The school year has started, and with it the scourge of every family in every school in this country in this decade: HOMEWORK. And I'm once again having trouble knowing how much to let go of my kids and let them fail.
M is now in 3rd grade. His teacher gives each week's homework packet the Friday before. Nothing is ever due Monday (town policy). He has about 15 minutes per night of work from the packet, plus assorted long-term projects, plus 15 minutes per night of reading. His teacher does not penalize for late work. His Hebrew teacher requires 15 minutes x 4 days/week of Hebrew reading. M is tackling all this with aplomb. Just this morning, for instance, he saw that he had 2 hand-in pages due tomorrow, realized he wouldn't have time to do both this afternoon, and completed one before leaving for school. Yay, M! his big issue is taking responsibility for getting the work home and back. But he's learning. For years, I've been training him to unload his school "comm folder" (communications folder) as soon as he gets home and put his to-do homework in a binder in our Homework Station. He's finally getting the idea that knowing where stuff is helps him get it done. Next will be learning the value of the assignment book his teacher gave him, but I think he'll understand it by the end of the year.
For him, I need to watch carefully to make sure I'm not doing stuff that he ought to do himself. I'm working on some checklists for him to follow on his own.
K is now in 4th grade. Her teacher gives homework the day before it's due, which is a school-wide policy for this grade. Nothing is ever due Monday (town policy). She has about 30 minutes per night, plus 20 minutes per night of reading. Her teacher penalizes students who turn in work late by docking them of 5 minutes' recess. Her Hebrew teacher requires 15 minutes x 4 days/week of Hebrew reading. Her viola teacher requires 10 minutes x 5 days/week of practice. Unlike M, K is not coping well. She did all right last year with the same load M has now (often working at the last minute), but she did it by keeping the information in her head, not in her assignment book. Now it's too much. She usually tells me she can do it all, but it's clear she can't. She doesn't empty her comm folder, doesn't store longterm work in our Homework Station (OK if I didn't find it on her floor), doesn't use her assignment book and therefore forgets to do assignments, doesn't read all the way through instructions. Her work comes back with red marks: "Needs more study." "Parents, please review with her."
I am wracking my brain about what to do. Remember, she is the kid who can't clean her room without my standing there redirecting her from distractions. To put it optimistically, she's late in developing organizational focus.
-Should I direct her more to help her internalize some organization? She objects, resists, stalls--and frankly, I don't blame her.
-Should I leave her alone so she can fail? Ordinarily I'd say yes, but how would this help? She'd be unable to dig her way out no matter how much of her recess were docked.
-And how much am I judging her even though I don't want to? I have never had trouble keeping track of work, not even as a child, so she can always see I'm surprised that it's hard for her. And no, I can't ask Peter to spell me because he's never home.
What I am doing:
-Using consistent times for homework, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
-Making sure my students aren't hungry or thirsty before they start.
-Allowing breaks: 10 or 15 minutes' work, then 10 or 15 minutes' play.
-Maintaining a consistent place for homework and keeping it stocked with supplies.
-Not allowing either child to work in his or her room. K gets distracted there, needs an adult's presence to keep her focused. We don't allow M to work in his room simply for parity.
-Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake time.
-Allowing reading time after they go down for bed.
-Rewarding work done with extra play time. (E.g., if K finishes her work before M's soccer practice, she may play on the playground there.)
-Not doing any homework one day a week (Saturday, our Sabbath).
-Modeling good work habits by making routines and following them, doing my homework in front of my kids, showing pride in what I accomplish, and never ever ever complaining about the workload.
What I am considering:
-Teaching K to use her assignment book like a series of daily checklists. This would entail teaching her not to lose it or leave it around and, yes, to write all her assignments in it. Once she has internalized this routine, I could let go of it.
-Helping K (and M, for parity) choose an assignment book of her own that she won't want to lose. Maybe there are features she needs that her school-supplied one doesn't have. (She would LOVE an electronic one. I have to ponder that.)
-NOT checking her comm folder for what she has to do, so I don't worry that she hasn't done it. If I go this route, however, I would risk going head-to-head with the teacher, if she were one of those who blames the parents. (Hunh. Maybe I have some stuff to work out about arguing with teachers.)
-Hiring a local teen to help her with homework on occasion, to give us some air.