Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Homework Time: From Harried to Harmonious

Homework. Gah. I have yet to meet a family who proclaims their love of homework. If you have multiple children at various ages and stages, you're definitely performing a juggling act during what parents of babies refer to as the "witching hour". (Parents of babies: I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but the witching hour continues, it just changes its sound.)

When Prima entered kindergarten, she had a crazy homework situation. I don't really remember the details, (can you say coping skills?) but I do remember it took forever, as in, 45 minutes to over an hour on some nights. In my early teaching days, I was told the rule of thumb is 10 minutes of homework per grade per night, plus 20 minutes of self-selected reading. Prima should have had about 25 minutes of homework, including the reading, during kindergarten. There was much gnashing of teeth and trickling of tears during our family's first year of homework.  First grade was much better, though, and really every year since has been reasonable and struggle-free as well. 

That is, until, this year. Prima is in third grade with a good deal of homework that she largely manages on her own, now, but needed some help with at the start of the year. Seconda is in first grade, and boy doozy do they have some serious homework now. Her first grade homework is much more than Prima's first grade homework was. Plus, Seconda is very much a beginning reader, so her homework requires a lot of assistance.

Then, there's the matter of Terza. She doesn't like to be left out. If I'm helping one of her sisters with homework, she finds a way to insert herself. Of course, I'm also trying to get dinner ready as well as juggle after school activities and piano practice just at the time of day when I want to take a nap. Despite their snacks and leisurely walk home from the bus, the kids are cranky and hungry. Our first month of homework was not a pleasant time.

Yet, homework does have a good and valid place in a child's education. Not all assignments are great, but not all are worthless, either. The fact is, if your kid gets homework, your family has to deal with it. But, how? I feel like we've got a good handle on homework now, so let me share what works for me. 
  1. Find your rhythm as a family. I have found that on days that are free from soccer/Girl Scouts/other commitments, homework is a happier and more efficient time if the kids have played outside for awhile. Snack comes next, and they usually eat while they work. If their activity is close to when they get home, we have a snack before the activity and homework after. If their activity is later in the evening, they play for a short time before homework. I know this rhythm will change each quarter as our activities, seasons, and daylight hours change.
  2. Experiment with the environment. They just spent many hours sitting in a hard chair at a hard desk. The kitchen table, then, may not be the best place for homework. We started the year with snack in the kitchen followed by homework in the dining room, where we have cushioned chairs. That wasn't quite enough of a change for Prima, who took to her room after awhile. Now, I really leave it up to her and she goes where she feels like working.
  3. Engage the younger kid(s) with their own "homework". Workbooks, audiobooks, and computer games work for us. Starfall.com is a fantastic site for preschool and early elementary age kids. We also use educational apps on the iPad. 
  4. If the littles finish their "homework" early, they get other work. That means chores. They can help me cook dinner or set the table. They can put away their own laundry or empty the dishwasher. I try to keep everyone doing "work" until everyone is done, which helps when the Homework Grudge rears its ugly head. When everyone is done, everyone can play. 
  5. Be on the lookout for inspiration. Seconda's word study homework allows for a choice in how she practices her words. One item on the list is Fingerpaint Spelling. This sounds like lots of fun for Seconda, but a little too intense in the mess-potential department for me to tackle at the "witching hour". So, I poured clear hand soap and purple paint into a zip-close plastic bag. Then, Seconda traced each of her words on the bag. Fun, fast, and clean. Plus, we can save that bag for next week or for Terza's "homework". I'm sure I got the idea from Teach Mama, because she is brilliant like that. She's definitely an inspiration to me. 

What works for you at homework time, and what challenges do you still face? 

I'm linking up to Home Stories A to Z for Tutorials and Tips Tuesday for even more inspiration. Enjoy!

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