For the last few months, my son has been drowning in homework! He’s in second-grade. As you may know, he has dyslexia and ADHD. But, his „disabilities“ are not the problem. As a matter of fact, our targeted interventions and his hard work have put him very close to „grade-level.“ He hates writing (the process of forming letters, not composition). Otherwise, he’s progressing nicely.
Nonetheless, he’s drowning in homework.
This past weekend, he had a three-day weekend. (In theory, anyway.) We spent three hours every day on homework. By Sunday afternoon, I was crawling out of my skin! I thought, „Geez! I am supposed to help other parents AVOID this mess! What advice do I give others that I am not taking for myself?“
I literally grabbed my „Homework Help for Parents!“ CDs and read through the table of contents. This is not the first time I have done this. Two years ago, when my son was in kindergarten, I had to re-orient myself with all of the lessons I learned over many years as an in-home tutor and homework coach.
I am happy to say that I identified our problem areas and corrected course. I rediscovered my „Night Before School Tool“ and „Chip Clip System.“ Things began to hum again.
Perhaps it would work this time, too. I ran through the list of topics on the CDs. I mentally checked each one off of the list. „We are doing that…and that…and that…“ I thought.
„So, what am I missing?“ I thought to myself. Parent Guilt is an ugly thing for all of us, but this was more than just Parent Guilt. Since this is what I do for a living, Professional Guilt set in. „Oh my gosh! Why would anyone trust me if I can’t help *myself *out of this…“
I WAS SUDDENLY STRUCK BY A LIGHTNING BOLT OF THE OBVIOUS…
We simply have too much homework! It seems ridiculously obvious to me now.
But, when emotions are in charge -especially Mama Bear Emotions – logic takes a back seat…by a long shot! I was trying to be a responsible parent and teach/model/encourage the same level of responsibility in my son. In the midst of that, however, I missed the clear signs that we were well beyond age-appropriate levels of homework.
I have been coaching parents and students through homework for over 15 years and have spoken with hundreds of parents about homework battles. I can usually trouble-shoot any homework problem, as long as the parent *really* wants to resolve it. „Too much homework“ is the trickiest problem to solve!
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my son’s teachers. I am forever grateful for the way they embrace him with compassion, yet hold him to high expectations. He highly respects both of them and I don’t want to compromise that in any way.
THERE ARE ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY
I must tell you, when I was a classroom teacher, I had NO WAY of knowing if the workload was too much! I assigned what I *thought* was reasonable. The homework simply came back to school, complete and accurate.
One day, when teaching third grade, I received a note from a frustrated mom. She wrote, „I help Bailey with her math homework every day, but it is tearing her apart! She gets overwhelmed and very upset…“
I had no idea!
In class, Bailey held it together. She did „fairly well“ on tests. I didn’t know that „fairly well“ was not good enough for her. She put pressure on herself to answer every homework question perfectly. She didn’t understand that homework was „practice.“ It was perfectly okay if she got some questions wrong. She could learn from mistakes.
So, I assured Bailey and her mom that I did not assign homework to make them miserable. If homework was causing tears, then it was time for them to wrap it up. Bailey’s mom could write me a note and we would trouble-shoot from there.
This experience made me realize that parents accept homework without any question. From talking to all of those frustrated parents, I know how reluctant they are to complain about homework. We don’t want to teach our children that they can „complain“ their way out of responsibility. We can struggle and fight to no end with our kids over homework, but all the teacher sees the next morning is a perfectly complete assignment.
Inspired by Bailey, I created a platform for regular homework feedback. I added a cover sheet to my weekly homework assignments. The cover sheet asked parents to rank their child’s understanding of each assignment, on a scale of 1-5. I also included a space for parents to write a brief homework summary each week. This feedback was incredibly valuable!
STOPPING THE CYCLE
With Mama Bear Emotions running the show, I forgot all about those homework lessons I learned in the classroom. There I was, fantasizing about banging my head on the kitchen counter because that seemed less painful than coaxing my son through another minute of homework.
I didn’t actually do it, but somehow, my sense was knocked back in place. I finally realized that I was so wrapped up in modeling „responsibility,“ that I neglected to model „boundaries.“ I immediately put a halt to homework for the night.
I then wrote a polite note to his teachers: „Please excuse Mark for not completing his homework. We spent nine hours on homework this weekend. Homework is now sabotaging our family. We need a break!“
I am not sure how his teachers will respond, but I do know this… They are kind. They are compassionate. They are mothers. They most likely had no idea how much was on our plate. I have no reason to believe they will respond with anything but kindness and support.
A couple years ago, I shared specific guidelines for age-appropriate homework AND supporting research. You can find the article here.
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