Thursday, 26 September 2013

Homework Dilemmas

I've been thinking a lot about homework lately.  In fact I wrote a post about it which I never ended up publishing (I have a few of those - posts that I write that I then wonder if they are indeed for public consumption - it's an internal debate that I keep having).  Anyway, homework.

They don't get that much homework.  The 5 year old got more at her preschool than she does now that she's in Kindergarten at public school.  I think the rule of thumb around these parts is a half hour a week for each grade level minus a half hour.  So for kindergarten they get none.  For grade one they get a half hour, grade 2 they get an hour and so on.  Generally the teacher sends it home on Friday and it isn't due back until the following week on Thursday.  Which is plenty of time to get the work done.  In addition there is a reading requirement every day and spelling tests once a week (last year it was once a fortnight).

So the question becomes - do you insist that the work gets done as early as possible to avoid last minute scrambling?  How much participation is required of the parent?  How much quality control do you engage in (if at all)?

Up until now I've been somewhat laissez-faire about school and the work involved.  In preschool I let the children do what they wanted to do.  I didn't believe in pushing them into reading if they didn't want to read though I read them tons of stories.  I didn't insist they learned their alphabets though I sang the songs so they learnt them anyway.  My kids picked up books on and off as desired.  They wrote stories and poems if they felt like it and if they just wanted to play they did.

Both girls were able to read by the time they started Kindergarten although it wasn't until this summer that my older daughter (she just turned 7) really got into books.  She can't read them fast enough now.  The younger one is happy to look at pictures but she won't read the words unless we make her do it.

Last year my older daughter was in grade 1.  I made sure she did her homework, helped her prepare for spelling tests and generally participated enough to know what she was strong at and what she needed extra help with.  This year, I am finding myself a little more rigorous.  She's in grade 2 now and I think the expectations should be a little higher.  If her writing is messy, I insist she redo it.  If she makes spelling mistakes, I correct them - especially if they are words she should know or words she's copying from one list to another.  I insist that she does the homework at the weekend so that we're not scrambling during the week to get it done.  On Tuesday or Wednesday night I ask her to review the work she did to catch any errors.  I sit with her while she does her reading and I ask her questions to make sure she understands what she's just read.  We're learning how to use a dictionary.

I just wonder though - am I doing too much?  Would it be so bad if she handed in sloppy work?  Would the teacher say anything to her?  Can I trust the teacher's expectations?  How do I get my children to be intrinsically motivated?  Does that just happen over time?  Is discipline taught or practiced?

A teacher friend of mine once said to me that teachers can't do all the work -  that the children whose parents participate in their education tend to be more successful that ones whose parents left them to it.  And that really in high school, when most parents tend to back off, is when children really need the most guidance.  But, she said, you can't very well leave them all through elementary school and then suddenly show up interested when they start high school.  So right now, I am just laying the groundwork.

Honestly I never thought I would have to go through school all over again when I had children.  And the irony that I was somewhat of a slacker student is not at all lost on me.


  1. Hm... I left a comment here the other day, but looks like it disappeared. I think I said that it was really up to the teachers to make homework stick. Homework is for the child, not the parent. Helping out when requested is ok, but more than that is too much in my book.

    Having said that, it's one of those fine lines that we tend to skip back and forth across.

    1. Thanks for coming back and reposting it. I was hoping you'd have something to say about homework. It is a fine line isn't it? I try to go by the mantra that it's my job to make sure she has the space and tools to do the homework and the rest is up to her. It doesn't often end up that way though. I'm going to have to work at letting go a little and see what happens.