Sunday, September 30, 2007

Let the Erasers Fly

I sm going to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and urge parents to take it easy and NOT get so involved in their kids' schoolwork. Before you start throwing erasers at me, let me explain.

I come to this position from years spent as a stay-at-home mom, working mom and kindergarten teacher, as well as just a plain old busy-body. I stayed at home with my kids for several years because I just plain wanted to. I enjoyed spending the time with the girls and look back fondly on those days. Every afternoon I would grab my two daughters, and we would do art projects together, or go to a museum or park or play a game or go for a long walk in the woods, usually overturning a stone or two to examine the teeming life underneath. It was our together time, our fun time. Of course, the activities we did had ulterior purposes- there was nearly always a learning component involved, but the main thing was the activities were fun. My older daughter still remembers the time we crowded into a dark closet and shone a flashlight on a glass of milk to show why the sky is blue. They remember the art projects and the games, but mostly they remember the fun.

When my older daughter started kindergarten, we continued our activities once she got home from school each day. However, we now had something else to contend with-- homwork! I was amazed that she had homework in kindergarten, but I would dutifully sit down and work on it with her every day. Of necessity it demanded a parent's assistance so if I did NOT help, I would be branded as a BAD MOM.

Well that was fine because I was home all the time so it wasn't an undue burden. However, by the time my younger daughter started First Grade, I was working part time, and my time was more limited. This was the year I became introduced to a new concept, that of the DAILY HOMEWORK FOLDER. Every day the girls would bring home a folder with their homework assignments. It was my job to go through the folder with them, help them with their assignments and then sign the folder each day to indicate that I was aware of what was going on in the classroom.

I balked at this. I had finished school a long time ago. The girls' homework was not my responsibility, other than seeing that they did it and providing help if necessary. I didn't need to read the same assignments they did, look through the worksheets or do a science project or social studies project. By the time I got home from work, prepared dinner for the family, did some housework, fed and walked the dogs, folded laundry, threw another load in the washer and prepared my own lesson plans for the next day, the LAST thing I had time to do was complete the DAILY HOMEWORK FOLDER.

So I taught the girls how to forge my signature. "Homework," I told them. "Is your responsibility. If you don't do it, you are toast. If you need help, I'm here for you. End of lecture."

Somehow both girls made it through the entire year completing their homework on their own without my ever looking at the DAILY HOMEWORK FOLDER. They were both A students. None of us ever told the teachers that I was a delinquent Mom.

Each year it seemed that the schools tried more and more ways to force parents to be involved in the classroom. Open houses, field trips, being a room mother during class parties and science fair projects were accepted and welcomed. Going up to school to photocopy worksheets for the teachers was not. (My suggested solution that the teachers not use worksheets was greeted with horror.) Looking over the girls' report cards and discussing their progress was welcomed. Going up to school during the work day to pick up the report card and sign for it was not because it meant that SOMEONE, usually me, had to take off work early.

I disliked assignments in which the entire family had to participate-- I resented being told by the school that I HAD to do something in my oh so miniscule spare time. In an era where being involved in your child's school is not just expected but demanded, I was a rebel. I can remember going up to the elementary school one day to work as "Santa's Helper" in "Santa's Secret Store." There was a group of moms there who routinely spent their entire days at the school. They photocopied, read to students, supervised the lunchroom, helped kids with art projects, and performed all kinds of duties for the school. One of the moms stood by the photocopier for the entire three hours I worked my shift. During that time she did nothing but photocopy and scold her preschool-aged child who spent most of the time strapped into a stroller. I remembered back when I was growing up that there was a woman my family made fun of because she was always in her car, driving her kids from one activity to another. She had a late-in-life baby and we laughed because we said the poor kid had never been outside of the car. I looked at this preschooler in the copy room and remembered back to the car baby of my younger days, and I thought, wouldn't these kids be better off at home, playing?

Parents are under a tremendous amount of pressure to be involved with their kids' education. I agree that it is important for parents to be involved with their kids, but I disagree that parents have to be involved in the classroom. If Mom and Dad spend hours of time hiking with the kids or playing sports or engaging in some other family activity, isn't that just as useful as spending hours sitting at a homework table together? If parents ensure that their kids are able to take responsibility for their own actions, doesn't that satisfy the need of the school to have kids who are well behaved and engaged in learning? If parents foster discussions around the dinner table about science or current events or history, doesn't that help the kids to learn?

There was a side effect of these mothers being so heavily involved in volunteering at the school-- their children were practically immune from being disciplined, and in many cases, their children were holy terrors- largely because they knew that they were safe because Mom was powerful in the PTA or Mom was buddies with the principal because of all her volunteer work. In several cases the teachers even told me that they dare not do anything to those kids when they misbehaved because they would get counseled by the principals.

Throughout the girls' school years I continued my rebellion. Nevertheless the girls always completed their homework, were exceptional students and were very well behaved. They enjoyed learning and still do, and for the most part enjoyed school. By forcing them to be responsible for their own homework when they were in elementary school, they picked up a sense of responsibility that serves them well to this day.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back To School

Now...I'm wondering how many parents are smiling as their children wave goodbye and head to school. I know I used to be one of those parents but not anymore. Let me explain.

During the summer, there are no worries about being late for school. No worries about what to pack for lunch. No worries about homework being done.

Come September, all these worries resurface. Whether you are a working parent or not, back to school means back to school for you, too.

I remember growing up where my mom, being Greek and not speaking any English, never helped me with my homework. I managed. With my children? Although I speak Greek, English, and French, some of these assignments all read like hieroglyphics to me. My oldest child will be 29 this October, and our school system, while all five of my kids were in school, had changed at least 7 times that I can distinctly remember...and I remember because it affected them in some way.

One year they introduce a French immersion program to begin at Grade Four. I always believed this was silly because a young child entering Kindergarten is like a sponge and will absorb more of a new language than a child who is around 9 years old. Well, wouldn't you know it...a few years later they changed it.

One year they decided to forego correcting children in their spelling until they entered Grade Three. Once again, I felt the school board was making a mistake. One year later, this new introductory system was changed.

There were at least three different math programs introduced and then scrapped a year later.

Now, you tell me if these new introductions don't affect a child's education in some way. I understand the need to grow and expand and try new things but you would think they would survey the parent committees for input. Anyway...

I praise teachers nowadays for they have a lot to deal with: funding is almost nonexistent, kids at a younger age seem to be having more and more stress, and many of the extra stuff comes out of their own pockets in order to try and offer their classrooms decent educational material.

So, does Back To School sound as yippee as you first thought?

Lea Schizas