Monday, May 30, 2011


Yes, my daughter is just finishing first grade and we have homework. I admit I have mixed feelings about this. I don't remember doing much homework when I was in first grade, but then I don't remember much about first grade. It seems like certain academic skills are getting pushed down to earlier grades. For instance fractions and some simple multiplication concepts were introduced in my daughter's class this year. I don't remember learning about multiplication until 4th grade, but then no one's expecting her to memorize times tables (which is what we did when I was in 4th grade)...and they explained fractions by making pizzas out of paper and cutting them into equal portions. I'm worried about all of this acceleration of the academic world. I've written about it before, and encourage you to consider watching "The Race to Nowhere" - a documentary that discusses this topic on the high school level (before release it was called "Slipping Behind"). So I'm a bit sad that my daughter even has homework at her age, and particularly since it is hard for her to manage on her own. It is really more work for me - to get her started on it, to help her understand the directions, to make sure she follows through, to check it, to correct without leading her to the answer or making her feel like she failed, to make sure she turns it in...Then again it is one of very few chances I have to assess for myself exactly where she's at academically. To see that she still mixes up plus and minus, to see that translating words into math problems is almost impossible for her, to see that her phonetic spelling is still a bit off.

So here are a few things I learned this year:
  • Homework is tough for everyone. My volunteer position at school this year involved collecting the homework sheets at the end of the week. I was reassured to note that we aren't the only family that had trouble getting it done. We did more than some families, and less than others, but each family at one point or another needed a break and took it. It never resulted in the world ceasing to spin.
  • Be flexible if possible. Our first grade teachers asked us to read each day with our child and then they listed several suggested activities to do during the week. They generally asked us to pick three to do. This was wonderful for us because having a choice is always empowering for my daughter. It fit right in with our general strategy of approaching hard things. "Would you like to do x or y?" Where x and y are both things we can live with that get us to our goal, in this case getting homework done. You may not have a choice about what you do, but you can choose the order, or how much to do now versus later, or if you want to use a pen or a pencil, etc.
  • Stay organized. This is the hardest one for me. Monday we would get our homework sheet. Friday we were supposed to turn it in. Sometimes I would find it buried on the kitchen island on Thursday night with nary a thing written on it. On my best weeks we would clip it to a clipboard and keep it in a place where I would see it every evening after dinner. We would pick one activity and catch up the reading log, then Thursday it was ready to put in the backpack all set to go to school. I liked those weeks best.
  • Take a break if you need it. When we hit rough patches over the year homework was the last thing on my mind. Busy work times, mild regressions for my daughter, major challenges with my mother-in-law...we would still do our reading, but if we didn't get the rest done I didn't sweat it. Like I said, the world kept on spinning.
  • Talk to the teacher. Whenever I felt like we needed a break I would check in with the teacher. She was always understanding. She assured me that reading was the most important thing. She understood when we were working on big projects (like Science Fair) and often had good ideas of things to try to make it easier. You may be stressing out about it more than the teacher intends, so it's always a good idea to check signals.
  • Get it in writing. I'm told that it is possible to get homework accommodations and revisions written into your child's IEP. We have not found this step to be necessary yet, but if we do it's nice to know. This way there is no confusion about what is expected of you and your child, and that's always a good thing.

Since we're pretty new to this homework journey I'd love to hear your ideas as well. What works for your family? What challenges have you had and how do you address them? Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Just click on "comments" below to leave a comment or read what others have to say.


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