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Dear Channie,

I am a blessed mom of two adorable children. My son is in the sixth grade and my daughter is in the fifth. They attend a well established charter school and my husband and I are pretty pleased with it. Right before Christmas break we had a parent/teacher conference because my son’s grades are beginning to slip in English and math. His teachers are concerned that if the problem isn’t fixed the grades will continue to drop. They say that oftentimes he shows up to class unprepared with missing or incomplete homework. I know that him not doing his work is mainly my fault. Try as I might I simply run out of time or forget to look over his work. My husband and I have also tried taking turns but that does not help either–mainly because we are inconsistent. We both work very demanding jobs and most days when we get home (5:30ish) I am focused on cooking dinner, eating, and then getting the kids dressed for bed. They have a strict 9 pm bedtime. In the meantime my son is feeling overwhelmed because he feels like he is falling behind and does not like getting poor grades.   I am frustrated because I simply do not know how to find the time to do everything that needs to get done. I am also concerned because if I can’t get this fixed soon I know we will be having the same conversation with my daughter’s teachers soon.Any suggestions would so be appreciated!! 

Please send you help!

Karen, Washington, DC

Dear Karen,

Thank you so much for sharing your problem. You are not alone!

I understand exactly where you are and can imagine the conversation you had with your son’s teachers. I remember clearly as a sixth grade teacher having numerous conversations with parents about the need to support their children more at home. Even though I home school my daughters, I still find it a bit challenging to get ‘study and review’ time in — would you believe that?

First, I want to deal with your heart. I can sense the hurt you are feeling because you are blaming yourself for your child’s inability to perform at the level you know he can. Stop right now and free yourself of that. You are not to blame. Parenting is a hard job and as parents we make mistakes all the time–expect it and embrace the mistakes, I find they are life’s best lessons. The fact that you are trying to get help and change what you are doing is what you need to focus on. So go ahead, put your hand over your heart and say, “I’m a good mom”.

“Lela needed time to complete and study her work and I had to create the time and space to allow her the opportunity to do that.”

Ok, what exactly is homework for and why do my children need to do it? If you have ever had that thought run through your brain than you are not by yourself. There actually is a huge homework debate out there — people who strongly believe it helps learning and people who strongly believe it doesn’t help learning at all.

“Homework is not the time when they should be learning something new.”

My belief is that it needs to have a purpose (I have never been a fan of busy work) and it should be given feedback (not the checks –what do the checks mean??). So for me I use it as:

  • an opportunity for Lela to complete table (or seat) work
  • an opportunity for her to STUDY concepts and content taught (that is the path to mastery)
  • an opportunity to OWN her work and develop characters skills of endurance, discipline, personal best and integrity.

Give the the why. Really, when you think about it what child wants to do more work at the end of his/her day. I always get further along with Lela (with less push back) when I take the time to explain why she has to do something. So take the time to properly frame ‘homework’. I used to do this for my parents during Back to School nights. I would tell them homework is meant to provide an opportunity to complete work, study, and practice ownership. Homework is not the time when they should be learning something new.

Ok, let’s focus on the main issue — time. It does fly, doesn’t it? As I stated above, I am home with my little ones and still run out of time. I found myself in the same situation. Lela’s spelling list increased from five to ten words a week and she was learning lots of math facts. After two weeks of her missing words and facts I knew I had to make a change so she could study the materials. Lela needed time to complete and study her work and I had to create the time and space to allow her the opportunity to do that. After looking at my schedule in relation to my energy I found that the best time to do that was during my dinner preparation time. Lela knows that while I am making dinner she is to sit at the table and do her independent work (our version of homework). It is easy for me to help answer questions, quiz her and keep her organized because we are in the same space.

Usually the next major hurdle is organization. Children at this age are usually all over the place and their backpacks can be science experiments. What you want to establish is a system. Make sure your system is so solid that your husband can easily step in and follow the process. Before you have him step in, be sure to take time and explain it to him. Another reason why systems are great is because it will allow your children to focus on the content they are trying to master rather then getting distracted with thinking about what is going to happen next. Here are a couple of things I use to help:

  • Work Flow Chart: This is a sheet of paper that orders the subjects Lela has do.  I break down English into reading, writing, spelling, grammar. If she does not have work in a subject she knows to skip it and go to the next. This comes in super handy because I no longer get the questions, “Mom what is next?” She knows what to do and feels very successful once she has completed a task. I have the sheet in a couple of locations including an accordion folder for when we are working away from the house. No matter where you put it, laminate or page protect it and keep it visible (like the refrigerator).
  • Supply Tray: I have a tray that stores everything she needs to complete her work including sharpened pencils, pencil sharpen, pens, erasers, index cards, ruler, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, etc. I like everything being on a tray so once homework time is over it can be easily stored and out of the way. The tray also eliminates her from asking where something is. She doesn’t have to stop her work to find something. Lela is also responsible for making sure the tray is stocked and maintained. I would also suggest putting a brightly colored plastic folder (the ones that could close) with the supplies. This way as your children go through their bags they can ‘turn in’ any notices, letters, graded work that you need to see.
  • Control the Time: It is important to have a begin and end time. Children (like some adults, me included) like to wait until the last minute to get their work done. Let your son know exactly how much time he has to get his work done. I actually let Lela know subject by subject. Older children may not need as many check-ins, it depends on your child’s needs.

 “Remember, learning is a life-long journey and ultimately we want our children to enjoy learning throughout their life.”

Another thing to keep in mind is set the rules of study time. This is especially important when there is more than one child, as in your case. Niara is reminded that it is sister’s work time and she has to be quiet at the table. During Lela’s independent work I let Niara go back and forth between her TV time and arts-and-crafts at the table. Right now this works for us, find out what works for you.

The last thing I want to share is to be encouraging! Remember, learning is a life-long journey and ultimately we want our children to enjoy learning throughout their life. So engage positively and with praise.Your child already knows what he is doing wrong  so be sure to celebrate what he gets right, even the smallest of efforts. When reviewing work find something positive to say (good handwriting, turned in on time, etc) about it, even if it has a failing score. Now, I am not saying not to deal with the trouble spots, you must. But be sure to create a safe and encouraging space to  work all those crooks and rough edges out.

I hope this helps you start moving in the right direction.

Need some advice? Please email me at Villagesoapbox@Gmail.com. In the subject line put ‘Dear Channie‘. Please allow 48 hours for me to respond, as I respond to ALL questions. Thanks for your support! And remember to…

Be Encouraged! Spread the Word!

Chantel-LaVonne ~ The Muse