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.


Iron-Man said...

Kids need to do their own homework, though sometimes they need a little help and encouragement!

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Pauline, I guess it depends on the child. Having five I tried to spot check their agendas then asked them to show me this or that to make sure it was completed.

My schedule with them was this:

once they came home after school I allowed them one hour of free time before they had to hit their homework. I wasn't over their heads but they knew I was there if they needed help. Some of them, however, needed me to pull teeth to get some of their 'I hate this subject' homework done. :)