by Claire Marketos, from www.inspiredparenting.ca.za
My 9-year-old daughter is in Grade 4 and a bright child. I thought that with my 10 years experience as a teacher, homework would be a breeze, just as it had been in junior school, but it posed an interesting challenge for me. How was I to get the balance right?
Both my daughter and I want her to participate in extra murals, sport, choir, ballet, whatever activities appeal to her. Extra murals are a fun way for children to try different skills, unlock a passion, learn to work as a team, become more independent, and develop self esteem I try to restrict her extra murals to not more than one an afternoon, and no activities on a Friday.
In addition I give her about 30 minutes a day when she comes home to relax, 'veg out', have a snack and watch T.V. I have also been very strict with myself in scheduling up to an hours free play every afternoon where I chase my children outside to just be children. Play is vitally important for all children, and highly neglected in today's busy schedules. Play allows children to de-stress, express their feelings, be creative, innovative, and get in touch with their soul. So how practically was I going to fit in nearly two hours of free time, an hour or two of homework, bath, dinner, and time with dad between 3:30 and 8:00pm on an average day? With some days providing less time to work with.
Instinctively most of us parents cut down on free time, after all the children can play on the weekend. But that is not the point. I felt that my children and I needed more balance in our lives. I knew this because I would feel stressed the moment I took out her homework book. What another cycle test next Friday, in addition to your Afrikaans and English spelling tests, and your table test. And you still have to finish your Science worksheet, and don't forget your dance for drama next week, and piano practice. Surely I never gave my children so much homework when I was a teacher?
But then I stopped to think and in all fairness to the teachers and schools who are trying to give our children the best possible education, I probably gave my learners exactly the same amount of homework when I was a teacher, without questioning whether homework is in fact necessary and whether children wouldn't actually be better off pursuing their own interest and relaxing in the afternoons. In addition, I used to test my learners because that is what teachers and schools do. I never stopped to question if in fact I could asses them in other ways. So most of our teachers are doing what was done to them and what they were trained to do. Until teachers are given the freedom to question the status quo and be more creative and independent, we are probably going to have to do homework and study for tests.
However, practically doing homework and studying for tests in grade four is very stressful and time consuming and I found myself moaning like every other mom I spoke to. How are these poor children supposed to do all this work, and on top of it all my daughter wants to do well, she wants to be "Top 10", which I know requires extra effort, and still find time to play. After all they're still young. Then I did some calculations of my own. Tests only count 25% of the total mark at our school. She has various subject strengths, so let me see how we can manage our time better, and not spend time doing stuff she actually can do.
Here are some of the things I have implemented which have reduced stress around homework significantly, and allowed us to manage her homework time better.
Firstly I decided that I was no longer going to stress about homework. This resulted in her being more relaxed. I decided we would get all the homework done in an hour and a half, and that the emphasis would be on getting it done and not worrying about whether it was perfect. Good enough is fine for me.
What is good enough? For the school 40% is a pass so surely that should be good enough, and she could get that without studying. In fact what I realized is that she probably could get 60% without studying. But we do want to teach our children to do well and feel the satisfaction of getting a wow result, so we will spend some time studying.
I spoke to her about the fact that for us as her parents it is not important for her to be top 10. Remember everything your child does is to please you. I talk very honestly and openly to my children trying to give them a broader definition of success. There are very successful adults who never did particularly well at school. In no way do I encourage laziness or complacency, and I teach them a strong work ethic, i.e. you have to work hard and try your best at all times, but it is important to put a cycle test into perspective with regards to their entire school career, and life, so that it does not become an unpleasant and upsetting experience.
I then identified her strengths. She's pretty good at spelling and tables, so instead of doing these daily, we only do them twice a week in a busy week, and if we really are running out of time we only do the difficult words and tables. I limit her reading to a few pages on a busy day, after all studying is reading. Spelling, reading, and tables now only take up a small amount of time, which leaves us plenty of time to work on other assigned homework, and cycle tests.
This is the moment I really had to be creative. Once I was familiar with the study material I came up with fun ways of making it part of our week. I spent a lot of time teaching her how to make colourful mind maps, and she is catching on and will soon be able to work independently. Chatting about the study material in an informal way and making it relevant to daily life is a fun way of studying. The other day she was holding a highlighter and said, "Studying is actually quite a lot of fun, and the best part is when I get my test back with a good mark."
I am very strict about stopping when our hour and a half is done. Tomorrow is another day and we can continue then. I also never make her redo anything. It is good enough the first time. The only time she redoes anything is if she is working in rough for a project, and then it is very rough. Don't make your children redo homework. They hate it and seldom learn from the experience. Remember homework is usually an extension of school work, and provides the children an opportunity to practice learned skills. Teachers are definitely not looking for perfect work.
I also took time to teach her some relaxation techniques like deep breathing and positive self talk. Don't encourage your child to get up early and study the morning of the test. This leads to unnecessary anxiety. Sleep is more important.
I have taught her how to utilize free time at school to start her homework. After all my husband's comments on homework were, I used to do all my homework at school!
At this point in time she has completed all her assigned homework, neatly on time. She has also obtained excellent marks on all her tests. We have managed to fit in play time, and she is much more relaxed and getting to grips with study techniques. Some days we do not get it right, but then I make a point of getting the balance right the next day. After all I really want my daughter to grow up to be a happy, successful adult with lots of energy and passion, and not an exhausted, stressed, and burnt out adult who no longer cares. That ultimately should be every parent's homework, and something to keep reminding yourself of.
GOOD LUCK! Homework can be challenging but it can also be fun.