Farming Families – Doing School

As a former teacher, I’m often asked for my opinion on education issues.  And because I’m never without an opinion (at least one), here are some topics I am asked about and my answers:

1.  “How much homework should my kids have each night?  Last night my second grader had two hours of homework!  Should I talk to his teacher?”

My mom (a 30+ year veteran teacher) had a rule of thumb:  no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level.  So, if you have a 3rd grader, they should have no more than 30 minutes per night.  Do all teachers follow this rule?  I’m sure not.  But it’s a good place to start.  If your child is doing homework for hours, it is entirely appropriate to talk to the teacher.  Is your child not understanding certain concepts?  Are they not using class time wisely and having to take it home to complete?  Is this large amount of homework an isolated incident?  Are they working on a special project?  Communicate with your child’s teacher, keep an open mind and ask lots of questions.

2.  “I need help with my daughter’s homework.  I sit with her while she does it.  When she makes a mistake, should I correct her or let her get it wrong?”

This makes me sigh.  Deeply.  As a teacher, I wanted parents to be hands-off at homework time (and to be honest, I tried not to give homework, instead always giving class time to work on problems and projects).  Should you sit with them and help them?  No.  The teacher wants to know what your child knows, not what you and your child know.  Should you correct their work before they hand it in?  Again, no.  It is not the worst thing in the world to get an answer or two wrong.  It is far worse to communicate to your child that he or she should never make a mistake.  Errors indicate areas of improvement and it’s OK to identify those.  Was it a silly mistake?  Maybe they need to slow down.  Was it a habitual mistake?  Maybe there are gaps in learning that need review.  Bottom line?  If you make those corrections, the teacher doesn’t receive that feedback.  Now, are there times when parents and students should work together?  Absolutely!  Talk to your child’s teacher to know for sure.

3.  (Pushback from #2)  “But I want my daughter to get good grades and do well.  I want to make sure she’s successful.”

We all want our children to do well.  But the key word in that sentence is “children”.  It is their life, their education, their choices.  Can we guide and support and offer encouragement?  Absolutely!  But when we DO IT for our kids, it is not THEIR accomplishment, THEIR success.  Children need to own their failures and setbacks so that they can own their successes.  When do you want your children to learn that not completing their work has serious consequences?  In the second grade or in their second job?  Natural consequences are the best teacher.  Allow them to happen, I promise your children will be better off.

4.  “My girls cannot get dressed on time for school.  They claim they have nothing to wear and change clothes multiple times.”

Oh boy, if you didn’t like what I said in the earlier questions, you really won’t like this one.  As you may have guessed, I will never be known as “the nice mom”.  My job as a parent is to provide my child with a roof over their heads, food to eat and clothes to wear.  Not designer clothes.  Not multiple clothes.  Not perfectly matched clothes.  Just clothes.  And I decide what goes in your closet (especially if you are in elementary school), you may choose from those choices I’ve provided, but you better be on time.  If you can’t be ready for school on time because you can’t get dressed, then you clearly have too many clothes and most of them will need to be removed.  Each morning, there will be a maximum of two outfits from which to choose.  If you are not in the van and ready to leave for school at the appointed time, you will be left.  (And I would have a neighbor keep an eye out her window while I took the other children to school.)  I would swing through the drive-through for a coffee or hot chocolate and then I’d return home.  As I leisurely strolled through the door, I imagine the child will be frantic to get to school on time.  Sorry, I already made one trip to school and you weren’t ready.  If you miss the first trip, the second one is on my time.  I have a few things to take care of before I’ll be ready to go again.  (Feel free to toss in a load of laundry, start the dishwasher, pay some bills…whatever small jobs you feel like working on.)  Then, when YOU are ready, calmly announce to the child that you are ready to take them to school.  Walk them into the office and tell the school personnel “Suzie is late for school because she could not dress herself on time.  Please do whatever you do with students who cannot dress themselves.”  And then leave.  I guarantee you’ll only have to do this once.

Here’s my child-rearing philosophy in a nutshell:  Children need to deal with their problems.  Don’t make their problems your problems.  Getting homework done, getting correct answers, getting dressed, getting out of the house on time are all responsibilities of your children.  And it can be from an early age.  Even my 2.5 year old can miraculously find her dress boots when I walk out the door to get in the car for church.  Don’t make their problems your problems.  Don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut-off to find a lost book, assignment, shoe.  They need to solve that problem themselves.  The sooner they experience natural consequences of their behaviors and choices, the sooner you don’t have to think about it.

Day 12 Homework:  If you have children or know children or were once a child, what issues did you have?  How could they have been handled better?