Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Homework and being able to relate...

Oddly enough, I find myself being thankful for homework this week.

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.

A few days ago, he brought me his correspondence book from the teacher. I had repeatedly asked him if he had homework (I do it every day) and he had told me he'd done his grid homework, but as it turned out according the messages in the correspondence book, there was other homework he hadn't done that he knew he had to do.

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 am also thankful that I recognise how he thinks. I am more and more certain he has ADHD because I recognise his challenges as the same challenges I had at school. For him, he intuits a big picture, but he can't describe it clearly because he only sees small parts of it at any one time. He can intuit an outcome, but not describe the process by which he reaches or reached the outcome - mostly because that process is not organised, it just kind of springs out of nowhere at him all disjointed and out of order.

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.


Sarah said...

Wow, you could have been talking about my children (other than the fact that I have a boy and a girl).

My children deal with things in a very similar way. With one getting on with thing quietly and the other finding distractions.

The only difference is that I hadn't even considered the possibility of ADHD. In my ignorance I'd assumed this went hand in hand with disruptive and/or aggressive behavior which is not something we have ever had a problem with. So while I wouldn't assume my son does have ADHD there are some striking similarities and using some of the techniques you've suggested may well help him.

A really interesting post, lots of food for thought.

Sif Dal said...

Sarah, of course, there is a lot more to ADHD than just difficulty with homework, but for peace of mind it is quite easy to find a preliminary checklist (not a diagnosis) online.

It is a common misconception that ADHD means a child who is aggressive. It is also a common misconception that all children with ADHD are hyperactive in a noisy sense. When I was diagnosed, I was 18 and at the time my diagnosis was for ADD. It used to be the case that a differentiation was made between was made between Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - these days everything comes under the umbrella term of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

However, there are two recognised versions of ADHD and one is hyperactivity in the commonly thought of way, including much running around, jumping of things, loud voice etc. The other is more hyperactivity in a fidgeting sense, where a child or adult may not be zipping in and out of rooms or yelling all the time, but simply cannot sit still, is always fiddling, tapping, jiggling their knees, twirling their hair and generally being distracted - these people (like me) would find it physically torturous to be made to sit completely still for any length of time because their muscles want to twitch all the time.

Some children with ADHD are actually very quiet, but constantly of with the fairies - daydreaming, not hearing when people speak to them, seeming to listen but coming out with non-sequators in conversation because their mind has wandered of to a new, more exciting thought.

The images so often portrayed of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder on sensationalist television especially in the 1990s, were also of children in stressed households (not solely stressed by the child's behaviour, those this would exacerbate other stress) where parents had difficulty coping with children's behaviour and resorted alternatively to abuse and neglect, the parents had often given up through lack of support and understanding.

Also ADHD can be a co-diagnosis with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) in a certain percentage of cases - which I can't remember now, but think it was significant number like 8% of cases, and I would say (just guessing here) that a lot of the "terrible" cases of ADHD were also cases of children with ODD.

My son, who I believe probably has ADHD, is very impulsive but less so than when he was younger (still moreso than a lot of children his age). He is not overly aggressive. He can be aggressive with his younger brothers in a big brother way, but never with anyone else.

A lot of ADHD symptoms fall away in adulthood because as a person with ADHD matures like any other person, but they remain easily distracted, forgetful (due to distraction) and to some extent impulsive. Adults with ADHD are still more likely than their peers to take risks, for example, and seek thrills. In adults though, this is often viewed as being youthful, LOL!

In my labels (under the header of my blog), you can find more information under ADHD.

Kate said...

Could be talking about my kids too. Miss Prep girl is reading at me the second she walks in the door. Mast Grade 2 hides his homework and often doesn't do it at all.

I am where you were on that one LOL. I actually don't feel it is at all appropriate for 6&7 year olds to have (boring, repetitive and uninspired) homework and I've made my thoughts well known on this score. In fact quite often my boy will do a written piece on something of interest to him just for fun, and I get him to take that in as his homework instead.

We actually got a survey home just tonight about it as they are reviewing policies. They'll know my anonymous reponse by what I have to say lol!

I'm so glad you've been able to work with your son to help him in this way though, so valuable to both of you.

Thanks for linking up Sif :)

Sif Dal said...

Kate, I've said it before, I have personally noticed a lot of similarities and overlap between ADHD and ASD. Not saying either of our boys have either, just saying I have noticed similarities and overlaps... I still believe homework is unnecessary in primary school, but for me, it has allowed me to see first hand boy is struggling...

Kate @ Puddles and Gumboots said...

I too am not a fan of homework. My prep (PREP) student has started bringing home sight words and readers this term. I'm sorry (WTF?) but isn't prep meant to be play based?

I do the same with my oldest with his homework when he is stuck. Hep him develop a system or a plan for how he's going to do it and then let him go for it xx

Sarah said...

Thank you for this Sif. I'll look into it more carefully.

My son has always struggled with verbal and written tasks which he finds hugely frustrating. In turn that can lead to others (including me) becoming frustated with him which just exacerbate the problem.

Any techniques or strategies I can find that will help him with this will be great.

Thank you again for the info. x

Kate @ Our Little Sins said...

My children are too young for kinder, let alone school so we are nowhere near homework age but I do think about it a lot. I want my boys to have time after school just to muck around and play. Life seems so serious these days at so much earlier an age. But I love the idea (indulge me here...) of sitting with them to do it. I didn't get help with my homework when I was little, because my brother needed help more than I did,and I would've loved someone to sit with me and talk it through. There is definitely merit in it when it helps highlight problems.

Love that you turned what was a negative into a positive.

MyFiveMinutes! said...

Hi Sif, I have just had a big read through your blog here :) My partner is ADHD and i found your points about yourself and from your mother interesting. i am sure my father in law has it as does both my brother in laws (my MIL is a saint)
One of my sons is now fully medicated ADHD it has been a really tough road to go decide with him to medicate but a year down the track the results have been nothing short of great for him. homework for instance no longer takes all afternoon and no longer leaves me in tears trying to help him get it done whilst trying to look after others and evening routines.
The biggest thing for him has been hes able to concentrate long enough now to get the instruction from the teacher. hes able now to focus on an idea even if he still needs help to get it done. he can understand and not just forget or "dont care" about all his work. Dont get me wrong though he is incredibly intelligent and now gets top of the class results. (my partner,brothers and FIL are also all very sucessful in their careers)
My novice tip for anyone who hints of ADHD is to help your child find something of interest to them like cars for instance and try to relate everything to it maths -eg. counting multiply, drawing, reading books about them, going to shows about them. find what interests them and it makes it so much easier for them to focus for that little bit longer.

Thanks Sif for a intersting morning read :)

adhd symptoms in children said...

I am envy with parents here that looks great dealing with their children ADHD, at first I am very ignorant how to cope with my child suffering ADHD, but I am struggling now and doing my best with.

Good Job!