By Eden Strong
My 6-year-old daughter came home from school with a homework assignment this weekend. She’s supposed to make a diorama of a frog habitat in a shoebox. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? A little moss, a fake pond, a plastic frog, easy-peasy, right?
In fact, it won’t actually take her any time at all … because she’s not doing it.
She won’t be partaking in this project in the same way that we did not partake in creating a large cardboard sunflower, a design-our-own board game, or a “cloud photography” assignment.
Why not, you ask? Because I have a BIG problem with the amount of time-zapping homework my daughter’s school system doles out and because of that, I’ve decided my daughter won’t be doing her homework anymore.
Not really. I don’t have a problem with homework in and of itself because, obviously, I understand it’s an important part of our children’s development process. My daughter needs to learn responsibility, time management, and self-facilitated learning and I’m grateful that homework provides some of those lessons for her. I’ve spent hours helping her learn how to read, do mathematical equations, and understand the history of our country. We’ve spent many a late night practicing spelling words and reading book assignments. As a single mom, I try my hardest to make her education a priority in my overfilled life because I know that education is one of just many things that will play a role in the foundation of her future.
That’s all well and good.
My problem with homework is that it’s given in excess and the lesson behind it is wrapped up in time-sucking busy-work.
And because of that, I’m rebelling against it. School, while important, is not everything to me. Some of the greatest minds in our country were college (and even highschool!) dropouts: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, the list goes on. But before you get all up in arms about that statement, let me assure you I would love nothing more than for my daughter to graduate college. Of course I would. But we also need to acknowledge that there are other “life” lessons to be taught outside of school; lessons she’ll learn through team sports, quality family time, playing outside, and everything in between, that have nothing to do with a grade. Those learning moments are more important and valid to me than gluing moss to a f*cking shoebox.
My daughter’s teachers thought I was insane, of course.
I reached out to them the first week of school to politely tell them my daughter would only be doing as much homework as would feasibly fit into our lives. I asked them to contact me if she was struggling in any areas so that I could shift our focus onto those subjects and I asked them if they had any questions for me.
They looked at me like I had absolutely lost my mind … which I was fully expecting.
Because what we are doing is not normal and I get that. The first year her teacher was great and completely understanding. The second year, not so much. She sent me a rather strongly worded email that “rules apply to all kids and that kids can’t be taught that they’re the exception to the rule.” Her email was followed up by a request for a conference with the school’s principal.
Thankfully, the meeting went well. The teacher seemed to understand that my desire to avoid homework was not because I didn’t want to put in the effort; it was because I wanted my daughter to have ample time to explore the world outside of the classroom. Although I went into the meeting thinking I was going to need to defend my alternative lifestyle, I walked out feeling as thought my viewpoints were not only understood, but respected. In the end, we decided some homework assignments would simply not count against her grade and other times, an alternate assignment would be given, one that was more adaptable to our lives and the educational path I’m creating for her.
I don’t want my daughter to feel that she’s “above the rules” and at the same time I don’t want to box her in. It’s a delicate balance that we continue to navigate.
Since then, my daughter completes about 40 percent of her homework. I make sure that she gets her core homework done and then, if she’s into it, we’ll occasionally do what I’ve deemed the “time-suck” activities: camouflaging a cardboard turkey, making a puppet out of a paper bag, you get the idea. Still though, even without all the homework we don’t do, she’s at the top of her class academically. She’s learning and thriving, not in a conventional way, of course, but in our own way - and it’s obviously working.
How often have you heard these words when homework time rolls around? This month, we’re talking about homework and why children often try to avoid it. Check out our other blogs on homework avoidance and other reasons children dodge homework. The underlying cause for homework avoidance I want to share with you today is: lack of success at school. Spending more time facing that failure is not very motivational.
Have you ever had 'one of those days'? You wake up and realize that your alarm didn't go off. Anxiety. You get out of bed and stub your toe on the way to the washroom. Frustration. You spill the coffee beans all over the counter as you take them out of the cupboard. Fail. You drop your lunch on the way to the car. So dumb! You pull into work and realize that you forgot your office keys at home. Are you kidding me? Do I need to continue? It’s the day that everything seems to go wrong. At some point we throw our hands up in the air and ask ourselves, 'Why do I even try?' It is a horrible feeling when you think everything you put your hands to ends in failure.
Most of us have attempted at least one diet. How long do you continue this diet when you don't see results? If we are highly motivated we may continue for a period of time, but that quickly deteriorates if we’re not seeing results. What is our internal dialogue when this is happening? How are we feeling about this lack of apparent success?
It is always good to grow and learn as we travel through adulthood. How often do we set goals that really take us out of our comfort zone and into an area where we may experience failure? I would say not very often. We usually set smaller attainable goals that we know we can reach. If we go to the gym, we may aspire to do two repetitions of 20 on the weight circuit lifting, let’s say, 20 pounds. It is unwise to aspire to lift 300lbs when we have never lifted a weight in our life. Imagine sitting on a weight machine trying to move that. Do you think you would be back tomorrow to try again knowing failure was inevitable? It is important to set small, achievable and measurable goals. It fills our brain with positive feedback and encourages us to continue.
Now imagine what your child is going through. Is it any surprise they’re not excited to face their school work again? They’re likely going to come home from school avoiding or even refusing to do homework. A possible underlying cause is his or her desire to avoid experiencing more lack of success or even failure. There is a very real possibility that he or she is going, day in and day out, without ever feeling that they are capable. As adults we are able to monitor our level of hard. Children are not. As adults we get pretty good at avoiding things we’re not good at. Children, though, often feel trapped. A boy I met today was in Grade 4 and very aware he’s facing 8 more years of school with no escape. I am excited to begin working on the areas he needs developed so he can experience success in school and realize homework is achievable.
The truth is: the brain grows, develops faster and makes more pathways when it is experiencing success and positive feedback. It is inaccurate to think, the harder the work, the better the results. Leave the "No Pain No Gain" motto to the gym.
Check out our other blogs on homework avoidance to see more underlying causes that may be causing your child to avoid their homework.