Parents and Homework

My twitter buddy @noahroth tweeted that he got 100% in his third grader’s recent homework assignment. I wondered if he would get a sticker for his hard work.

Apparently Noah and/or his lovely wife spend 2 hours a night helping their third grader with her homework. Which is ridiculous! (No offense Noah or Mrs Noah). If there is to be 2 hours of homework for an 8 year old – what will it be like in 4th or 5th grade? There are other kids in the family – will they be needing help for 2 hours while the 5th grader needs 4 hours? We do 30 minutes a night in third grade, and I am just supervising from the kitchen.

Recently my littlest had a project that he had to do. He is also a third grader. He had to make a travel brochure on the Pacific Ocean. He didn’t want my help at first. So I stood back. He put something together, submitted it and we got a note back from the teacher that she had wanted it more detailed and inclusive of this type of picture and that type of description. Please redo.

Bear in mind, this school prohibits its children from going on the Internet. So I had to do all the googling and printing of appropriate images and simple descriptions of algae and sharks and treasure chests and volcanoes. The child himself was having nightmares that he wouldn’t do a good enough job the second time around, so I knew it had to be something that he would be proud of.

One Sunday afternoon we sat together at the dining room table for over two hours – cutting and pasting, colouring and writing. Granted he had to do all the writing and the pasting and colouring, but I had to supervise. After the first hour he wasn’t talking about failing any more, and close to the end of the work he told me how much fun he had with his project and if he had known that it would be this much fun he would have had me help the first time around. He was so excited to take it in to school the next day.

His teacher let me know that his project was awesome. They each got to present their brochure in class and he did well. (Actually I was told “he did good” but, well, you know…).

What lesson did he learn here? That when Ima does homework he scores high, and when he does it on his own he is a failure? Or that because everyone else has their parents “helping” them with their projects, he needs to have Ima help or else he cannot have a hope of passing?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved spending this time with him, and I wouldn’t let him write about anything he didn’t understand and couldn’t explain back to me – but when I was 8 I had to do my own homework and was graded accordingly.

He has homework every night – I am there to explain to him if he needs it (usually its Math and we all know I cannot help him with that) or to help him with his vocab words. I don’t do it for him – how do they learn that way??

17 responses to “Parents and Homework

  1. We often spend 2 or more hours on homework with our 4th grader. Mostly because of her, partly because of teacher. She is very difficult when it comes to homework.

  2. I am with you on that one a hundred percent.

    It reminded me of a project (I think it was 4th grade, but maybe 3rd, don’t remember exactly), when the kids had to prepare a float of some sorts, and my son also wanted to do it on his own. He is not the artsy type – and I am even less, so I certainly didn’t insist on helping him. What he did was very ugly, but he did it alone. His project was the ugliest of his classroom, and he could tell, but it was not graded, and it got the same prominent place in the exhibition as the others. Some other projects were so elaborate that I wonder how many hours some parents had spent on them, and also the cost of all the material that had been bought (my son’s was entirely made of colored plain clay or playdoe which we had in store, and I had always refused to go buy supplies at the last second like others do, because the school shouldn’t assume I can afford the expense, nor the trip to town, as you say, there are other children, and at the time I was still dealing with the worst of my other autistic son, there would be no room for me to drop everything to do errands for a “homework” project).

    I had praised my son for his courage to stand and recognize that his skills were certainly the best on earth, but he was certainly first prize in responsibility. We kept a picture of the ugly project before discarding it at the end of the school year, as a reminder of this unique skill that I praised in him. I am glad that the teachers weren’t ridiculous enough to grade or have the children re-do something that wasn’t perfect or flattering ego.

    Now, my son is in 8th grade, he still isn’t artistic and not very happy with the grades he gets in art, but at least he keeps on doing his homework alone and not involve me for his projects. Recently, they had some debate to prepare and he was fully prepared, because he had learnt how to research on his own, and he refused my help even though it was a topic I had well known. The beaming look on his face when he returned from class telling me that he did so well, was worth it all.

  3. I am trying to remember when and if I had help with my homework… Math for sure- where alot of frustration and crying ensued. Otherwise, we were encouraged to discuss our homwework issues, but would never have a parent give us the answer or do the work for us. Luckily, we were capable of doing the work. and if we chose not to, it was all on us.

  4. I don’t think parents who provide intensive help with assignments are really benefiting their kids. Sure, the kid will do well on the individual assignments, but at the end of the year, they won’t have learned as much as they would have if they had struggled through things on their own (and maybe gotten a few bad grades along the way). Then next year when the homework’s harder, they’ll need even more help.

  5. Oh kill me, I have twins who have just started school and a child going into second grade. What are my afternoons going to be like??

  6. My kids are in grades 9, 6 and 3. I’ve never done a project with them as you describe, and they’ve certainly not been asked to redo like that. My 11 y/o does sometimes have to redo things because he blew them off the first time, and he needs a lot of moral support in doing homework in general, but I don’t do it for him, ever. My 14 y/o is responsible for his own homework (and yes, he failed something this year for the first time ever, and it was an important lesson for him to learn). My 8 y/o happily cuts and pastes on her own, and whatever it is, it is.

    Luckily my kids are not prohibited from the Internet (what kind of school is this??), they know very well how to use it. What’s the point of having YOU go on the Internet if he’s not allowed on it?? BTW my kids go to a Jewish day school, in case you were wondering.

  7. Thanks for blogging about this, Hadassah.

    To clarify, my brilliant daughter composed every word of her paper, and earned her 100% in its entirety.

    She’s a brilliant storyteller, but she often loses her train of thought when forced to write legibly in complete sentences. So I sat with her, asking probing questions about the assignment, heliping her to look up relevant factoids in books and on the Internet, and typing every word she dictated on her own.

    In case it was unclear in a tweet of less than 140 characters, I wasn’t suggesting that she didn’t deserve her grade, but that the level of complexity of the assignment assumed parental involvement. Third graders aren’t equipped to do research. She had to work w/ a neighbor’s daughters to construct the accompanying diarama.

    I recently saw this post that I think really captures the evidence of what I meant:

    My daughter leaves the house for the bus 6 days a week at 7:30 AM, and returns at 4 PM four days, and 1PM twice. Her bedtime is 7:45. She needs to shower, and eat dinner, practice reading in English & Hebrew, and had additional homework one day this week in Math, English, and Homeland.

    And I’m complaining because I happen to be on vacation this week, but due to my work schedule the unfair majority of homework time is my wife’s responsibility, while she is watching 3 other children as well.

    Since no study has shown any benefit to homework, I’m a bit confused as to how it continues to be the cornerstone of the education system.

    • Noah, not that I don’t believe you, but could you provide some studies that back up what you said about homework having any benefit? I find that very difficult to believe. If I can’t spell “loquacious,” “sesquipedalian (I love how Google Chrome is telling me this word doesn’t exist!!)” or “acquiescence,” assigning them as homework for me to learn how to spell won’t help? Or learning how to apply math equations? Or any subject for that matter…?

  8. It’s annoying when schools give assignments to kids that are really assignments to parents. But I can easily see homework taking two hours in third grade. I have two third graders (plus a few older kids) and it can take a while, especially for one of them. He is easily distracted, and doesn’t always manage to finish his schoolwork in school — so he has to finish it at home. He can also be argumentative, so finishing the homework can take time. Plus, in a house of five children, there are constantly distractions and interruptions. So two hours of homework isn’t fun, but it is realistic.

    I will add that B”H this son is learning responsibility. He is learning that he is capable of meeting expectations. He is learning that when he gets an assignment he has to put in the effort and not just say “I can’t”. He is also learning the academic material itself. It’s clear to me that if I didn’t sit on his head to do his homework, he would learn that he is incapable and he wouldn’t learn the class material either. Sometimes kids learn more from success than from failure.

    I never do my kids’ homework. I won’t type up their book reports either, because then I would automatically correct their mistakes (spelling, grammar, disorganization, etc.) and they won’t learn anything from that.

  9. Bear in mind, this school prohibits its children from going on the Internet
    So you had to go online and find the documents for him, which seems a bit pointless. The kids should have been given books and brochures to read and work from; it would have made more sense.

  10. I think that it is wrong of teachers to expect students to undertake projects that they are unable to complete on their own. On more than one occasion, I have taken teachers to task for assigning something that they have not been prepared for within the school’s framework.

    If you want the kids to learn how to master a certain skill or understand a specific subject, then it is your job as the classroom educator to ensure that your pupils have the tools necessary to go ahead and show you that they can do it.

    That being said, there is nothing wrong with HELPING a child when approached, as you did H. However, I sincerely hope that you explained to his teacher your surprise that she had expected the end-result to include images and descriptions available on the internet! How could she mark his project as awesome, if material was culled from the internet and the school’s policy frowns upon the web?! How did the other kids get their research material, if the school does not allow internet use??

    Since you obviously are not anti-internet but you send your kids to a school that disallows its students from accessing it, I am hoping deep down inside that he was sitting alongside you and learning how to research his topic. What they don’t know won’t kill them!

    BTW, what happens if a student turns in a project that contains internet-based content? Doesn’t seem like this specific teacher has any problem with it? Actually, she commended him for “HIS” work! Either the teacher doesn’t fit the school, or the staff doesn’t have the appropriate resources to offer its students. Does the school library still have encyclopedias, from which the kids can photocopy pictures? If not, then the administration needs to re-assess the homework that the kids are being given, so that they are not require to use the online services so readily available.

    I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the time spent together. It is fun collaborating with your own kids, however, I am still befuddled as to what lesson your son came away with from this experience. Will he simply assume that projects consist of two parts, beginning with a parent surfing the internet for him? I’d like to think that he realizes that the internet can be used for good things AND with the correct supervision, it is an amazing research tool. I hope that when he gets his next assignment, he goes and asks his teacher where to get the material from, so that he can be proud of his own job well done!

  11. I have the hardest time with both my kids and homework. I am a terrible teacher myself but when it comes to math I am hopeless!! I was never that good and they are definitely from my gene pool! Takes every ounce of effort for me not to do their homework for them

  12. I am the parent of a third grade boy and second grade girl. We spend about an hour on homework a night, occassionally more, which I don’t love but I can tolerate. It’s mostly reading, math and spelling. My son dislikes spelling and really struggles with it, but if we work hard enough at it, he can spell the words by the end of the week. So spelling can be time consuming and frustrating for everyone.

    In addition, they are supposed to do additional reading throughout the week, which I am supposed to sign off that they did. My daughter won’t do this independently, so that’s more time I have to spend on homework.

    But the projects are the ones I dislike most. Second grade project for both children is research the country of their ancestors, and identify a holiday and traditional food and then create a clothes pin doll in traditional clothing. The doll and a written report are supposed to be turned in. The assignment specifically states the project is a family project and the student will need assistance. No kidding! I’m still recovering from the burns from using the hot glue gun to make the doll’s dress.

    And book reports for third graders can’t just be a written summary of the book and why I liked it. No, it has to be “a necktie representing the main character” or “paper bag decorated to show how to celebrate the holiday” or some other project way of discussing the book. Maybe it’s just me and my son, but my son can’t do this kind of project without significant help – I actually read the book he’s doing the report on, specifically so I can assist him. My husband and I discussed this recently and we think it’s not really age appropriate, since we don’t think most kids this age are able to do the abstract thinking of moving from information in the book to representing it in the required project form.


    • I suppose, paradoxically, that they do it this way in order to make the book report “more attractive” to the children…

    • But the spelling: obviously he needs the exercice, so feel that what you are doing is beneficial to him and his spelling…

      Originally, this is what homework is for: practice at home in case you didn’t get it at school…

      • I work really hard to maintain the right attitude about how much time and patience spelling takes, but oh, is it hard!

        My daughter has 10 words a week, and can practice them in the recommend way each night in 5-10 minutes, and by the end of the week can usually get at 9 out of 10 correct on the test. The process works for her, no problem.

        But if I try to let my son do this, he can as 3 out of 12 right. His teacher will accommodate this by counting only 10 words, but the difference between 3 out 10 and 3 of 12, doesn’t really matter because both are failing grades. So we do extra spelling work each night, complete with frustration, anger, tears (sometimes his, sometimes mine). I’d really like to get an adjustment in his overall homework requirement, but the extra review work in other subjects seems helpful to keeping him on track.

        I’m hopeful that some day this will pay off in terms of learning to work harder than others when you need to, or learning good study habits now so that he won’t have difficulties in later grades, but who knows.

  13. We used to have required “extra homework” reading… I learned to forge my mom’s signature.

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