Oct 7, 2014  •  In Claire, Entertainment, Motherhood, Parenting, Personal

Homework: A Family Effort?

Claire should technically still be in preschool. However, because she missed her school’s cutoff age by only a couple of months — and because she’s a bit advanced for her age — her teachers recommended she start pre-kindergarten early. (As such, she will always be one of the youngest kids in her grade.)

And one of the things that distinguishes preschool from pre-k is the inclusion of homework.

I was shocked when they handed us her first assignment at pickup. Really? Homework for 4-5 year olds? (At the time, Claire was only 3.) I don’t remember getting homework until the 2nd grade!

They also included a sheet of instructions in her homework folder which included things like:

  • Establish a scheduled time and quiet place for homework to be done. All written homework should be done at a desk or a table. Define a carpeted work area for card games.
  • Complete all homework. Remember, we are trying to lengthen your child’s attention span.

And this gem:

  • Be sure homework is neat. Perfection is the final goal.

WHOA! I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit demanding, if not unrealistic. (Or perhaps my expectations are too low?)

Additionally, the instructions clearly state that they fully expect the parents/guardians to help with the children’s homework. “Supervision is very important,” they emphasized. Not only do they want the parents to assist with, check over, and (if needed) correct the children’s work, they also instruct us to ask the children related questions to the assignment to help reinforce what they’re learning.

claire_aerin_homework

As you can see in the photo above, Claire usually doesn’t have a problem with homework time. If anything, she enjoys it! (I think she gets this nerdy quality from her mom. ;-) ) And little Aerin, who is currently at a stage where she wants to copy and do everything that her big sister does, also insists on doing work when it is homework time. For this reason, I have looked up simple worksheets online and printed them out so that she can also “study.”

Claire gets 1-3 sheets of homework every weekday. And it goes without saying that she needs my help with all of them, and rarely gets everything correct on her own.

Will this be the norm from now on? Am I expected to help my children with, and check over their homework for the next 14 years?

“Your parents never helped you with your homework?” J asked me. “Mine always made sure I completed my homework, and checked it over to make sure I did it correctly.”

This is brand new territory for me! My parents never helped me with schoolwork, not even large take-home projects. Nor did they ever have to remind me to do my homework — I just knew that it was something I had to do, and did it unquestioningly.

If anything, I believe this taught me independence and responsibility.

Is homework from a very young age — homework that is expected to be done with the parents and checked over by the parents as well — another byproduct of the helicopter generation? Or is it just a better, improved method of education?

I may never know the answers to these questions, at least not for a very long time. All I know is that Claire’s school seems to be doing something right if she was able to read and write simple words at the age of 3½ — and who am I to question them?

Additionally, homework is a good way for me to keep up with what my daughter is learning at school. For example, I didn’t know that she knew how to write her own name until we did her first homework assignment together. And a lot of times, I am surprised by what she knows. Like her homework assignment from yesterday:

claire_homework

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to do that just as I had turned 4. 

7 Responses to “Homework: A Family Effort?”

  1. Her handwriting is better than most adults!

  2. Emily:

    Sorry for the wall o’ text that follows.
    I will say somewhat cautiously that I think helicopter parenting–and the expectation thereof, which makes it more difficult for individual parents to resist–is in part a mindless, dogmatic application of some good practices, combined with what I see as our society’s growing (and secret) hatred of failure. That’s a pretty grand, sweeping statement, and I don’t have any stats to back up my perception that this has been getting worse, which is a trap I usually hate to see people fall into. However, I think I can say that, whether it has changed or not, right now, we love to talk about how failure is a good thing, and that the most successful people fail multiple times along the way, but we don’t really like or accept failure. We also talk about how successful people usually rejected some system or multiple systems along the way, by dropping out of school, for instance. But if you choose to stay in that system–you know, the one we say you’re supposed to stay in–and you fail, how are you supposed to grow from that? Topics are covered in a week or less, every homework assignment is graded on the first attempt, and you might get one or two assignments on a topic before you move on, often with no chance to improve the incorrect work. It rewards people who already know the topic before they get there (which is a waste of time for them), and the other people fall farther behind. Because of all that, it’s incredibly important not to fail. Teachers and parents become afraid of pushing their kids to try something new, because if they fail they will see themselves as failures. It’s not that we’re too worried about self-esteem; it’s that our self-esteem is too bound up in achievement and external recognition. All this is to say that, at Claire’s age, it would be difficult for her, or any kid, to get good grades on homework and in school without you teaching her good study habits, which is a lesson that many kids don’t know how to learn on their own even at later ages. I was one of those, and I really could’ve used at least a couple of years of my parents showing me how to manage my time and organize myself. But it begs the question, should she be graded on it right now? Or should it all be practice for her to learn to do it for herself? I think we lose track of what kids are supposed to be learning at any particular age. We focus on the topics and forget that the real lesson is how to study and learn in a classroom setting, at least until much later. As the years pass, it’s natural for parents not to recognize their kids’ growth and realize it’s time to step back because the next lesson is for the kids to do it for themselves. And of course, it feels like the stakes are high, because that’s not what the schools think they’re teaching, so there’s no room for the kids to learn that, and no single homework assignment they can hand out that’ll teach them that. It’s just like how you pointed out that, by watching her do homework, you realized she could answer questions you never expected her to know.

    Anyway, I think that, as she gets older, if the schools continue to require that level of involvement from you, you’ll still be able to teach your own kids that the responsibility is theirs, and sign their assignments or whatever is required to pacify the teacher, without undercutting the message of self-sufficiency. I agree that this is really young for homework, and I think there’s a sense of urgency, like, “There’s so much to teach them, we have to get started too early for them to study on their own, so then we’ll just make the parents take responsibility for it,” rather than, “Let’s wait until they’re old enough to do this for themselves.” That may or may not be a mistake, I don’t know. They need to learn to work through a certain amount of frustration, but then some frustration is too much and teaches them that they can’t do it or dislike it, so I don’t know what the right balance is. And I can’t imagine how it’s going to be with my daughter, since I was very distractible and disorganized and needed more help than I got, but she’s very independent and might do better if we just keep our paws out of it. But maybe I still won’t be there for what she needs from me.

  3. kim:

    Wow! That seems like so much! If it works for her and your family great! She looks to be doing a great job! I hope it helps her blossom into a studious young lady! Great penmanship! Go Claire!

  4. Jessica:

    As a 5th grade teacher, I ask parents to check that homework is complete, but not necessarily correct. For some students, it’s as simple as asking them / reminding them, and for certain students, I ask that parents actually look over the page and ask their child some questions if they think it was hastily done.

    I imagine the preschool is just trying to establish good habits early on, and so that as she gets older, she will be able to do it more independently. Educators sometimes call this “scaffolding” or “gradual release of responsibility.”

  5. Bree:

    I’ve noticed that my nephew who is in 1st grade gets a lot of homework too! I think the expectations for young children are a little overboard. I know what you mean about never getting help with my homework, my parents just expected me to do it and I did. It will be interesting to see what my daughter will have to do when she’s finally school aged!

  6. Brigid:

    Hello. Just got around to catching up on my emails, so this is a few ekes back now. However, since I teach preschool (at a private PS- Grade 8 feeder school) I thought you might like to hear my PoV.

    Frankly, that sounds like a bit much. (The “perfection” bit makes me especially nervous.) We do assign homework in my Pre-K (late 3- early 5 y.o.), but it’s not graded so much as it’s practice for the kids and I’ve never assigned more than 2 worksheets, and never every day. At that age, it’s not the academics so much as the socialization and skills that are important. They need to be able to follow multiple simple directions, interact with adults and peers, have developed fine motor skills (writing and cutting) and good gross motor skills (throwing and catching a ball, hopping).

    There are common guidelines that have been nationally developed that you can look at to see if you think the school might be demanding too much. For my grade level, they should (academically) be able to count to 20,, recognize and write 0-20, recognize letters, be able to write and identify letter sounds, know colors and shapes, know basic time concepts (days, weeks, months, seasons), know simple patterns, cut on a line, and write their first names. Personally, I ask my kids to go as far as they can, so some can do a bit more. It is uncommon to repeat the year unless the child is very young (like some of the kids I have who are turning four while with me) or they need more help socially or developmentally. Kindergartens are prepared to take students who have never been to school. In fact , some states don’t even require education until the first grade.

    This is going to sound a bit strange from a early learning educator, but a lot of children even out around the first or second grade regardless of whether they attended preschool or not. I didn’t go to preschool but my brothers did (I was reading at 4 so they sent me straight into kinder) and the salutatorian of my high school didn’t go to preschool either. A lot of it depends on you.

    At that age, they need your help to finish any work they get, but you can allow her to attempt the work with as little instruction as possible and only necessary corrections (if possible, guiding her into figuring out what is incorrect “I’m not sure if 4 really comes after 2, why don’t we count together and see if you’re right?” And the like).

    I’m a bit if an odd case because I was very high achieving, but my parents did something between what you and your husband experienced. Unless it was something my parents needed to participate in, I did homework by myself. If I needed help or got confused, I would ask questions, which is how my parents taught me how to study and use textbooks. They’d check over my work up until middle school, maybe. After that they just asked what I had on the way home and later someone would ask if I’d finished it all. They were my practice audience for presentations as well. I was an AP student at one of the country’s top high schools (on scholarship), and my brothers’ went to the boys school, so my parents must have done something right. (They also encouraged me to try to sort out my issues with teachers first as well; definitely not helicopter parents.)

    I hope that wall of text wasn’t too much or too confusing. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have or clarify anything I said.

  7. I think the homework culture is out of control. Is a full day at school not enough learning? Seriously, there aren’t any hours in the day left for children to be children. I’m not looking forward to this, even though I know it’s coming.

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