Family / Kids / Parenting

Winning the homework wars

i hate homework copy As the end of winter break inched closer, B-Man asked, “Do you like it better when we’re in school or when we’re out of school?”

“I love spending time with you guys,” I answered, “and when you’re home, I don’t get much work done. So I like both.”

But I left this part out: I was dreading the resurgence of The Homework War.

While B-Man completes his homework independently and with no fuss, getting K-Bird to finish a simple assignment is like trying to dress a Tasmanian devil in a onesie.

I knew I needed to change that dynamic, so in those last days before the school bell rang, I did some reflecting and I devised a new plan:

1) Check the attitude.

Truth: I hate K-Bird’s homework. Those Xeroxed worksheets waste time and energy we could spend on something rad, like exploding homemade volcanos, searching the local creek for wildlife, or taking a walking history tour to learn about important events the kids won’t hear about in school. My opinion about K-Bird’s worksheets results in a “let’s just f*ing get this over with” attitude that helps nobody at the kitchen table. I need to find some value in the homework or at least lose the bad attitude before the kid develops one, too.

2) Stop looking at the clock.

Yes, K-Bird has the skills to finish his work in twenty minutes or less. But the personality type? Not so much. Back in his preschool days, it took K-Bird approximately 45 minutes to walk from the parking lot to his classroom because “Look, Mommy, someone dropped glitter on the ground! Let’s pick it up! and Mommy, there’s a butterfly, let’s follow it through the garden!” Back then, I curbed my frustration over his slow progress by changing the name of our task from “getting to the classroom” to “enjoying quality time together.” What if I tried that now? In fact, this could be the driving force behind K-Bird’s antics. When homework time begins, he finally has my undivided attention, so he’s going to hold on to it for as long as he possibly can, stretching a ten-minute math assignment into forever with his perpetual interludes of song, dance, and storytelling. Let’s see what happens if I stop clock-checking and start connecting.

3) Get creative.

Focused on making homework time into quality time, during the first week back to school, I have employed tactics like these:

Singing instructions in a Dick-Van-Dyke-impersonating-Julie-Andrews falsetto
Requiring K-Bird to pronounce certain words in a Martian voice while reading aloud
Ordering hip hop dance breaks
Replacing the word “marbles” with “farts” in word problems
Offering true and specific, eye-contact-accompanied praise for work well done
Redirecting K-Bird’s attention, as Darth Vader
Discussing math concepts via a hand puppet (a.k.a. my hand) named Puppét

Though I’m not watching the clock anymore, I suspect the new tactics use up about as much time as arguing with K-Bird about how long the homework is taking, but they’re way more fun. And bonus! I have found the value in homework: shared laughter! When in doubt, make it funny.

4) Breathe.

As dedicated as I am to practicing this new approach to homework, sometimes I want to punch the part of me that says “Oh, come on! You can make this fun!” right in her chipper little face. When that happens, I breathe. Full, deep breaths, rising from my belly, expanding into my chest, all the way up to my shoulders, and right back down again. Three times. When I’m done, I look at K-Bird’s face, which is undeniably darling, even when it features cross-eyes and a tongue displaying chewed up pretzel mush. Taking three breaths presses the reset button. It works (almost) every time.

How do you handle homework in your house?

FEATURED PHOTO CREDIT: CHERYL DUMESNIL

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4 Comments

  1. I would like to invite you to come and do homework with my 12 year old. We have all the algebra tears over here.

    • When algebra strikes, I plan to trade tutoring hours with a math-savvy neighbor whose kid needs writing help. (Please let there be a math-savvy neighbor whose kid needs writing help!) But I’d be happy to provide some algebra jokes, if that would help?

  2. #3 !!! Brilliant ways to make homework fun! I share the same hatred for those boring, uninspired worksheets, but turning them into improv sounds like an activity we both would enjoy.

    I’d also like to recommend phoning a friend. When we have to come up with 8 words that end in “dge” or “tch” we FaceTime VQ Managing Editor Vikki! We BOTH appreciate playing word games with friends.

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