Can we all agree: Homework is HELL. Raise your hand if you DREAD it each night. Can someone please explain why the volume of our children’s homework directly impacts OUR stress levels? And when did THEIR homework slide onto OUR plates?
There was a reason we didn’t have homework back when we were kids, till we reached fourth grade. BECAUSE KIDS CAN’T DO IT ALONE before then. And as we know, anything a kid’s gotta do, mom’s gotta be sitting right next to them, doing it too. Which is why our school weeks look like this:
Mom’s Homework Log:
Monday: Beginning at 3:30pm, wrestle your first grader to the ground in preparation for his “twenty minutes” of reading. Fight the urge to scream, “FOCUS!!” one thousand times in a row as he interrupts himself in the middle of every other sentence to tell you something about a TV show. Fight the urge to storm out of the room after one hour. Plan for this twenty-minute task to take a minimum of two hours.
Tuesday: If your third grader has two math sheets comprised of twenty basic arithmetic review problems and five word problems, how many times will she cry, “This is baby work!” followed by, “I don’t get it! This is too hard!!”? Trick question! Receive an email from her teacher alerting you that she hasn’t handed in her math homework for the past three weeks, which you then find crumpled under her bed. Vow to redouble your homework espionage.
Wednesday: Your first grader has had two weeks to complete his “About Me” poster, complete with extended family photos, family tree and a personal essay. It is due tomorrow. He mentions it at 8pm.
Thursday: Your fifth grader’s science fair project is due in one week. While he has actually completed the written assignment all by himself (hallelujah!), the project will require supply-gathering trips to the Petco, Home Depot, Staples, Michael’s Craft store, Target, and the local dump. Complete these trips today during the brief window your preschooler is actually IN school, between 9am and 11:15am.
Friday: Relax! It’s Friday! Of course there’s that report on the Federal Reserve due for your third grader’s Great American Economy Pageant next week. Better get crackin’.
Saturday Extra Credit (not!!): Today you are snack mom for your preschooler’s nut-free, processed sugar-free playgroup at 10am. You are also snack mom for your daughter’s gluten-free, dairy-free basketball game at 2pm. You are ALSO snack mom for your son’s nut-free, sugar-free, dye-free, gluten-free, soy-free scout meeting at 4pm. This will require making stops at four different grocery stores before 9am. No problem, you’ve been up since 5am!
If you thought homework was horrible the first time around, just wait till you’re stuck doing it with your child. I am quite sure that if Dante had had a third-grader when he was penning The Inferno, he’d have included Homework Projects With Kids as one of his many circles of hell.
So there we were last week: me, my third-grader and his unfinished project on North America. And we had 48 hours to pull it all together. Do you spot the looming catastrophe here? All righty, then. Let’s begin.
It wasn’t like we were starting from scratch. Fletcher had chosen to focus on foods of North America – ironic, given that I’m universally known as the botcher of even box-mix brownies. But Fletcher had insisted that food was his thing, so we’d planned a giant poster-board “menu,” highlighting the variety of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts eaten throughout North America. We’d already sleuthed out the foods; all we had to do was Google some pictures and paste them on the foam-core board.
“Why do I have to do three countries?!” The protest whining began just as soon as we sat down. “Abby’s just doing one country. Why do I have to do three?”
Hmmm. I wondered. Did he have to cover three countries? I reread the homework assignment. According to the project description, which had been sent home no fewer than three times and emailed, the assignment was on “North America.” And one country did not a continent study make.
“I don’t care what your friends are doing. Your assignment says, ‘North America,’ and we’re going to cover North America,” I said, a little sharply.
Suddenly I was sounding remarkably like my mother. Echoes of her – If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too? – reverberated in my brain. Jeez … third-grade homework and the realization that I’d become my mother ? Now I understood why surveys* showed that martini consumption spikes on the weekends before homework projects are due.
(*Data set = Norine and Jessica and their mom friends.)
To continue reading, please hop on over to Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog where I’m guest posting.
Back when my son was in kindergarten, he’d come home every so often with an assignment to put together a poster presentation on a country in whatever part of the world his class was studying at the moment. And naturally, given that my then-four-year-old thought “baby sounds” not “search engine” when he heard the word Google, his homework assignments became my homework assignments. That year, I learned an awful lot about Japan, Egypt, Chile and Spain. (Did you know Spain produces 44 percent of the world’s olives??? Fascinating, right?)
Still, it wasn’t like my kid had been asked to do a Power Point presentation on Spain’s debt crisis. Poster presentations are fairly easy, drawing on those essential kindergarten skills: cutting, pasting, scrawling with crayon. So even though I was some forty years removed from kindergarten, I had some inkling of what the end product should look like.
With our very first poster project, we spent the day Googling pictures of Spain’s geography, architecture, food and culture. Or rather, we spent twenty-four hours in ten-minute increments over many, many days. Because that is the average attention span of a kindergartener who is not playing Clash of Clans on your iPad. Because if the project were to play Clash of Clans on the iPad, he’d have the whole damn thing knocked out in five minutes. But since teachers do not send kids home with instructions to play Clash of Clans on the iPad and then report back, it will take approximately three weeks to do a poster project that would take the average adult about twenty minutes to assemble. And that’s if there’s a paper jam … and you need to run to Staples for more ink cartridges … and you get a flat tire en route.
Being that the kid was (hello??) four and had never put together a poster presentation before, and because I have a black belt in perfectionism, the trick in pulling together this poster project would be to gently guide my child in the process of cutting out the images and gently make suggestions about how they might be artfully arranged on the posterboard … without shoving him out of the way and slapping the whole thing together myself.
I wanted him to do it by himself. And I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be the best damn poster presentation on Spain the kindergarten teacher had ever seen. I wanted him to do a GOOD project BY HIMSELF. (You’re probably beginning to see the sinkhole threatening to open up under this situation.)
“HE needs to do it! Let HIM do it!” I scolded my husband when the poor man attempted to position some of the images on the poster himself. My husband then slunk off to clean the pool filter, something he knew he would not get yelled at for doing, because I have no idea how to clean the pool filter and would never think of cleaning the pool filter anyway.
But then it was me hovering, micromanaging the project, basically doing exactly what I’d just chided my husband for doing. Yes, I wanted my kid to do it by himself. I just wanted him to do it by himself MY WAY. (Did somebody say … sinkhole?)
“Here, Sweet Pea, let me show you …” I started, trying to be helpful … and move the damn project forward.
But by this time, my son had reached the end of his four-year-old attention span. I couldn’t blame him. I was so tired of sitting and watching him cut out the images to paste on the poster board — because a four-year-old will only cut out images if you remain sitting right next to him at all times — that by the time we reached the actual arranging and pasting stage of the project, I would have willingly spent the rest of the day watching episodes of Thomas The Tank Engine (the most inane children’s show this side of Barney) if we could just, for the love of Pete, wrap this up already. But while I couldn’t budge him forward, I also couldn’t walk away either. The kid clearly didn’t want to work on the project anymore … he still refused any and all entreaties to give it a fucking rest.
But every attempt to demonstrate how he might organize the material was met with resistance. There really is no stubbornness like four-year-old stubbornness. He was young enough to outlast me … and old enough to know he was driving me bat-shit crazy doing it. He pouted that he didn’t know what to do … then insisted that he didn’t want my suggestions either. In an act of supreme frustration he swept all the photos that had been laid out on the poster into a pile on the floor.
I thought back to the teacher telling me this would be a fun project … and wondered what she’d been growing in her garden and smoking.
There was no fun. What there was was prodding. There was cajoling. There was bargaining. There was angst. And anger. There were tears. There was yelling. “JUST GLUE THE PICTURES ON THE EFFING BOARD!!” It is possible that scissors were thrown. (Safety scissors … more like dropped … with force. Still, it was definitely not my proudest moment.)
But eventually, every picture was stuck on the poster board in some manner, and there was crayon scrawl beneath, identifying what each photo was. It was … a mess. It looked exactly like a four-year-old did it: crooked pictures; jagged cutouts; illegible crayon scribbles.
Walking into school the next morning, I caught another mom carrying her kid’s poster into the classroom. It was a poster about Holland. And it was beautiful. I stopped her just so I could admire it. There were photos from a family trip arranged, just … so. A candy wrapper from a bar of Dutch chocolate. Postcards of windmills. Pictures of tulips. It was a work of art.
For a moment, I had an ugly flash of poster envy. Now why didn’t my kid’s poster look like THAT?!? This was gorgeous. So tidy. So perfect. So … oh! I really can be a little slow on the uptake, especially before I’ve finished my first gallon of coffee. And then I realized: It was so perfect, it was highly unlikely that her kid had had any part in its assembly. Maybe he’d had some buy-in on the concept. Maybe he’d chosen the country. But Mom had done the heavy lifting and curating and pasting. And it showed.
I looked at my kid’s poster again. It looked exactly like a four-year-old had done it. And it made me proud.