Monthly Archives: April 2013

These Are a Few of My Favourite Links – Homework

I question the value of homework, particularly at the primary level, and I am not alone. While I highly recommend reading the book The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn if you are really interested in this topic, here are some great articles and blogs to get you started.

Homework:

Opting Out of Homework (a template of a letter parents can give to their child’s teacher)

Homework: New Research Suggests it May be an Unnecessary Evil

Don’t Sign the Homework

There is No Homework in Finland

Homework: It Fails our Students and Undermines American Education (can apply to Canadian education)

The Homework Dilemma

Homework Stinks (a four-part series)

The Toronto Homework Policy: A Parent’s Perspective

More of my Favourite Links: Education, Parenting, Birth, Sleep, Breastfeeding

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Filed under education, favourites, in the news, reading, schools, teaching

Speaking of Homework…

A discussion on Twitter inspired me to put together some of my Favourite Links on this topic, one that really gets me going. But I thought I’d share our personal story too. Since I don’t have a classroom of my own (yet), I’m writing as a parent here.

I began to think about the value of homework when BB#1 started JK. His teacher occasionally sent home packets of worksheets, though she was always clear that these were optional, which I appreciated. For every kid like mine, who loves learning but resisted anything that smacked of being assigned, I know there are kids that actually love this kind of thing and probably completed every one of those sheets. For every parent like me, who thinks that all kinds of other learning takes place at home, I know there are parents who believe in early introduction and emphasis on academics, and expect teachers to assign homework.

My concerns about homework being assigned to four-year-olds prompted me to pick up The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, a writer I already respected for his parenting books. Reading Kohn not only confirmed my belief that homework at the primary level is really unnecessary (and potentially detrimental), he also chips away* at non-academic arguments for homework (e.g. teaching work habits). I won’t rehash his points here–if you are seriously interested in this topic, I suggest reading the book. I especially think educators should read it—it may prompt them to reconsider what kind of homework they are assigning and why.

Once BB#1 started Grade One, I was conflicted. He was now in French Immersion, and since my husband and I don’t speak or read French, it did seem to me that some homework wouldn’t be a bad idea so he could practice what he was learning at school. On the other hand, he was already in school more hours a day than he was at home (awake). The last thing he wanted to do was put in a second shift, and I couldn’t blame him. But nightly homework was given by his teacher, and so, having always been a good little student myself, I felt compelled to “make” him do it, despite my own reading and beliefs on the topic (and the fact that I seem to have turned out okay even though regular homework really didn’t start until I was in Grade Seven!)

It did not go well. What was supposed to take ten minutes would take closer to an hour, with BB#1 resisting and me getting increasingly frustrated that he wouldn’t just sit down and do it. Often we’d both be in tears. So we tried capping the time he spent on it—he’d work for twenty minutes and if it wasn’t complete, that was fine, we’d leave it (some practice was better than none, right, and perhaps the teacher would realize she was assigning too much). But this would result in twenty minutes of him not working, and nothing getting done. Or he’d be upset that his work was incomplete—he didn’t want to do it, but he also didn’t want to get in trouble for not doing it. Meanwhile, BB#2 would be interrupting, wanting his brother to play with him after being gone all day, and I’d be trying to make dinner at the same time… Ultimately, we were learning something, but it probably wasn’t what the teacher had in mind.

I decided that having my son hate school, and being French Immersion, in Grade One, was not worth all this stress. Six hours of school, five days a week, was more than enough. He was six years old—he needed down time, time to play with his brother, time to read in English (on top of the assigned homework he was of course expected to read in French and English each night), time to eat a meal, time to rest, time to watch TV or play video games (yes, I said it), time to have a bath, time to take part in other activities…

So instead of trying to “make” him do his homework, I just started leaving the work in his bag, untouched. I didn’t formally tell his teacher we were doing this, or why, and she didn’t ask. He continued to learn to speak, read and write in French—he may not have gotten straight As, but that is not our priority (and honestly I don’t believe the homework would have made any difference there). We just wanted him to have a positive attitude and LEARN: and he was. We were thrilled with his progress, and we weren’t spending every evening fighting over worksheets.

A funny thing happened when he started Grade Two. He started doing his homework, pretty much unprompted. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, he was older, more mature, and had more stamina. Second, he really, really liked his teacher, and I think it was important to him to meet her expectations. And third, he wasn’t getting as much homework! This attitude has continued into third grade (and I feel this year’s teacher is very reasonable in what she assigns—often it’s just unfinished work from the day. And reading. Reading I’m in agreement with, we just don’t log it.) Now, if I thought homework was still causing undue stress on my son or our family, I would have continued to opt out, perhaps on a more formal basis. But because he is taking more of a lead on this, for whatever reason, I feel I should support him.

But next year when BB#2 starts Grade One–a tough transition to full-day school in another language–I know one thing: I won’t be battling with him to do homework.

*sentence edited to remove the term “great job” in association with Alfie. Heh.

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Filed under education, in the news, parenting, reading, schools, teaching, the beautiful boys

My Kid Just Said (Part 17)

“Mommy, don’t step in your boot until I’m finished my game, okay?” BB#2, 5.5 years old, while playing a solitary game with Lego mini figures.

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Filed under my kid just said, random, the beautiful boys, Uncategorized

A Woman by Any Other Name

A few years back I read a blog in which the writer admitted that she viewed women who took their husband’s last names after marriage as less intelligent, less educated. I was so offended by this that I haven’t been able to read her blog since. It coloured my view of her as intolerant and superior, and so although she may have a lot of other interesting things to say, I can’t be bothered.

If I’m honest, I was also annoyed that by disagreeing with her, I was lumped in with commenters who claimed  women who did not take their husband’s names were less committed to the marriage, would inevitably end up divorced, and were confusing their children. Those comments were just as offensive as the post. Because it was not her choice to keep her birth name I disagreed with–it was that she looked down on anyone who didn’t do the same.

My parents were surprised that I opted to take my husband’s name when we got married because they know I’m a feminist. My belief is that, as a feminist, I have a choice. And I couldn’t care less if others make the same choice or not. Get married, don’t get married. Have children, don’t have children. Keep your birth name, change to your partner’s name. Hyphenate, make up a new name, give some children your name and other children your partner’s name, be a Ms. or  a Mrs. And yep, I’m down with men taking their partners’ names too. Whatever. Do whatever you want. Personally I don’t think it makes any difference to anyone but the two people in the marriage, I don’t believe it reflects the level of commitment to the relationship (or a woman’s level of intelligence!), and I think it’s laughable that children would be confused by any of this (they can handle the truth). Seriously, is anyone really shocked these days by unmarried parents, common-law parents, divorced parents, married parents with different last names, married parents with the same last name, adoptive parents, blended families, same-sex parents, interracial parents? Seriously? And yet, I still see articles and blog posts about the name “issue”.

Yes, I get that some women object to changing their last names because it’s a patriarchal tradition. I completely understand and would not tell those women to make a choice other than the one that feels right to them. Though I couldn’t get too worked up about that personally, because if you want to get technical, most birth names are symbolic of patriarchy. My birth name came from my father, so…Perhaps your mother wasn’t married to your father and therefore you share her birth name. Okay—but where did that name come from? Her father? Yup: patriarchy. When it comes to last names, short of inventing a new one or becoming so famous you don’t need one at all, it’s pretty hard to escape the legacy of patriarchy. But just as keeping my birth name would not have implied my father still retained “ownership”, changing my last name to my husband’s doesn’t mean I’m “his property” either. Our marriage was not arranged between the families, there was no dowry, no bride-price, no goats were exchanged. It’s an equal partnership whether or not we share a last name.

I wore a veil at my wedding because I thought it was pretty and that this was probably the only opportunity I’d ever have in my life to wear something sparkly on my head. I also wore a white dress despite having lived with my husband for several years before we formally married because that’s what I wanted to wear. These symbols don’t mean what they used to. In fact marriage itself is not what it once was (which is why I don’t understand people arguing against same-sex marriage as if the institution itself hasn’t constantly evolved over the centuries—and thank goodness for that!) If you are that hung up on what marriage used to represent, instead of what it means to you and your partner right here and now, I’m not really sure why you would get married at all. And if you choose not to, more power to you! Isn’t personal choice great?

So why did I opt to change my name? It wasn’t because I worried about my children having the same last name. It wasn’t because I thought it would show greater commitment to my marriage. It wasn’t a political statement at all. I most definitely considered keeping my birth name, and can completely understand all the reasons to do that, as well as the reasons other couples make other choices. I think it’s cool when both partners officially change to the same hyphenated name (I admit I’m curious what the next generation will do if faced with combining two already hyphenated names—but I’m sure these couples will work out that little detail just fine. It’s hardly a deal-breaker.) I would have loved to hyphenate, but call me vain, our names just didn’t go well together. To be honest, I could have gone either way. But when it came time to decide, well, my husband’s name is slightly easier for others to pronounce and spell correctly. Really, that’s about as deep as my reasoning went. But it was my choice to make, and I made it, and if someone views me as less feminist or less educated or less something as a result, I think they need to reflect on what feminism really means. (Hint: it’s not “everyone who doesn’t do what I do is doing it wrong.”)

Frankly, I can’t believe what other people choose to do about a last name after marriage or when having children is even still a conversation. You do what feels right for you, for whatever reason, and I’ll respect that. I expect the same in return. It’s pretty simple, actually.

But please, don’t send me snail mail addressed to “Mrs. Husband’s First Name Last Name”, okay? I share my husband’s surname, not his first.

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Filed under gender issues, random

In Praise of Older Children

This past weekend, I got to hold a six-week-old baby in my arms while he slept. The weekend before, I got to play cars on the floor with a two-year-old who laughed his head off every time there was a crash. Naturally, these moments make me nostalgic for my own boys’ infant and toddler days. And though we decided long ago that our family was complete, I can see how some people might get the urge to have another baby of their own to experience these things all over again.

But the other night our family played a game of Star Wars Monopoly. With the actual rules. Taking turns. The boys counted out their own spaces, and calculated money. And nobody cried. Not even when they had to pay rent—or missed out on being paid because they weren’t watching. The game went on so long we had to call it and go to bed (it was a toss up who was more tired: me, or my husband.) And the next night, we had a late dinner with another family. The children played with their friends and watched some TV while the adults shared conversation and wine. They were up past their bedtime, and actually slept in the next morning, instead of getting up earlier (which they always seemed to do as babies!) Admittedly BB#2 was a bit “off” the next day, but there were no major meltdowns.

This is not meant to be an “oh gawd I don’t miss sleepless nights and diapers and spit up and tantrums, I’m so glad THAT’S over” kind of post. Babies are amazing and sweet, and toddlers are hilariously adorable. And yes, those years can be hard and there are some things I don’t wish to do all over again. But there is a whole lot more that I miss. Those goofy toothless smiles. The milk-drunk faces. The tiny hands and feet. Playing peekaboo. The errors in speech that are just too darn cute to correct. The amazement at their own accomplishments, like getting food to their mouths, taking first steps, clapping. The magical sound of their laughter.

But these years, the childhood years, are pretty awesome too. At 8.5, BB#1 can read novels in English and French, and every few pages he’s excitedly telling me about something interesting or funny in the book. He can swim, ride a bike, ski, skate. He’s saving for a skateboard, wants to make his own video games, loves to draw cartoons, and is interested in learning about physics. The other day he made himself a fried egg sandwich. He takes a shower without assistance, buckles his own seatbelt, clears his plate without being asked, goes to sleep on his own and doesn’t wake up until I turn on his light the next morning. He’s an amazingly patient, caring big brother.

BB#2 is 5.5 years old. He can read, but will hand me book after book after book, and I love it. He’s fearless in the water, a master at building with Lego, and is a whiz on the Wii. He can get himself dressed in the morning, and even does it sometimes!  He doesn’t cling to me if I’m helping in his classroom, but he’s not too old to give me a big hug in front of all of his friends when I leave. Where I once would have done anything to go grocery shopping alone, I now take him with me on purpose, because he’s good company. He clears his plate when reminded. He says “mommy, I love you” and hugs me out of the blue several times a day. He makes goofy knock-knock jokes and the most hilarious facial expressions. He adores his big brother and wants to do everything that he can do.

I’m not kidding myself it’s all smooth sailing from here. I know the saying: “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” I know the challenges that once consumed our thoughts (weaning, potty learning, introducing solids, naptime, teething…) will seem small in the teen years. Already they seem like forever ago. But we have two amazing children with personality to spare, who say interesting things and ask big questions. Who are independent in so many ways, but still little boys in so many others. Who are sweet and loving and funny and kind and helpful and smart. And for probably the first time, I’m not wishing time away, thinking “it’ll be easier when they are older, bigger, sleeping through the night, out of diapers, out of carseats, in school…” Instead, I’m wishing time would slow down.

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Filed under babies, parenting, random, the beautiful boys