Northern Lights School is known for generous amounts of homework. My children have always attended there so they know nothing else--know nothing of life on the outside--but it's a given that every afternoon they will have homework. As inevitable as death and dishes.
In order to survive raising three--soon to be four--children in the public school system I've developed a firm and simple policy when it comes to homework: Do it yourself.
When Grace was in first grade and started bringing home real homework--not the cut and paste fun she had in kindergarten--I started to notice a pattern. She would no sooner complete a page of sums than she would bring it to me to check it over. This wasn't a big deal, I could glance over it and quickly see if there were errors but when she moved into adding double-digits it started taking longer. I couldn't glance at the figures, I had to actually add things in my head, carrying tens and dropping zeros, to give an accurate assessment.
I'm not sure where it happened, but at some point I had an epiphany--probably when she wanted me to check her spelling list while I was simultaneously cooking dinner, changing a diaper, talking on the phone and emptying the dishwasher. I handed it back and said, "No, Dear, I'm sorry but I'm not going to check over your homework anymore."
Her eyes grew wide and she got a bit of a twitch to her eye and she started to explain how her world was doomed by this presentment: How would she know if she got something wrong? How would she know if she got something right? How would she explain the situation to her teacher? How would she live to adulthood if I refused to help her? I'd condemned her to a life on the streets.
But I was firm, no more spellcheck, no more going over sums, no more helping to study for a test, no more "seeing if something was right." It was the most liberating thing I'd done since potty training. Of course in her eyes I'd pushed her out of the boat and told her to swim to shore and there were tears and begging and bargaining before she realized that I was indeed serious and that I would no longer be her academic crutch.
It took some time to get her weaned--sometimes she'd forget and ask me how to spell a word and sometimes she didn't forget but hoped I had and would sneak a paper in for my perusal, but I stood strong. When the other kids began school I started from that same point and let them know that from the beginning they were to do their own work. If they needed help understanding something or if they needed clarification I would be happy to assist. If they had a completed essay and wanted my opinion on it, I'd be happy to give it, but doing their homework would be their own responsibility. I would not remind them to do it, nor would I ask them if they had completed it, the expectation was that they would be responsible for remembering which assignments needed completing, bringing home the appropriate study guides, and finishing the work on time with accuracy and neatness.
This may sound harsh but it was the only way for them to learn academic responsibility. I often sit through Back to School nights at the beginning of the school year where teachers list the weekly assignments only to look around and see parents taking notes. Is it the parents' job to remember that every Thursday night Johnny has to study for a Friday spelling test? As soon as parents become their child's personal secretaries that child will gladly surrender responsibility for accomplishing their tasks. It's human nature--who among us wouldn't gladly let someone else take care of an unpleasant task if that person is willing to take it from us?
Grace, at one point frustrated with a particular subject, accused me of not caring if she got good grades because I wouldn't help her study for a test. Even her teacher had instructed her to have her parents quiz her on the material. I assured her that I cared very much, that getting good grades and a thorough education were of paramount importance but that she would have to do it the same way I did it.
I pulled out a stack of index cards and showed her how she could make flashcards of the material she needed to study, telling her that not only would that work just as well but it would work better because she would be the one deciding which information was worthy of study and then writing it on the cards, solidifying it in her memory as she did so. I further explained that though I wasn't monitoring her homework that the expectation was that she would do her best and that if she failed to turn in assignments, had incomplete or sloppy work and her grades fell that there would be consequences. Bad consequences.
It hasn't been smooth sailing--both Spencer and Grace's fourth grade year nearly killed me--but I never have to remind them to do their homework. They come home from school, get their snack, take a short break then hit the books. In general missed assignments are non-existent. The children don't always get straight As, but they have developed terrific study habits that will serve them well in high school and beyond.
They've got to learn self-reliance sometime, I'm not going to be there on the dorm floor when they need help in college, and better for them to learn it now when the grades are relatively unimportant. If I stand back and let them learn--perhaps fail at first--they'll be on their way to learning responsibility which is a more valuable lesson than anything they could learn from a textbook.
This is part one of a series I'll be doing on teaching children responsibility and I welcome any comments you may have on the subject. I've used my custom search engine to find other posts on the topic:
* Hamelife with Parents-If You Want Your Children to Learn Responsibility Ditch the Daily Chores
* Sprittibee with Helping Kids Understand Time and Responsibility
* GNM Parents with Teach Your Kids to Work Part III
* Three Sons and a Princess with Is Homework Bad for Kids?
* A homework tip from Parent Hacks
* Postcards from the Mothership with The Homework Debate
* Solving Homework Dilemmas at Today's Teacher
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