Sunday, September 20, 2009

Homework success!

My girls have been back in school for a month now, and already, I have had my share of homework battles with my 4th-grader. The cajoling, the pleading, the warnings and threats, and the need to stop everything else in the household in order to stand over her so she'll do it.

I came into this school year with higher hopes and goals about homework. Over the summer, I read The Case Against Homework and the author's blog, Stop Homework. I felt armed with knowledge and tools to ensure that every weeknight during the school year wouldn't be filled with tantrums and tears (sometimes mine) in getting the homework done.

And then school actually started.

The first couple of weeks went fine, as the girls were excited to be back in school and started the year off right. It was the changes in schedules that started the downhill slide. First, there was the first PTA meeting of the year. Then, my older daughter was performing at an event that kept us out very late one weeknight.

Setting aside the irony of the PTA meeting taking time away from the kids, those little changes threw our whole schedule out of whack. My 4th grader was now giving me attitude about getting homework done. She wasn't doing nearly as much as she could at her after-school program, and leaving too much to be done at night.

I would say over and over to her, "Riley - homework!" and she would settle down and start to do it. Then I would turn away to make dinner and the next time I looked over, she would be tying a shoelace to her chair! Or going to sharpen her pencil. Or the bathroom. Or petting the cat. Yes, anything but doing her homework. I would scold again, louder and louder.

Once she finally completed all of the math and any other writing assignments, it was time for the really fun part. The reading log.

In most of my daughter's schools, 20-30 minutes of reading is required a night. I'll buy them whatever books they want to accomplish this. I'm an avid reader myself, so at first, I thought this was great.

But, as so often happens, as great as the concept is of ensuring our kids read every night, it doesn't always go as planned.

My heart sinks when I see my girls roll their eyes in frustration at having to read. Yet, when I take a step back and try to see it from their point of view, I understand it. They've finally gotten through all the rest of the homework, and now they have to read for an entire thirty minutes! There is no way to accomplish this assignment quickly. It has to take a set amount of time.

They save it for last because they don't want to take the time to do it at their after-school program, which I also get because it's their time to play with their friends there. (Not to mention, it's nearly impossible to find a quiet place to read.)

Now, they both will pick up a book and read for enjoyment's sake, so I know they don't hate reading. And sometimes they'll get lost in a book. But they say they hate reading. Because they've been forced to do it for 20-30 minutes a night for their scholastic careers.

A few nights ago, I finally decided to put my original plan back into action. I'd avoided doing so because my fear was being seen as the "uninvolved parent." The parent who didn't take their child's education seriously enough. The parent who just wanted to fight the system.

That's really not my intent. I want to think of my daughters' teachers as my partners in education. I want them to get the best education possible. Most importantly, I want them to actually like it.

So I wrote a lengthy email to her teacher, stating much of what's in this post. Riley came home that night and said that from now on, the nightly reading will be 15 minutes. And she read. And when her 15 minutes were up, she kept reading until the end of the chapter.

Originally posted on LA Moms, Sept. 20, 2009.

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