If you are a mother, chances are you’ve had to deal with your fair share of homework battles. Some instances have probably been minor, like your child forgetting to bring their homework back to school or not getting the required signatures on a form. But some cases have probably been a little more extreme (think full-blown temper tantrum–and I’m not talking about your child).
I remember one such occasion with my oldest. It was four years ago when she was in the third grade. I was going about my afternoon, getting ready to start dinner, when I was interrupted by an extremely upset 9-year-old. Like, epic upset. She had been working on her math homework for all of five minutes and deemed it too difficult to finish (i.e., didn’t want to do it herself and wanted me to finish it for her). I refused to cave to her emotional outbursts, which somehow only managed to escalate the situation.
It’s at this point that I feel I should give you full disclosure: I don’t math. I never have mathed, and I never will math in the future. My brain is not wired for such trivialities as geometry and trigonometry and all the other “-ometrys.” I would rather skin a skunk than explain the difference between acute and obtuse angles.
In fact, my husband and I drew boundary lines when the homework started coming home: I got English and history/social studies; he got math and science. It’s how we work best, and it really is better for our children if my husband is not there to explain participles and prepositions, and I am not there to demonstrate calculus or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
But, since my husband was not yet home from work on the evening in question, it was left up to me to salvage my daughter’s sanity (and not lose my own in the process). I asked to see the homework, then proceeded to read over the directions. The assignment was instructing us to move decimal points either left or right to understand place value. Decimals were OK. I could handle decimals.
What I couldn’t handle were emerging preteen emotions that seemed to range from quiet observer to Animal from The Muppet Show. I didn’t know what I was going to do if I heard, “That’s not how my teacher showed us,” one more time.
I mean seriously, how many different ways of moving a decimal are there?
It ended up being a long night filled with many tears from both of us, and me feeling like I was a horrible mother because I couldn’t explain something as simple as decimal points to a 9-year-old. I was so spent I don’t think I even made dinner after that. I think I served my children microwaved popcorn and Cheez Whiz.
I’ve come a long way since that emotionally fraught evening. My homework skills have been honed, but I still face challenges. All four of my daughters are now in school and navigating homework, but each has her own personality and things that make her tick. My major challenge now is not so much the homework itself, but how I guide each girl through it.
It helps me to first gauge my daughter’s mood before even mentioning homework. Did she have a good day at school or a tough one? Is she tired? Has she had a snack? All of my girls tend to focus better and be in better moods if they’ve had some time to decompress after school. And though sometimes our busy schedule does not always allow for it, I try and give them a good hour or two to just chill before I ask them to engage their brains again (especially if they’ve had a taxing day already).
In our house, it also works best if we get the most challenging homework out of the way first. It’s always tempting for my girls to work on the things they already know first, but we have discovered that they tend to wear themselves out before they get to the more challenging stuff, which makes it that much more difficult to accomplish everything they need to do.
For my younger girls, turning their homework into little games has made a world of difference. It takes a little creativity, but activities such as rhyming games and flashcard scavenger hunts make homework feel more entertaining and enjoyable, rather than like a required chore. One of my girls’ favorite activities right now is putting spelling and sight words to a song. We make up our own silly tunes to help with memorization and retention.
Technology also plays a key role in helping children with homework. Kids today do not learn the same as kids did 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. Our children are exposed to more and more technology at earlier ages. The things my 6-year-old knows about computers and electronics surpasses my own knowledge. And with this ever-increasing exposure to technology comes shorter attention spans. It’s a fast-paced world with information at our fingertips. Today’s kids are not inclined to spend days on a project when the tools we have now can help them accomplish the same goals in a matter of hours.
To keep children willing and engaged with homework, try a more modern approach. Looking up information with a hand-held dictionary might have been fine for me, but my children need information now and enjoy looking up material online and researching answers with Google. Give children as many options and tools as you can to help them succeed, and try to tailor those options to each specific child–what works for one won’t always work for all.
It takes parents time, patience, and a lot of strength (both mentally and emotionally) to help children with homework. However, the more creative and prepared we are, the less likely we will see struggles and tantrums and meltdowns–from our children and us. We can’t be hesitant to explore new options and ideas to find what works best for each of our children. We might just learn something ourselves in the process.
If nothing else, there’s always popcorn and Cheez Whiz.
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