Homework: Lightening the Load (page 2)
It's fall, and families everywhere are jostling their way toward some routine that will accommodate school, childcare, work and familial sanity. Humans are inclined toward fun and conviviality. We love to play. We love our free time — the parents no less than the children. But after a bit of summer ease, parents have to find a way to squeeze their little band of loved ones into the strictures of a school- and work-oriented schedule. In many families, the biggest pinch is felt around homework.
Given the rigors of weekday life, it's easy to see why homework is a recipe for trouble. Combine tired, time-pressured parents with children who've had enough of being told what to do for the day. Add a measure of resentment or frustration (ingredients that aren't usually packaged in small amounts). Some parents feel they need to spice the mixture with threats of punishment or removal of privileges, though this never really makes the final product more palatable. Some children top it with, "I can't!" or "I won't!" or "Leave me alone!" It's a combustible brew. Homework is touted as a key to your child's future success in the world. In reality, it tends to undermine the sweetness of the parent-child relationship. And it sours kids on school.
There is strong evidence that homework in the elementary school years does not provide an intellectual advantage to children. A University of Michigan study has shown that the single best predictor of higher achievement scores and fewer behavior problems for children ages 3 - 12 is eating family meals together, not studying. In order to have the motivation and sustained attention for learning, children's spirits need to feed on the laughter, wrestling, chasing, cuddling and family talks that let them know that they belong with us. Instead of homework, children would do better to have fun, relax and pursue after-school adventures and hobbies. Their instincts are good. It takes play to keep people bonded and in the mood for learning from one another.
Unfortunately, schools have the tendency to turn every learning opportunity into an assignment. As soon as there's homework and a deadline, learning becomes a chore that is supposed to be done alone. Children aren't built for solitary work! The homework that's required often proves not a child's intelligence, but his family's emotional fortitude as they survive night after night of scholastic drudgery.
I'm not going to make a detailed case here for a very limited homework load. Excellent sources for concerned parents are cited at the end of this article. I think it makes sense for parents to advocate strongly for homework policies that strictly limit the kinds and amounts of homework expected of their children. Until we parents can rein in homework assignments that don't truly educate or inspire our children, we need to deal with all the feelings that erupt on school nights. Here are a few thoughts that may help keep your family headed in a constructive direction on the homework front.
Recognize that children need to play and to connect. This need is as vital to their health and wellbeing as their need for food and water. If your children are to use their intelligence, they need to be able to feel the love you have for them. That sense of connection is the engine behind their motivation to try and try again. Learners must try things every which way. They must be able to bounce back from experiments that don't work. Children refuel in play and in loving connection.
Set up Special Time to refuel your child. A specific time each day, named Special Time, can help a child feel "seen," in charge and loved. During Special Time, he gets to choose what to do. Your job is to be warm, interested and pleased with him. Don't sink all your attention into the game or activity he chooses. It's your attention on him and your delight with him that's the prize. It's the antidote to a long day at school.
Let your child refuel with Special Time and play before homework. The connections he makes during play will help his mind be at its best for the task ahead. These connections won't entirely erase big feelings he may have about the unfairness of conditions at school. They won't remedy his lack of confidence in a particular subject. But they will help him connect with you and help you feel closer to him before you both step up to the emotional challenges of homework. It's always better to face a challenging situation knowing that someone's on your side. Play in Special Time sets that stage.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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