When parenting for mature children first, and academic achievement second – we need to take a different approach to homework than what is commonly accepted. It becomes more about teaching strategies and less about content. Grades are even less important…
There are two keys to this approach the first is onus of responsibility; the second is the actual management of homework.
As contradictory as it sounds, mature children are dreamier and more ‘childlike’ for longer than those who are early into independence and show signs of sophistication before adulthood. They’re likely to still be playing with dolls, climbing trees, building huts and digging in the mud well into their teens. Their imaginations are vivid and their imaginary life is rich and varied.
To encourage our children to be these less sophisticated creatures I believe that there need not be any homework from school until at least the age of nine and then very small amounts until around 14 or 15. I believed this when I was teaching too – in case anyone was wondering. I am also passionate that there are no extra activities (except swimming which is essential for survival) until about the same age.
When homework does start, parents can get a little blurred about where the onus of responsibility lies. The education of our children is a team effort with teachers and parents doing equal shares (but in different ways and perhaps on different topics). Ideally parents teach manners, life-skills like how to clean the loo and cook, social strategies and skills, money management, sex info and moral behaviour etc. (Incidentally, anything to do with measurement can be taught very badly in schools as you can often have each child in a class at a different ability level – therefore, measuring, weighing, telling the time, giving change from money etc are good areas to cover at home.)
It is a good idea to work out what aspects of your children’s homework is actually useful and then decide not to do the rest. This is where you take the onus of responsibility – to make that judgement and to stand strong. With homework which is required to be done, and you can see that it’s useful – it’s your job to make sure that it is done. Again that responsibility is yours.
It is NOT your job to do the work for your child. That’s their onus of responsibility. This approach means we are not bothered by the grade they might get – but about what the child is learning (and not just the academic outcomes!!). Experiencing and/or choosing to avoid the consequnces of bad grades and or detentions matter. If we want them to be self-motivated.
Homework after a full day at school is a big ask for children who have behaved themselves and worked hard for their teachers. Letting off steam and relaxing into their own world is vital…if we are raising children with maturity as our first priority and academic achievement second. Balancing these biological drives with societal expectations to complete their homework is our job.
Strategy One: Know What is Expected and make sure you’ve spoken to the teacher about anything you’re not happy about before homework is due in. And stick to your guns! Then make sure your child also properly understands what is expected. Tee hee.
Strategy Two: Chunk. That is – learn or practise three multiplication tables a day; complete half the Reading requirement as soon as you can and the other half in bed as part of the bedtime routine. Teach spelling words in patterns of two or three letters: fr-ie-nd; an-o-th-er; fa-mi-ly; be-ca-us-e. Break projects into small pieces and the time frame available into the same number of sections and complete one bit at a time. 10 minutes of piano practise done well is more effective and useful than three hours done poorly.
Strategy Three: Multiple Approaches – with Spelling or Multiplication Tables you could… write the words (equations) on the pavement or driveway and have them jump from word to word…use the chunking approach above…have them draw the words in fingerpaint or washing-up liquid in the bottom of the sink. With Reading they could read to different people or the family pet.
Strategy Four: Time Management. If you have car time, use that for practising spelling words or multiplication facts. Use dishes time or bath time or bedtime. Ask them to plan which three things they’re going to do first, when they get home – while on the way home.
Strategy Five: Time Limit Have a time limit when it has to be completed each night. Our boys are in the door at four o’clock and have to have homework and chores done by five o’clock. If they’re home later they still have an hour, but only an hour. For every task not completed they have a consequence of something both boring and practical – a bucket of weeds from the garden; a box of pinecones collected; so many pieces of wood in from outside; vacuum one room etc.
Strategy Six: Expect to Remind Them Dreamy children, younger than 10, who are destined to be mature adults are not good at time management or remembering what needs to be done. Until the age of 10, remind them without blowing a valve. From 10 on, have a list for them to refer to but expect they will lead by saying, “Can you test my Spelling now?”, or, “When’s a good time to hear my Reading?” But do tell those older kids that’s what you expect to happen first!
Strategy Seven: Be Useful If they are tired, jolly them along. If they need help finding information, find it for small children and point older children in the right direction. Write out Spelling words on the concrete for them. Create check-lists. etc
Strategy Eight: Check they Understand Multiplication is about groups of things; understanding what they are Reading is essential – otherwise they’re just parroting (close the book and have them retell what they’ve just read you – if they can’t they aren’t making sense of what they’re Reading) ; Spelling can often be about patterns; content of research can be written for Ph.D students – don’t send your child to school with information if they can’t read it and clearly retell the content.
Strategy Nine: Never Ever do the Project for Them Teach them how to research and work alongside them; explain that less is more when it comes to presentation; collect the stuff they need to make that robot – but don’t do it for them…I don’t care how bad it turns out.
Strategy Ten: It’s About Strategies Not Content or Grades The key argument given for homework is that it teaches children to manage time and work alone; it’s meant to reinforce work done at school not be new content. Mature children who have been taught these strategies repeatedly over many, many, many years can break large tasks into manageable pieces, and do manage their time and work alone well as adults. They know some things just have to be done and generally do them. For those for whom parents have done too much or too little, life away from home can initially be both chaotic and overwhelming. For some it can be chaotic and overwhelming for a long time.