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Homework Help: The REAL Lesson

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I can remember the first time a son of mine had homework and how exciting it was for “us” to all sit together and watch him do his homework and let him ask for help when he needed it. I can also remember the last time a child asked me for help with his homework, in Calculus, and I had no idea what he was doing.  So the full circle of homework has been completed in my house.

While I was so anxious to begin the whole homework thing as a first time parent (as we are for so many milestones), I was equally joyful when I no longer even thought about a child’s homework, and also knew I was no longer even competent to help. (Calculus, are you kidding me, it was a lifetime ago).

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I think homework has a real purpose when a teacher gives an assignment to reinforce the day’s lesson, and the amount of homework is not unreasonable.  There were times as a parent that I felt that there may have been too much homework, or that the homework was really busy work, but be that as it may, it was an assignment from a teacher and therefore it was completed.

I was fortunate that from the beginning we started having a good homework routine where our boys all gathered at the kitchen table to do homework in the afternoon. The routine was pick up carpool, come home and get a snack, have some down time, typically outside to get rid of excess boy energy, and then homework started.  The habit of doing homework at the kitchen table began with our oldest son and his brother’s followed suit.

When our oldest son started school, the younger boys would “want” to have homework and we would make up things for them to do. As everyone got older the kitchen table suddenly had 3 boys doing homework and they would often help one another. The other thing about being a working mother was that I was often not at home to “supervise” homework, or to make sure that it was being done. I was fortunate I guess, it was just assumed that “homework is finished before Mom gets home”.

By the time our boys were in middle school and high school, they had typically moved to a desk in their own rooms.  The benchmark of getting “your own desk” was somewhat of privilege and a ”right of passage”  in our house, and each child took great pride in the fact that they had a desk in their room and had moved out of the kitchen.

Once our children had left the communal homework kitchen table I really never knew if and when they finished their homework.  They were responsible for knowing what they needed to do each night, and for getting it completed. Their father and I did not know when they had tests of what needed to be done, but we were there to support them if needed. What we did do is have dinner ready for them each evening and they had “a bedtime range” which was usually followed.

They also had what we called “a homework pass”.  In other words each semester they would get a “ticket” that allowed them to call us from school to bring a forgotten assignment, or take them back to school to pick up a forgotten book. They got one each semester, beyond that, as difficult as it was, they had to figure out how to get that assignment or suffer the consequences. It was probably harder on me than them, but it was a lesson well learned. They did not forget many things at school or home and I think it made them the organized young adults they are today.

The hardest thing for a parent is to watch your child struggle, or fail. But sometimes it is THE most important lesson that they will learn. Letting your child suffer the consequences of a paper not turned in on time, or a homework assignment not done, hurts every parent. But more importantly, it will prepare your son or daughter for college and their careers beyond. As much as we “want” to do the work, or bring them the project, that is not our job as parents.  Our job is to prepare them to be responsible, organized and independent adults who will go forward on their own, and not call home to talk to “the boss”.

That’s your daily dose.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question to Dr. Sue!

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3 Responses to “Homework Help: The REAL Lesson”

  1. Dr Patricia says:

    What a great article and how lucky your children were to have someone support them but not do their work for them.

    Thanks

  2. I love your routine, but the ticket system is even better. When I was a younger pediatrician I would tell parents like you that you were luckyto have such great boys; but it only a few years later that I started to tell boys like yours that they were lucky to have such great parents. Keep up the good work!

  3. I love the ticket system. When I was a young pediatrician I would tell parents like you that they were lucky to have such great kids; a few short years later I began to tell kids like yours that they were lucky to have such great parents. Keep up the good work.

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