(This is part four of a five-part series on homework. Here's a link to last week's post about Using Homework Time to do Homework in case you missed it.)
Of all the contentious issues that come up in schools—and believe me, there are a few—homework is the issue that causes the most strife between teachers and students, students and parents, and then parents and teachers. Personally, I am against homework. That position keeps me young and gives me some common ground with students. Still, regardless of my personal feelings on the issue, homework is a necessity in schools that have high academic goals for their students.
Because schools that are committed to providing a good education rely on some homework to help them deliver, it is important for teachers and families to take the homework as seriously as the in-class time. My aim here is to offer a few suggestions for making homework more productive and less contentious; in fact, I hope to help you see it in a whole new light.
Homework in Community
I can remember it like it was yesterday, my parents insisting that I go to my room to do my homework. They even bought me a very nice desk at which to work. They both lacked confidence in their ability to help with homework, so they sent me off to do it out of sight. But I was one of those students who did not want to work, and so I often found a distraction or just did a halfway job. It wasn’t that I was a scoundrel, really, it was just that I took advantage of the situation, sometimes not even realizing I was doing so. (A child left to himself brings shame to his mother. -Prov 29:15) My parents were no anomaly; in fact, they were pretty much regular, blue-collar, American parents. Their approach to homework back then is still many parents’ approach to homework today.
After a hard day on the job or running a household, homework may not hold much appeal for parents. Now, I don’t mean to suggest parents should be doing homework for students, but parents can provide accountability and community for the student who is facing a pile of homework. Early on my wife and I decided our children would do their homework at the kitchen table or counter—in the hub of the house if you will. This provided several benefits: they were with one or both of us, they did not need to break their concentration by moving to another room in search of help, we were close enough to train them to stay disciplined to the task, and they learned to filter out and work through the kind of reasonable interruptions they will face all of their lives.
The first benefit mentioned is the most important—we were together. This togetherness was some of the sweetest time we had when our children were growing up. Even though we might have been tempted in the early going to sneak out and watch a TV show or finish some good book we were reading, we disciplined ourselves to work on tasks we could do in the presence of our children while they did their homework. It was a sacrifice at times, but so worth it that I unreservedly recommend all parents making it. Believe it or not, children recognize and appreciate that sacrifice after a while and work all the harder because of it—that doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen eventually. They come to learn what is important to you and what isn’t. Their self-discipline will mirror yours. If you tell them to go to their room and do their homework while you prop your feet up in front of the TV, they will get the message loud and clear.
I hate to bring phones up again, but they need another mention here. Not long after our children got phones (high school), they began to want to do homework in their rooms. By that time it was more of a sacrifice for us to give them up for that time than it was to sit with them while we all worked together. Still, they were growing up, and we decided to give them some space. Not growing up with phones ourselves, perhaps we were naïve in our expectations of their self-control with those devices. It did not take long to realize the folly of that parenting decision—we had not prepared our boys for the responsibility of that much freedom. I speak not merely of the freedom of doing homework behind closed doors, but also of the complication the phone introduced to the situation—unfettered access to their friends and the rest of the universe too. When we corrected course and brought them back to the kitchen for homework time, we were amazed at how much quicker it got done and how the quality improved. We also saw the sullenness that had appeared in their countenances disappear quickly.
Whatever you must sacrifice to spend homework time with your children, do it. When our boys were home from college, and even now as one has become a teacher and continues to live with us, all their “homework” is done in the kitchen or dining room. It is a blessing to this day to spend this time with them.
(This is part four of a five-part series on homework. Next week we'll discuss perfection as the enemy of being done.)