Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Homework or "home punishment"? Why I think homework does more harm than good!

**Disclaimer: this is an opinion piece and while I do refer to some published studies and well known authors throughout my post, it is based solely on my personal experience with homework**
I recently attended a school open house packed with lots of "useful" information and when the subject of homework came up, the presenter said "homework is checked for completion and not for accuracy".. mmm.. excuse me?  You mean to tell me that my kid is "wasting" two hours a day on homework so someone can mark it "complete"?  Talk about busy work to get a check mark!
I have always had mixed feelings about homework and have spent a great deal of time doing thorough research about the effects of homework on children of all ages and while you might be tempted to think that I'm one of those bitter moms whose kids struggle with homework and that's why I might hate it, that is certainly not the case, my kids are actually rocking school and rarely ever complain about homework.  My views on homework have certainly changed through the years as I see my children growing up and developing study habits that don't necessarily come from doing homework every night, hence this post...
One of my all time favorite authors is Alfie Kohn, who famously writes about human behavior, parenting and education; he believes (as do I) in constructivism in which the learner makes meaning rather than absorb information; where things are taught in context and for a purpose....key word PURPOSE!  Kohn published an interesting book titled "The Homework Myth", where he points out that there is no research that fully supports that assigning homework of any kind or any amount is ever beneficial to children in elementary school... I happen to agree!  While I do believe that some sort of activity that promotes discipline is necessary, I don't believe that homework is such activity.
I have seen my girls (6th and 4th grade) come home from school exhausted only to sit for another hour (or two!) to do pointless homework...things like making a rainbow with spelling words, or doing a word search of 50+ words and doing math worksheets that are completely unrelated to what they're being taught in class... really?  I find it idiotic to a point for a child to have to do this mundane, non productive activities after she has spent 8+ hours in a classroom supposedly learning.  Some people would argue that homework is a great way of reinforcing what was taught..but if reinforcing is so necessary then it leads me to question whether or not the material was taught correctly. And then I go back to the "homework will be checked for completion but not for accuracy" idea, so if that's indeed the case, how can a teacher know that the student actually learned what she was supposed to?
I clearly remember one instance back when Olivia was in 3rd grade and struggling with a Math lesson; as I was helping her do her homework I suggested she discuss it with her teacher to make sure she was doing it right, to what she quickly replied "oh, my teacher doesn't have time for that!"... surprised, I replied "what do you mean?" and she went on to explain that her teacher never really checked the homework, and when she did and something was wrong, she never explained it because she was simply "too busy" making sure everyone had DONE their homework! That memory still blows my mind and the sad part is that I have many other similar stories...so what's the point?
Many studies suggest that homework in elementary school is completely pointless because for young children time is better spent by playing outside, getting involved in sports, having dinner with family, making friends with their neighbors, playing an instrument, etc...so why are our elementary children "punished" with unsurmountable amounts of homework that do nothing but promote negative feelings towards school in general? If you want your child to develop good habits and foster discipline, why not get her involved in a sport? why not encourage her to read books that would spark her interest and actually expand her vocabulary? why not plan an educational and fun family outing that would strengthen family ties? I can think of so many other ways to promote discipline and stimulate children to be better and do better and homework is NOT one of those ways.
And don't get me wrong, I get that some kids do need to complete exercises that are repetitive in nature and knowledge needs to be drilled into their brains, but I don't believe ALL children need that, therefore the ones that don't, end up being "punished" with homework, a learning method that I consider completely obsolete and unproductive.
My sister is a 1st grade teacher and her case for homework is that it can be a way to measure the involvement of parents in their children's education, I happen to disagree with that assessment, because the idea that a parent is "involved" simply because they make it a point to "force" their children to do pointless homework doesn't make sense to me.  My own mother never did homework with me and I like to believe that she was rather involved in my education and my life in general, so the point becomes mutt with my own experience. I must also point out that I attended schools that had mostly "no homework" policies and I consider myself a well rounded and disciplined individual regardless of whether or not homework was part of my academic life (it wasn't, by the way!)
There are other studies that suggest that the amount of homework given should vary by grade, with an average of 10 minutes per grade (so a child in 2nd grade would get 20 minutes, a child in 3rd grade would get 30 and so on)... I find that pointless too.. why try to fill a time quota just to meet the requirement of giving that child homework regardless of her needs?
I know that this homework topic is very controversial and there are powerful and insightful studies on both sides of the argument, however I stand by the idea that homework (especially the mindless, pointless, repetitive kind of homework) does more harm than good; it makes the children exhausted, it shortens their time to do other more productive and enriching activities, it fosters negative feelings towards school, it affects family dynamics and keeps them occupied but not stimulated.  I wish all teachers and school administrators came together to look at ways to improve the system, I wish they all took notes from other more successful educational systems around the world such as the one in Finland where students score significantly higher in aptitude tests and key areas such as reading and math.  And while I don't suggest that some kind of educational activity shouldn't be part of a student's daily routine, I do believe that the kind of homework kids get these days isn't very beneficial in the long run.

Lastly, I'd like to share this article titled "Is too much homework bad for kid's health?", which explores the negative consequences of excessive homework on kids' mental health and suggests that the quality of the homework assignment is key and definitely way more important than the quantity.

What are your thoughts on homework? How much time does your kid spend doing homework on a daily basis?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Terrible 2s and......horrible 3s?

I'll admit it, as a mom I always want to think my kids are the best behaved, the smartest, the kindest, etc.. you get the point, moms want to believe their kids are perfect...or at least pretend they are, right?  If your answer is "no" then you're probably from another planet... mmm.. just kidding.. or am I? LOL!
Raising kids had been a fairly "easy" and attainable task until life threw a curve ball and sent us Oliver; to say that I struggled with the reality of an "unplanned" baby would be an understatement, but if you've read my blog before you probably already knew that... having a 3rd baby was very, very, VERY hard for me both physically and emotionally. 
Even though I love my boy more than words can say, a part of me just wasn't ready for him and I still question whether I am cut out for this "mom of three" thing... I guess God thinks I'm a real badass! 
It's pretty common to hear people talk about the "Terrible 2s", which is a stage in which toddlers struggle between their reliance on adults and their need for independence; it is said that most kids around the age of 2 will start to be rebellious and hard to deal with.. 
I'll be honest and say that I was pretty lucky with my girls when they were that age; they were pretty good about listening, avoiding meltdowns and following directions overall... I was truly blessed!
When I had Oliver, I'd always hear moms saying "oh! boys are so much worse, you'll see", so I was naturally bracing myself for some hell.. But 2 came and went (he'll be 3 in 9 days) and besides the potty training ordeal, Oliver has been basically an "angel" up to now.  He never tried to climb out of his crib, doesn't do public tantrums, doesn't throw food, doesn't climb on things and even though there has been the occasional school biting and scratching, he has never really been trouble...until now!
I won't say that he is bad because that certainly isn't the case, but he's definitely giving us a run for our money with how hyper and needy he has become in the past few weeks...is this the start of the "Horrible 3s? why doesn't anybody talk about what's to come after the "terrible 2s"? In my experience, the 3s have been more challenging than the 2s could ever be.  Not only are children way more agile by the time they hit 3, but they are also more aware of their environment, have more knowledge overall, a more extensive vocabulary and way more argumentative power and an undeniable persuasion capability. 
Oliver isn't even 3 yet and he already thinks he's the boss of everyone.  He is becoming increasingly more defiant and demanding and way too opinionated for my liking; I'm definitely afraid of what the 3s have in store for us.  
I'd like to know if I'm the only mother of a 3 year old who thinks this age is worse than the previous one.. or is it always the case that kids just get more difficult with age? (LOL!).  I'd like to know how I can tame this little rebellious boy of mine without hindering his desire to express himself and discover the world.  I find it very difficult sometimes to balance my motherly authority and my children's freedom of expression.  Do you struggle with this too?  Where do you draw the line?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Life is not a "Popularity Contest"...but how do you teach that?

A few days ago as I picked up the kids from school I noticed Gaby had been crying; she seemed to have freshly shed tears in her eyes and her demeanor was sad, so it was obvious to me that something was up.  As much as I talk to my children, I also try to give them space so I waited until she felt like telling me about her affliction. She told me about a girl in her class, who she considered a close friend, that had invited a few girls to her house after school to celebrate her birthday but didn't invite her.  Gaby was surprised that most of her close friends had been invited but she had been left out and that made her very upset. Even though I felt sad, I quickly mentioned her own birthday celebration and how she had to select just a few people since it was just a small get together. While my response seemed to do the trick, there was one comment made by Gaby that really struck a nerve. She said "I wasn't invited because I am not popular!"..mmm.. what??!  I'd be lying if I said that thought didn't bug me...it actually mortified me.  Isn't it too early for my 9 year old to feel that way? How can I tell her she's wrong when she might be right?

Fast forward a few days and Olivia comes home saying all 6th graders had been invited to run for class representative within the school's student council. She was excited at the prospect of running a "political campaign" but assured me that she was only doing it for the fun of it because she "knew" only the "popular kids" had a chance of winning. At the risk of trivializing her feelings, I told her that 6th grade student council wasn't really a big deal but the fact that the word "popular" came up again really annoyed me and made me concerned.  

After giving it some thought and even trying to remember what it was like when I was in school, I realized that the fact that life often feels like a "popularity contest" is undeniable and the constant competition harms children and adults all the same.  I clearly remember many occasions when I have felt excluded by people who I consider friends; the sting I have felt when I log on Facebook only to see school moms doing wine nights or play dates where neither my kids or I have been invited or even considered prospective guests, maybe because we're not "popular"? or maybe we're not THAT important to be part of a group?
So if as adults sometimes we have a hard time dealing with rejection and often feel this looming popularity contest happening pretty much every day, how can we expect kids to deal well with all those feelings? How can we teach them to be themselves and work towards self actualization rather than acceptance?

The other day one of Olivia's good friends, who happens to be one of the most beautiful girls I know, made a comment to me that went something like "my smile is so ugly!" and she went on to talk about how uncomfortable she felt smiling in pictures because she didn't feel she looked pretty enough. Her comment shocked me because #1 her smile is clearly amazing and #2 she is incredibly concerned about her looks because she believe she doesn't measure up to the standards society sets up. This conversation got me thinking about how there is a constant need for acceptance among children and in the process many of them lose their essence and forget who they are or why they do what they do. 
I've heard of kids in school being bullied because they are too tall, or too fat, or too short, or too thin, or too studious or maybe too lazy. I've heard my kids referring to some cliques as the "popular kids" and I see it in moms too, every day.... I hate how everyone is constantly trying to outdo one another, to impress everyone, to be liked at all times... it's exhausting... it really is! 

So I want to teach my children that they are not in this world to impress anyone, that they won't always be liked by everyone and that even though it feels like it at times, life is NOT a popularity contest and they have to be that change agent if they want to see a difference.  I hope God gives me the wisdom to make my children understand that they are unique and incredible and their only concern should be to be the best human being they possibly can be, without minding popularity or trying to outdo people at all times. 
I want that pretty young girl to know that her smile is amazing and she should be proud to show it in every picture.  I want Gaby to understand that if she doesn't get invited to someone's house, she's still awesome and that doesn't mean she's not liked. I want Olivia to run for student council simply because she believes in herself whether she wins or not and to always have the resilience to do it again every time she feels like it. 

Life is too short to get hung up on that invitation you didn't get or that race you didn't win! I am happy to be who I am and how I am and I want my children to learn that...the sooner the better! :)