This is my first post for Mothering and I am excited to be among the ranks of so many thoughtful writers and parents! I have been working to help families slow things down for several years now and I look forward to sharing some of my ideas and inspirations here! As we are well into our first quarter of school here in Austin, TX, I thought I’d share a topic very near and dear to us right now: homework.
For those with kids in school, this time of year can feel a lot like jumping rope. There might be a few missteps at first, but once you settle into the rhythm it can feel truly like just a part of who you are – the schedule becomes routine, the lunches are packed without much discussion, the teachers are by now almost old hat and the homework comes home with whatever regularity it will have for the rest of the school year. In some households, the jump rope rhythm is relaxed and steady and there is a sigh of relief over the light homework load and the lack of intrusion on family life. In others, it is intense and can feel like a furious game double dutch with near daily tantrums by both parents and children alike for the mountains of homework carried home on the shoulders of a school age child. It all depends on your school and your teacher. So, what’s a family to do? Short of opting out, (which we have done on occasion for a year or two here and there and which we will surely do again) there are many things parents can do to make sure that the homework load does not overwhelm and that family life stays intact. The important thing to remember is that you do have some control and that homework does not have to take the place of connected and fun family life.
- First get to know your child’s teacher. Volunteer in the classroom if you can so you can understand his or her techniques.
- Write a note to the teacher explaining the situation. Let them know that you are interested in academic success, but you believe there is learning to be had in playtime, downtime and family life as well.
- Work with the teacher and have a discussion about the goals behind homework. They may be doing it because it’s all they know. Share your views.
- Ask for alternatives to the existing workload. Instead of math worksheets, you’ll double a recipe. Instead of spelling lists, you’ll read out loud. Whatever you can think of that will minimize busy work and maximize connection, do it.
- Talk to your school about shifting to a school-wide homework policy. Some schools have done it with great success.
- Write out your family’s definition of success. Only you can define what it means for your family.
- If your teacher insists on pages being completed for a grade, do the homework with your child or even for your child. First make sure they know the material then send your child out to play, to bed or wherever you think they need instead. If a teacher won’t listen to reason, take homework into your own hands.
- If there is a teacher who is truly not getting what you and your family need at the detriment of learning and family connection, inquire about switching classrooms. And remember, you’ll get more with honey than vinegar.
- Remember that you are the parent and you actually know what is best for your child. Though a teacher may have good intentions, they can’t truly know what every child needs.
- Ask for homework packets that can be completed over the course of a week and are more likely to be done with the ebb and flow of family life.
- Make all homework a family project. Sit together and work cooperatively. We work cooperatively all the time as a society – do it with homework too.
- Forward articles to your teacher about how homework hasn’t actually been proven to be effective.
- Find other parents who feel like you do and start a revolution in your school. Write the principal. Involve the PTA. Make a change.
- Choose a different kind of schooling if you can. Homeschool. Co-op school. Start a charter. Look around for options that work for your family.
- Accept a lower grade. So what if your 4th grader gets a B instead of an A? Does it really matter at the expense of all else? College won’t be looking at early elementary grades. Allow the wholeness of the child to take precedence over a grade on a piece of paper. I know this isn’t easy, but think about it, if we teach our child that grades are the priority, what are we teaching them about intrinsic value?
- Ask other parents about homework loads in their classrooms. Find the teachers that match your family’s philosophies. Request them for upcoming school years. Do this each year. Though many schools have no request policies, if you are involved in the school you can often work your way in through good solid communication.
How is the homework load in your school? Does it change from teacher to teacher? How does it affect your home? What are some ways you’ve made homework work for your family? What’s one thing you can do to make it work better for your family? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
About Bernadette Noll
I am a mother of four, partner of one, author, crafter, lover of thrift stores and outdoors and co-founder of Slow Family Living and Future Craft Collective. My book Make Stuff Together was published in Spring 2011 by Wiley Publishing. My next book: Slow Family Living; 75 ways to slow down, connect and create more joy will be out in March, 2013 from Perigee Publishing. Read more at Slowfamilyliving.com