Homework Woes

Crying (Photo credit: Onion)

I’d like to begin this post by saying I don’t think my kids have too much homework.

I am trying to figure out a way to get my 7-year-old to do her homework without dissolving into a whiny puddle of tears. She has about 3 pages of homework a night; one math (two sided) and one reading comprehension (one sided); plus, she’s to read to herself. It doesn’t seem like an excessive amount. It should probably take a half hour at most for the written stuff, plus 20 minutes or so of reading.

Homework is supposed to supplement what the kid learned that day, but I wonder if my youngest daydreams during every math lesson. Yesterday, the homework had problem one done– I think they did it in class. She didn’t do it right, though. I had her read the problem aloud, and it was like she was reading gibberish to herself. She had absolutely no clue what to do. It was not dissimilar to dozens and dozens of problems she’d done in first grade.

One problem went something like this:

There are 14 mice outside the cave. 7 decided to go back inside. How many are still outside? Write a number sentence and draw a picture to show what happened.

She acted like I’d asked her to build a rocket to the moon. “I can’t do it!” she wailed.

Now, neither of my girls enjoy math very much. My eldest was rocking math until about 3rd grade, when they began having timed tests and she began freaking out. In that class, all the girls simultaneously had trouble with the timed tests; the boys loved them. The teacher worked with the girls to overcome this odd confidence problem. In middle school, she hated math. Her now-late aunt, who was a teacher and then a tutor, helped her quite a bit, and she ended up getting As. Now she’s in geometry, and after a hiccup the first day, says it’s not that hard. “I can do it. I just don’t like to do it,” she says. Too many steps.

I don’t recall my son ever having much of a math problem. He had problems in messiness, in shoving papers in his folder, in composing stories and essays that were two sentences long when they should be at least two paragraphs. His breaking point always came when I forced him to re-write things, because I couldn’t read them. And though I made him do that, his handwriting is still kind of terrible, unless he is writing something important, like a letter to Santa Claus, or a list of the world’s deadliest sharks.

I’m not naturally good at math myself. I barely pulled a C- in geometry, even though I went to tutoring all the time with the teacher; he ended up passing me out of pity. In retrospect, I think that might be have been largely a teacher issue, because he really could not teach me how to understand it with my artsy brain.  In college, my biotechnology professor told me if I ever had trouble in a science class, to tell my science professors, “Hey, I’m right-brained. Can you explain it differently?” to force them to change their teaching method.  Which I did, with some success. (He also told me I was smart enough to go to medical school if I wanted, and that being right-brained would in fact be a unique asset that would help me approach problems differently than everyone else. The comment served to increase my confidence exponentially, since I’d always thought of myself as “bad” at math/science). If a kid’s not getting it one way, then perhaps a different approach is needed.

Sometimes, people who are really great at math cannot understand why everyone doesn’t understand it. For example, my husband invariably begins every math-help session with my eldest with, “Okay, this is easy.” Which always puts her on the defensive. “It’s not easy for me!” And it’s not.

And then, there’s “new math.” Occasionally, a kid brings home a strange new way of problem-solving everyone is supposed to use; and the kid just doesn’t understand that way, but understands the “old way.”

And sometimes, the math worksheets (from a book provided by the district, not the teacher) are poorly written, even in the young grades, leading parents to all take to Facebook and say to each other, “Anybody know what this means?” That happened last year, during first grade math.

Anyway, we’ve tried various things with Little Girl. Doing the math right after snack, shortly after we get home. Doing the math after dinner. Me helping her, Cadillac helping her. Going to bed really early in case fatigue was the culprit.

She pretty much breaks down no matter what. I don’t think it’s beyond her. I think she just doesn’t want to do it. I’m curious to know about her classwork– if she’s doing it on her own, I wonder if she has any idea of what she’s doing, or if she just stabs randomly with her pencil at the answers? If she has no idea how to do it, and the teacher asks if anyone needs help, does she keep her mouth shut?

Last night, we made her go to bed at 7:25. Her usual bedtime is 8. She always takes a long time to go to sleep. If she’d actually sleep at 7:30, she’d get about 11 hours (WebMD says her age group needs 10-11 hours). I think last night she ended up falling asleep around 8:30, and she seemed much more chipper this morning. We’ll see how she is with her homework today.

I’m hoping this homework situation will get better with time. I know I’m not the only one with a recalcitrant homework-doer.

There are some bright spots. This year is the first year she has gotten up without complaining, done what she was supposed to do, and gotten all her stuff ready for school without stopping to play or having to be reminded to put her socks and shoes on, or brush her teeth. When she and her siblings get home from school, they unpack their lunchboxes, put the ice packs in the freezer, and put away their stuff without being told. Her older brother and sister do their homework now without reminders, managing their time appropriately. (So far this year, anyway, knock on wood).

Does anyone have any suggestions for homework help?

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

5 thoughts on “Homework Woes

  1. Positive re-enforcement is the only way I know. Children live up to their image and if she believes that you believe in her ability, it will encourage her to keep that image. If she does ANY work that comes remotely close to acceptable, tell her how pleasantly surprised you are, brag about it to others while she’s eavesdropping, and the next day remind her of it again. “What happened here? You are suddenly so good with this! Maybe you’ve grown up?” Our problem is, we whine right back at our whiny kids. We show disappointment, even frustration, and soon a vicious cycle forms. Remember that in a child’s world, you are the God they don’t want to disappoint. Bribes are good some of the time, but ultimately, your approval is the highest reward. And my final “motherly” advice is that you must never, EVER, compare your children. She is unique and how well or bad her siblings do should not come into this equasion. Happy subtraction!

  2. So far this year, three things are working well for us:
    1) Doing homework as soon as we walk in the door. The only detour is a quick trip to the bathroom. Snacking sometimes happens during the homework, but basically we’re building on the momentum of school, rather than stepping away from it and then coming back.
    2) I think part of why my (6-year-old) son is into getting his homework done is that he knows that fun can follow: 30 minutes of video games, drawing…. But homework has to get done first.
    3) A few weeks before school started, a started a chart of things that needed to happen every day. Most were already happening, but I also used this opportunity to add to my son’s responsibilities. This structure appeals to his personality; I recognize that is not the case for all kids. One of the items on the chart is to do his best work. My intent was school, but he has extrapolated that to homework and getting it done.
    Given that she has gotten the hang of the morning routine and the other aspects of the afternoon routine, I would guess that your daughter is on the verge of winning the homework routine as well. Celebrate what she’s managing so far and slowly add to it.

    1. Thanks! Something else worked too. The teacher said if your kid doesn’t want to do it, then don’t stress. The kid will get a consequence the next day. Most kids don’t like that, including mine- she’s been choosing to do it over the past few days.

  3. I can only sympathize. I had trouble with the old math so forget the new. Our daughter is going through the same thing. I think the boys manage their work better than her daughter does. Not sure why. She’s more the dramatic type.
    Whatever – I’m hoping for everyone with kiddies in school that they soon get into a routine and life gets better.

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