Perhaps if there was a hard-fast measure of personal responsibility or imagination or social consciousness or things of this nature, we would realize that these utterly necessary skills require as much time, space, and practice as any school subject, and that they are most effectively learned outside the school environment. And just as and FYI, I can tell you right now, if there was monkey-bar test, my kid would wipe the floor with your kid!

5.   Homework helps the kids who need help the least and hinders kids who need help the most.  So if ParentA is involved and generally quite on top of what is going on with KidA's education, then, yes, of course, ParentA is going to practice all the spelling words and do the flashcards and all that jazz, and KidA is going to excel. Great. (Never mind that ParentA was already doing all sorts of wholesome, educational activities with their child before the homework came along and took all the fun out of it) Then you have KidB who excels at structured academic, sitting-down-type activities at school, who then goes home to do homework and further excels at structured, academic, sitting-down-type activities. Yea for him. On the other hand, you have KidC, who struggles with sitting still at school at the best of times, and whose single parent has a heavy load of whatever variety, who then goes home and faces, what is for him, the daunting task of motivating himself to do his homework with little or no support.
Which brings me to my final point...

6. Homework that cannot be done independently of a parent directly opposes a child's development of independence and personal responsibility.  I've seen this a thousand times in many years of experience with children. A child is chipping away with decent focus and effort at a task, say setting a puzzle, and when an available adult comes within earshot, that child then 'needs help', 'can't do this,' waits for prompting, and their eyes glaze over while they take a back seat or quit entirely.  And it is no different with my son's homework. For one, the initiation of the homework process is almost always done by me for no other reason than that he is 7 and lacks the impetus to start it himself, and, of course, this is more often than not met with resistance. Secondly, the homework he is sent with is largely designed to require adult input, and then we have the case of him sitting there, getting less and less interested while I try to coax whatever bit of relevant participation I can from him.  And thirdly, the icing on the cake...There is a big-ass space in his homework book for me to sign EVERY. DAY. presumably marking in stone that I have seen and that I approve of the quality of work that he has completed that night.  Well, honestly, I don't give a shit if I approve of the quality of his work, I give a shit if he approves of his own work.  Somewhere along this continuum of parental involvement and accountability, you end up with parents coming to job-interviews, bickering with their child's university professors about deadline extensions, or 'helping' with research and proof-reading their child's masters thesis. (Seriously, these things have all happened) Puke.  Will these parents be attending work with them every day as well? Joining them in their post-doctoral pursuits? Wiping their bums? Come on.  A child's sense of sense of personal responsibility and independence starts early, and I'm all over that. (Reference Point 1)

There is a time and place for everything, homework included, and I am not saying that there is no value in practicing school skills at home.  Of course there is, and I’m sure there are plenty of ‘measures’ to prove that.  What I am suggesting is that there is a trade-off.  Yes, if my son practices reading and writing for 40 minutes each evening, his reading and writing will improve. That’s a no-brainer, but when he is spending 40 minutes doing that, he is spending 40 minutes NOT doing something else.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think there are more important things to do during the after-school hours.  I also think homework is a perfect tool to transfer ownership of learning from teacher to student at a later age when the student is able to do that work independently, but, until that time, please Mrs. Jones, spare me the inconvenience.  

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