It’s maddening to go to a parent-teacher conference and hear your child’s teacher describe your son as an endearing, helpful and engaged learner, when at home if he’s pressed to do three math problems, he becomes an enraged lunatic, bordering on sociopathic. Lord help you if he’s got spelling homework too. The same goes for the sitter who tells you that not only did your daughter handily complete her algebra, she read ahead in her language arts book, and took notes for science, before helping with the dishes. Who are these children that you have not met, but apparently birthed and reared? They are your public children, and they hold the secret to avoiding homework meltdowns. In other words: no more “homework.” Short of staging a boycott at your school, which is not unheard of (France, Spain, anyone?), there are other ways to successfully mount a coup against homework. At the very least, there are ways of not doing it at home, thus circumventing the homework meltdowns, fights, arguments and total frustration of home-life enjoyment of most weekday afternoons. The key to all of these ideas is that you do not go home, not until the work is done. Homework will need a new name; perhaps we’ll start calling it on-the-road-work.
Make Use of the School
This is the simplest, and most cost-effective solution to homework woes. Many schools host homework clubs, some at low-cost, and some at no cost to parents. Still, even with no homework clubs, just because the school day ends with the bell, it doesn’t mean that the building and property vanish. Stick around and find out what the rules are for where you can physically continue to be. Chances are you are allowed to be with your child in the library, computer lab, or on the playground, sitting at a picnic table. Bring him a sandwich for the after-school famine, and finish math in what you can call a post-bell study hall, and then go home. Bring a book, some knitting, or do some laps on the track. But, he’s certainly not going to throw his math book at you while he’s in the lab.
Rotating Neighborhood Homework Club
Start a neighborhood homework club with the children in your class. Mondays at Mary’s house, Tuesdays at Theresa’s, Wednesdays are at Wendy’s, and so on. When it’s your day, provide a space, an allergy-friendly snack, and enough supervision that you ensure the kids are working, and gasp, collectively helping one another with similar work. It’s a glorious thing when they can help one another figure out why Emmanuel ordered thirteen-eighteenths of a cupcake, instead of asking you to help. I don’t know why Emmanuel would do that either; he’s crazy. Simply crazy.
My son loves chocolate milkshakes. My son also gets the most homework on Mondays. So, on Mondays, we go to the diner down the street from us to complete homework, and he downs a milkshake bigger than my head, while he does his work. It takes him an hour or so to finish his work and to drink the shake. In the months before I figured this trick out, he would spend up to six hours doing the same task at home, because of the whining, screaming and gnashing of teeth. I’m happy to throw three dollars at math once a week if feeling like sitting in a booth makes him feel like he has to keep control of his little angry body. If I bring work to Starbucks, he can bring math to the milkshake shop. The same applies to the ice cream parlor, or the hot dog restaurant, or wherever your kid needs to go, once a week, or every darn day, if it needs to be done.
The Public Library
Our local library keeps the local middle and high school texts on permanent loan, so students do not have to carry their heavier textbooks home. Most students walk over, immediately after school, to complete their homework, making the library the place to be. The library. Really. Kids meet up, do their homework, and remarkably, hang out there. No child wants to be embarrassed in front of his peers, even peers he doesn’t know personally, by walking into the library to complete his homework, and then having a public meltdown, it’s near social suicide to walk this gauntlet of pre-teens and teens. Actually melting down would be social death. Plus, being at the public library means I get to renew and check out tons of books. It’s like Barnes and Noble, but free.
Make use of your public spaces when the weather is nice. If the weather is not cold, not rainy, or not too hot, go outside. Never underestimate the power of sunshine and oxygen on an exhausted kid who’s been cooped up inside all day. Take a stroll around the grounds of a nice park while chomping on a nice apple, or snack that you’ve brought, then sit at a picnic table, or on a blanket, and get down to business. If you keep your car stocked with some supplies like a clipboard and pencils, you’ll be set for homework on the go. If there’s a playground at a park you select, the young ones will want to play, and even the pre-teens might go for a swing for a grimacing ironic selfie. If you keep your car stocked with some supplies like a clipboard and pencils, you’ll be set for homework on the go. If there’s a playground at a park you select, the young ones will want to play, and even the pre-teens might go for a swing for a grimacing ironic selfie.
All of these ideas require that you, or someone else, is with your child in the afternoon. You’ve got to go somewhere with him, or her, until the task is complete. It puts a hole in your afternoon plans until homework is finished. Still, in our household, I’d chose a thirty to
Still, in our household, I’d chose a 30 to 60-minute hole in my afternoon, over a whirling dervish of a ten-year-old melting down over long division. In my faintest of hopes, we’re teaching the life-skill of working and scheduling priorities, so that when the workload gets worse, say in high school, or college, he’ll be ready for it.
Approaching education with the idea that homework has to get done because it’s part of the goal that the educator has set out for your child, means that you’ve got to find a way to get it done effectively. We can debate about whether or not it’s effective another day, but if my child’s teacher has assigned it to him, I refuse to debate, or question her because I’m on her team, and we present a united front with her, as part of my son’s educational unit. So, we’ll get it done, come hell or high water. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that, and it’s more milkshakes than hell and more fair weather than high water.