The Dreaded Homework

Now that E. is in Grade One, his teacher expects him to spend some time every night on homework.

If the homework were busywork, I’d have no trouble at all if E. refused to do it. I don’t see the point of homework for homework’s sake.

What E. is sent home with, however, is undeniably useful. He gets two new French readers each week, and a list of dictée words every fortnight. In the first round of homework he also came home with a huge stack of French sight word flashcards, which we’ve largely ignored because he knows almost all of them already, and some number cards (now up to 0-40), which we’ve also largely ignored because the goal is for the students to be able to recognize and write from 0-100 in French by the end of the year and E. can already do this.

Books, however, are useful, as E. is a very fluent reader in English but doesn’t yet read well in French (unsurprisingly). And the dictée, although more rigid than I would like to see at this stage in his learning, is invaluable because he is motivated to do well, which means he will sit most nights and practice writing out the words. Writing is his weak spot. He’s improved so much since last year already, but he finds it hard and his hand gets tired and it can be a battle at home to get him to write anything.

The recommendation from his teacher was that homework should take a maximum of twenty minutes a night. I’d say most nights we spend closer to ten minutes- E. doesn’t need more at this stage.

What we’re really trying to instill, of course, is the homework habit- the expectation that he will be able to sit and concentrate and do some work, because as he gets older the homework will come and it will start to be more important and it will start to require more effort from him.

I’m trying to foster a growth-mindset (rather than a fixed one). When E. came home with a perfect score on his first dictée, I didn’t tell him how clever he was or how smart he must have been. I told him that he had worked hard for two weeks and his hard work had paid off.

E. is easily frustrated and a perfectionist. When things get harder, as they inevitably will, or when he makes a mistake, as he inevitably will, I want him to be able to recognize that this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Before the first dictée we talked about what he should do if he realized he’d made a mistake but his teacher was on to the next word (go to the next word and come back later to fix it if he had time) and what he should do if he couldn’t remember how to spell a word (skip it and start fresh with the next word). To be honest, I was hoping he would make a few mistakes so he’d have room to improve and see that he could still do well even if it wasn’t perfect.

Overall, I have no problems with the homework.

Trying to figure out WHEN to do the homework? That has been painful.

After much trial and error, we’ve finally realized that the only time where it makes sense for E. to do homework is after dinner. He sits at his little table in the kitchen and Q. reads him dictée words or quizzes him on numbers while cleaning up the kitchen. I’m upstairs, putting P. to bed, because she still nurses and needs desperately to reconnect with me after I’ve been at work.

It’s not an ideal situation, as Q. didn’t learn French from a native speaker and has a less-than-perfect accent and pronunciation (as he would be the first to admit). In particular, Q. feels very uncomfortable reading the books with E., as he doesn’t want to lead E. astray.

But when we tried to do homework before dinner, when I was available, it was a constant battle.

E. was tired and hungry.

I was tired and distracted.

P. was tired and hungry and wanted my attention.

By the time I’d settled in after getting home from work and we’d said goodbye to our nanny we usually had thirty minutes (at the most) before I needed to do something about dinner (and this is with Q. largely prepping and cooking the dinners ahead of time on the weekend).

E. didn’t want to sit down and concentrate on homework during those thirty minutes, and P. most certainly did not want me sitting down with E. to concentrate on homework.

Someone always ended up yelling.

Someone always ended up crying.

P. could often be counted on to do both.

Finally I realized that a) E. is six now and can go to bed significantly later than P. does with no ill effects and b) it’s so much easier for him to concentrate when he’s no longer hungry and he doesn’t have his baby sister glued to my chair leg screaming, or yanking his papers off the table and throwing them on the floor if she’s sitting on my lap.

Most days I still listen to E. read (in both English and French), but it’s easier for everyone involved if the rest gets saved until after dinner.

How does homework work at your house (or how did it work when you were a kid)? Any tips or tricks for us newbies?

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2 Comments

Filed under Brave New (School) World, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Grade One, Siblings

2 responses to “The Dreaded Homework

  1. Mary

    We get the homework a week in advance, so my kids generally do all their homework for the following week on the weekend. It makes weekdays so much easier.

  2. Turia

    That sounds blissful. E. gets his homework two weeks in advance, in that we get the words for the dictée then, but it’s the sort of work that needs a little bit done every day to make sure it’s retained.

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