Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Homework Conunudrum

We are increasingly finding that homework is an issue in our house. Yeah, I know it is for almost all kids, and their parents. Anna grumbles about her assignments for sure. Ethan takes things to a whole new level.

I'm starting to hate homework, actually. I'm wondering if, until kids are in maybe fourth grade, they should be doing it at all.

I don't remember homework assignments until fourth or fifth grade, and then it was mostly working on science or social studies projects. Anna has maybe an hour of homework a night, which isn't so bad, and she is in sixth grade, after all. But Ethan is stuck on a bus for an hour after school. He then is expected to read for 20 minutes a night and write down what he's read (plus sometimes answer a question on the reading). Again, not horrible, because thankfully, he likes at least the reading part, and if we have to, he can read in the car on the way to school the next morning. The problem is when any other kind of assignment comes up, especially if it involves writing, thinking creatively, or drawing, cutting or pasting.

Every year around this time his school comes up with this "project" that I would've loved if I were back in school. I'm waiting to see if it rears its ugly head again. Basically it involves each child making a small "collage" of things that represent them, their family, their favorites, and so on. Each on is posted along the halls of the school after they're turned in.

Every year, the same thing happens:

"Ethan, it's time to work on your collage."


"What kind of things do you like?"

"I don't know!!"

"What about the Patriots? Red Sox? Pizza? What pictures could we find on the computer to put on here?"

"Mamma, I want to play Wii!"

"Ethan, I'm not doing this all by myself..."


This is followed by me printing out a bunch of pictures of things I think he likes, then cajoling him to cut them out, then conceding to cut half of them myself, then begging him to glue them to the paper. Then every year I walk the halls and see better looking collages and think, "Did all of the parents do these, or were there kids in this school actually motivated to DO this assignment?!"

Any additional homework Ethan brings home turns out the same way. This week Ethan's first non-reading homework was to write down his five favorite books and find pictures of them to make a collage on what kind of reader he is. Asking him to work on this was like walking on broken glass. There were tears, begging, threats, and bribery involved.

I'm starting to wonder how we're going to handle this as we move into the upper elementary grades, never mind middle school.

"Use a motivator!" people will say. True enough. In a perfect world, the afternoon would look like this: Ethan comes home from school and runs around outside to get some energy out. Then he sits down and does his homework, getting Wii or other screen time as a reward after all of his responsibilities have been completed.

I try to dangle Wii like the proverbial carrot, but this doesn't always work with a child who can be extremely single-minded. We like to call it "Rock Brain," after one of the characters in the SuperFlex social skills curriculum. Ethan himself will acknowledge when he is being "Rock-Brained." He'll get off the bus and I'll tell him to go outside. He will sit forlornly on the swing, barely moving, unable to think of anything but screen time. Sometimes he won't even eat a snack. "Mamma, sorry, I can only do Wii," he'll say. Even though three hours later he will claim he is starving and needs more to eat before bed.

If I sat down Ethan at the table to do homework immediately after school, well, first of all, that seems downright cruel after being in school for six hours and on the bus for an hour more. But even if I do, he will stare at the table, unable to focus. "Screen time!" I'll hear over and over.

And so we do Wii first. But when Wii is done, there is the struggle to transition away from the Wii, unless an Ethan-approved "Good Dinner" is waiting. THEN he'll play outside (but Daylight Savings is ending, uh-oh!), THEN maybe he'll sit down to do homework. Except: what if he loses motivation? While it sometimes works, threatening no Wii the next day is a hole I hate to dig us into. Then what in the world do I do about the next day's homework with nothing for him to look forward to?

And there's another issue. On school days Ethan seems to have a tolerance tank that runs dry very quickly. I can use what's there to convince him to do his homework...but what about other responsibilities? I'd like him to help out more with chores, but I'm working with a limited amount of motivation here. I can either beg him to clean his room, or beg him to do his homework, but trying to get him to do both leads into exhausting territory.

Someone will say, but that's how you win these battles. They're exhausting sometimes. I realize that. But some days, especially helping out two other children, my own tank is empty. And sometimes the stress that it's created, especially if I've started yelling, isn't worth it.

NOT making him do chores doesn't seem like a solution either. Then Anna wants to know why Ethan gets off so easily, and honestly, I don't want to always be tip-toeing around him and accommodating him. Yet I want to respect he may struggle with this more than the average person.

I'm starting to think the answer to this part of the problem may be that chores are for the weekend, before screen time, when homework is blessedly absent.

So this is where we stand. No, it's not the end of the world. We'll figure something out. I'm just praying the public schools realize that if you're going to push young kids all day, extend the school day by a little bit every year, push and push and push to meet whatever Common Core is requiring, and give them only 20 minutes of recess, you could go easy on the homework assignments, at least until they get to middle school.

My kid needs to be a kid, whether that means climbing a tree or playing Wii. He already barely get to be one at school. It'd be nice if he at least could be one at home.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I know your pain, Deb. We have very similar struggles with Hailie. What is working best for us is to give her 15 min. to chill out when she gets home and then start homework while her ADHD meds are still working. On good days it works- on bad days, it is one big struggle!