Tag Archives: homework

Things I Don’t Regret

Before I had kids, there were lots of things I was never going to do. And there were lots of things I was told never to do, or I’d regret it. Ten years into this parenting gig though, the kids seem to be doing all right, so I can tell you there are a number of choices that I don’t regret. Not at all. Here are some of them:

Breastfeeding my infants on demand around the clock. Breastfeeding past infancy. Not forcing them to wean when they weren’t ready. “Encouraging” them to wean when we both were.

Co-sleeping. “They” said we’d never get them out of our bed. “They” were wrong. If anything I regret not doing it sooner.

Rocking them to sleep. Nursing them to sleep. Staying with them until they fell asleep. Letting them nap in my arms, in the swing, in the car. Those years seem so long ago.

Vaccinating.

Picking my babies up when they cried. Carrying my kids as long as I could.

Not potty training. Amazingly, they have been out of diapers for a long, long time, despite the lack of candy or sticker rewards!

Encouraging my kids to take part in different activities. Not pushing them into activities.

Having a child in daycare. Working full time. Having a nanny. Staying home. Being a student-mom. Working part time. Working from home. It’s all good. Honest.

Taking a year of maternity leave. Having my kids three years apart. Taking my preschooler out of daycare while I was on mat leave with BB#2.

Putting my kids in French Immersion.

Not forcing them to do homework in Grade One.

Taking a stroller to Disneyland for my almost-5-year-old. Judge away, at least we had fun!

Spending money on books. Reading to my kids after they could read to themselves.

Letting my kids watch TV and play video games. Not letting my kids watch or play everything their friends are watching or playing.

Giving them choice over their hairstyles.

Staying with them on playdates when they were younger. Letting them walk around the block alone together now that they’re older.

Telling them the proper names for body parts and being honest about where babies come from.

Not being Pinterest-perfect.

Letting them believe in Santa Claus. Not getting into Elf on the Shelf.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 35)

“I would answer it’s ‘possible’ that ‘Superman will fly through our classroom’, because what if they were filming a Superman movie near the school, and the guy playing Superman came through the window? It could happen.” BB#1, almost 10 years old, while completing his math homework.

It is likely Probability is not going to be his highest report card mark…

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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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Reading: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Reading is a big deal in our house.

Before returning to school for a Bachelor of Education, I worked in-house as a web editor in the publishing industry. I currently edit books and write back cover copy on a freelance basis. Since I graduated, I’ve taken additional qualifications in teaching Intermediate English and Reading. My undergrad is in English and Mass Communication (as is my husband’s), and I also have a diploma in Print Journalism. We have a LOT of books in the house (here’s to boxes of hand-me-downs from big sisters with older children!) My husband and I both love to read. So creating and nurturing a love of books in our boys was a no-brainer.

We’ve read to the boys since they were infants. At eight, BB#1 is an avid reader who reads everything from chess instructions to the Wimpy Kid series, kids’ magazines to novels like The Hobbit. Thanks to French Immersion, he can and does read in two languages. We have a deal when the Scholastic flyers come home: I will buy him French books, and he can choose to purchase English books with his own money.

Just turned five, BB#2 is not quite reading independently yet (at least, he’s pretending he isn’t), but loves being read to. He is excited when his Chirp magazine arrives in the mail, has his own library card, and will bring us book after book to read to him.

So, filling out the reading logs their teachers send home should be no problem, right?

Wrong. Something strange happens when my boys are asked to log their reading or read for homework. They are no longer interested. I have to nag them, either to read, or to write the titles down in the log. I’ve struggled to articulate exactly why that is, but this tweet from a teacher I came across a few weeks back puts it pretty plainly:

“Reading logs make liars of bad readers, annoy good readers, & tells us nothing about their literacy.” @jenmarten

You are probably saying, not all kids are like mine. Not all kids actually want to read or be read to, or have the culture of reading that we have at home. I know this. So how do we encourage those kids to read if we don’t offer rewards, and how do we know they are doing it if we don’t ask them to log their books or minutes? I don’t have the answers, but I do know this: if we offer stickers or pizza or a points system for reading, we’re telling kids that it’s something unpleasant with no value of it’s own. If we tell them they must quantify their reading by logging pages or minutes, we’re saying we don’t trust them, and that we know they wouldn’t actually choose to read if they didn’t have to.

These programs may get kids to pick up books, write them in a log (and maybe even read them), but they are not creating readers. And as @jenmarten suggests, what does a list of book titles a student may or may not have read even tell the teacher about that student’s ability to read, and understand what she’s read, anyway? Likely nothing the teacher doesn’t already know.

Since the boys are already reading on a regular basis, I suppose I could just fill in their logs without telling them. But that feels wrong—like pretending something is working when it’s really not. And in BB#1’s case, though he reads in English every day, he’s more likely to spend an hour reading in French by choice one day, and then not the next, rather than the prescribed twenty minutes a day. While this to me is more authentic and therefore more valuable, it doesn’t look as impressive on a daily log.

BB#2’s log can be of books he’s read, or that are read to him—and there is a small prize for every twenty-five books read. But at the rate we read, we’d be getting a prize every couple of days. And since we clearly don’t need that motivation to read together, well, it just feels silly.

I’m not alone in this thinking. I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts by educators outlining the downside to reading logs. But here’s my question: if we know that reading logs and programs can cause more harm than good, then why are so many teachers still using them? And even more confusing: if what I’m most concerned with is nurturing my children’s passion for reading and interest in learning—if I know that they ARE reading, and that whether or not they fill out their reading logs in senior kindergarten and third grade is going to be meaningless in the grand scheme of their educational lives—why am I so conflicted about this? Why can’t I bring myself to write a polite note saying, in this house we don’t log reading, we just read.

I think I know why. It’s two-fold. And sort of embarrassing. As a teacher, one without a classroom at that, I’m worried about appearing judgmental of other, experienced teachers’ practices. As a parent, I’m concerned those blank log pages will reflect on me—that their teachers will view me as one of “those” parents: uninvolved, unsupportive, ignorant of the value of regular reading.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

For further reading. You know, if you like that sort of thing:

You Don’t Have to Read Every Day

My Son is Afraid to Read

Daddy I Want a Book Buck

This post by an administrator suggests how we can get all kids reading, without rewards:

Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

I also recently led a discussion on the following article as part of an assignment in my Reading course:

How to Create Nonreaders

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