I have forever been critical of homework. I feel it puts undue pressure on children to keep doing school work even after spending six and a half hours a day, five days a week at school - doing school work. It also puts pressure on already harried parents to supervise, enforce and - for many parents - all but do the homework themselves. A lot of homework these days includes activities and procedures parents are not familiar with, as well.
When my boys started school, I had the attitude that homework was just rubbish and they didn't need to do. I was constantly hearing from their teachers about the boys lack of completing 'reading charts', and it annoyed me because my husband and I read to the boys all the time - we just didn't read readers. We talked to them about letters and sounds and reading all the time, we just didn't fill in the forms. I felt that I could fill in the form even without the boys reading at all, and who would know.
I didn't want to be the person who coaxed and cajoled my tired children into doing even more school work after a full day of school work, and besides I had a baby to care for as well and dinner to make and various other things to be doing...
Later, I decided that since the boys chose to go to school (it was really their choice, and they didn't go until they chose to go - which for Erik was 7.5 years of age), then they also chose all that went with school - including homework.
I started to take on a role I'd previously eschewed. I became the person who asked if they had homework, and then encouraged them to do it because it was part of the 'give and take' of choosing to go to school.
This year, with Erik and Lukas in grades 5 and 4 respectively, homework has taken on a new meaning. On the one hand I have a child who 'just does it'. He gets his homework done in a timely fashion. When I have to sign off on it, I check it and it's neat and orderly and pretty much what I would expect for this child's level of education and ability. This child received an award recently for always handing his homework in promptly and doing it with care. With this child, homework is a non-issue.
On the other hand, I have a child who consistently hands in homework late. This child has multiple panic attacks each week because he has spent his afternoon and evening after school playing or watching television or [this week] playing on his iPod. When, after bedtime, his brother gets back up and quietly does his homework (which I know about but ignore), this child plays with Lego or draws.
I asked him to show me his homework, and he showed me a poster debating reasons for or against charging money for necessities as water and food. As an example of an argument against charging for water he'd written things like 'for vegetation' and 'because the sea creatures would die without it'. At that point the homework had to be handed in that morning, so I signed off on it knowing he had not understood the exercise - my heart sank for him.
Last night, after dinner (having said all afternoon that he had no homework to do), he said he 'just had to do a couple of calculations for some maths homework'. I asked to see it and discovered the exercise had required him to buy food from the school canteen for 30 people with a budget of $400; he had to provide snacks, a meal, a dessert and drinks.
He had ad hoc written down various quantities of food and calculated their cost. For example, 22 pizzas, 17 bottles of water, 45 mini muffins - trying to chip away at the $400 until he'd spent it all. He had three kinds of drinks, three kinds of snacks, and not enough meals for everyone.
I said to him we needed to sit down together and redo the homework, and this time we needed to start from the beginning by identifying the objectives of the task. As we talked he decided he needed to first and foremost feed 30 people four 'serves'. I suggested to him that to keep everything fair, everyone should have the same food, so he would need to buy 30 of each item.
We organised a list of 30 meals, 30 snacks, 30 desserts and 30 drinks. We found we still had plenty of money left, so we added a salad to each meal and a fruit salad to each snack. He decided he wanted the people to have a choice between jellycups or ice-cream for dessert, so we halved the number of jellycups we'd put down and added in 15 ice creams (which cost the same). Only when he was happy with the lists, did we then move on to laying it out on his project sheet, writing it out and decorating it.
Some might suggest I did his homework for him, but he made all the decisions, he worked out all the costs, he wrote and decorated it all. He did the homework, all I did was provide a method.
I am thankful he has homework because it provides me with an opportunity to identify the areas he might be struggling with at school and to support his teacher by giving the child some one-on-one assistance to learn skills which will help him organise his thinking.
I believe my mum has ADHD, and perhaps her dad had it, too. Mum intuited that as I child I needed to be taught methods for organising my thinking. I distinctly remember her teaching me methods for doing all sorts of things and I continue to use those methods today, so I am thankful to her for that (even though at the time I thought she was painful, true story!).
I am thankful for the opportunity to do this in turn for my child, who like me, struggles to find a straightforward approach to homework and other activities, who is intuitively brilliant but struggles to make his thinking clear to others - I know how he feels and I'm more than happy to support him in developing knew skills to build his self-esteem, even if it is through homework exercises!
I am linking with Kate Says Stuff for Thankful Thursday.