Singing the Homework Blues

As we enter the third week of school, it’s safe to say that homework has become the norm.  With my own third grader, we’ve had a few meltdowns already and I’m seriously dreading the rest of the school year.  I have been working hard to help set up some homework routines that help minimize the homework drama that ensues.  We’re not there yet, but it’s safe to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

homework_problem

Homework can be frustrating for any student, especially after a fun-filled summer without many routines.  Helping students get back into the routine of school and responsibilities can help get them get back into the homework frame of mind.  We have a routine for after-school and homework.  Some students find they work best when they jump in and start their homework as soon as they get home.  I know for my little guy he needs some time to relax (and play Minecraft) before he is ready to dive into his school work.  You know your child best; do what works for them based on their needs and their personality.  We tried homework after school and the tantrum and the excuses took longer than the actual homework.  I figure out that he needed a break after school.  A lot less tears and complaining.

Set up an area where homework is to be completed.  Homework in our house is completed at the kitchen table.  The TV is off and I make sure there are no other distractions.  That includes putting my distractions away like the paperwork piled up on the counters and my cell phone.  When it’s homework time, I give him my attention.  It’s important for him to know that I think homework is important and that his struggles are important.  That I am there for him.

kitchen table

Have everything that you need for your child to complete his/her homework readily available.  I bought a small cup at the dollar store and purchased extra pencils, highlighters,  and coloured pencils when everything was on sale at the beginning of the year.  Everything is sharpened – I make sure of it or else we are spending time sharpening and organizing the pencil container.  Homework was challenging because he’d forget his pencil case at school or we wouldn’t have what we needed to get started.  Now I keep the pencil caddy and a ream of lined-paper in a cupboard in the kitchen so that we are always prepared.

pencils

I help my son review his homework so that he understands what is required.  I do the same with my students that I tutor.  In order to do their homework they need to know what is expected.  Just recently, my son was assigned five out of 9 questions.  On the top of the page the teacher had written “Complete any five of the following questions”.  He missed that the first time he read through.  Working with him, we discussed why it’s important to read the instructions and make a checklist of what is needed.  Helping him prioritize what is needed minimizes his anxiety and confusion.  He’s learning important skills on how to break tasks down into smaller parts and how to organize himself.  All are important and transferable skills for life.

homework-tips

If your child is really having a difficult time with an assignment – speak to the teacher and explain your concerns.  Work together with the teacher to come up with a plan that works for your child.

I always praise my son for a job well done.  If he worked hard on an assignment I make sure he knows that I am proud of him.  I want him to show GRIT.  I want him to understand the value of preserving, of working hard to get through a difficult task.  He needs to know that learning from challenges (and failure) is important and that achievement doesn’t come easily.  That it is something he needs to work for.   I don’t care if his paper was perfect or if he answered every question correctly.  I want him to know that I admire him for not giving up, for setting goals and working through tough times.  I share with him my own struggles and how I have to work hard.  He knows it’s not easy for me all of the time either.  Kids need to understand that as parents we too have our own challeneges that we face.

happy-child

Be a role model.  If your child needs to read each night, read next to him.  Show him what a good reader looks like, show that you enjoy reading. Reading together helps encourage a life-long love of learning for your children.

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I won’t lie – I hate homework.  I loathe the conflict it creates in my home.  As a parent, it kills me to go through the battle some days.  As a teacher, I know that homework is important.  It’s teaching my son to be resilient.  It is teaching him to be disciplined and helping him practice what he has learned.  Some nights it’s a struggle to read a chapter while other nights I can’t get him to put the book away.

When all else fails consider a tutor.  There was a time when I just could not go through the homework battle anymore and I hired a colleague to work with him.  It helped.  He was much more receptive and willing to try with her.  I don’t see that as my failure.  I’m a teacher and work with many students and help them with their struggles, why did I need to find someone to work with my own son?  The short answer is that my son and I have a multifaceted relationship.  I’m his mother, he’s my child.  We have an incredible bond and are very close.  At that time with all of his struggles he needed someone who wasn’t tied to him emotionally.  He’s in grade three now and I have learned to not sweat the small stuff.  Surprisingly, some days he enjoys homework or at least it’s not a battle.  Homework isn’t going anywhere.  It will get a lot worse as he gets older.  I feel confident that we’re working towards a system that helps him and minimizes stress in the house.  Each child is different and what works for one may not work for the other.

Lazy Answers

Leaving the principal’s office, Steven looks at his new schedule; it all looks the same, sauf the second period class.  Steven was in his second week of school and had to be removed from his French class as the class reached its maximum numbers.  He didn’t think this would be that big of a deal, the only thing that changed was his classroom.  In fact, the new classroom was literally right below the old one.  Steven wondered as he wandered, “how will this change affect me?”  He decided it wouldn’t, it was a simple change, a singular variable.  The teacher was great (he heard that it was Mr. Casey 😉  ,)  and half his class was moved to this new room as well.

As the days start to pass, Mr. Casey notices that Steven has been late every day for class.  “What is wrong with this kid?!  Does he not like my class?  This is second period, how is he late when he’s been in school since 830a?,” Mr. Casey ponders frustratingly.  He follows the same basic routine as other teachers, that is, he asks Steven why he’s always late, calls home, assigns detentions; nothing seems to help.  When asked, Steven explains that “I try my very best to get here.  I promise, there’s just not enough time to get here.”

Finally, Mr. Casey decides he would investigate, hoping to catch Steven trying to grab a smoke between classes or something.  He checks with the office to get his period 1 class.  Steven’s classroom is surprisingly not far from his previous French classroom –just a couple doors down.  He waits in hiding as the period 1 bell rings.  Covertly, Mr. Casey follows Steven as he leaves his classroom.  Steven takes a quick right, which surprises Mr. Casey a little as the nearest staircase was a stone’s throw to the left.  Nonetheless, a simple detour to the main staircase should not make him late for class.  Mr. Casey continues to pursue as he starts making mental notes on how Steven can cut his travel time to class down.  Steven makes his way down to his locker, and again, Mr. Casey is shocked to find Steven’s lockers is steps away from his classroom door.  Steven switches out his books, shuts his locker, and heads back towards the main entrance of the school.  “Ah-HA!,” Mr. Casey mentally shouts.  “This is it!,” he thought, “Steven’s heading back to the entrance to get his smoke or something.  I knew it, I’ve got him!”  Mr. Casey follows Steven to the front doors with a sense of pride and excitement as a detective would walk on his way to the courthouse after making the plot turning discovery.  Then, Steven does something Mr. Casey would have never guessed, Steven didn’t leave the school.  Steven wasn’t smoking, doing drugs, selling smack, running tricks, or playing Pogs.  He turned to the staircase and walked back upstairs.  Puzzled, Mr. Casey followed Steven with caution.  Steven walked past his previous period’s class, past his old french room, and then down the north staircase.  “What?!,” Mr. Casey tried to deduce the rationality behind what he had just saw.  He hollered down the stairs to Steven.  Catching up with Steven, he asks “Steven, where are you going?!”

Steven, puzzled, replies “…to class…?”

“Where did you go, before class?

“…to my locker…?”

“Why did you go back upstairs?”

“…because I had to go to class…?”

“But your classroom and locker are both downstairs, why go back upstairs?”

“…?”

Steven shrugs his shoulders and starts to search the floor for an answer with a math-induced puzzled expression on his face.  “I don’t know.  That’s how I’ve always got to class.”  Steven was right, it was.  The principal had taken special care to make sure Steven understood the class change, as she knew he had a disability and was not good with change.  She only told him, however, about the classroom change.  Steven never learned that his pathway to his locker would now change.  Mr. Casey started to see this pattern of behaviour unfold in front of him.  He would spend the next few days helping Steven change his routine to avoid walking all around the school to get his new classroom.

Everyday life situations can be very stressful for people with disabilities.  Whether it be someone with a wheelchair being unable to visit his new friend’s house because he can’t get his chair up to the front door, or someone with autism having to brush their teeth with a blue tooth brush instead of a pink one, barriers exist.  Steven’s obvious conflict with his chosen pathway was formulated from past behaviours that never changed.  Routines are one of the most important goals for success with many people that have disabilities.  Routines help us to overcome barriers consistently/automatically, to avoid forgetting things, or to just create a safe place for ourselves.  These routines, when left unchecked, can create some conflict.  In Steven’s example, his routine was a good habit prior to his classroom change, but became a bad habit once his situation changed.  His old habit was no longer accomplishing what it needed to (that is, getting Steven to class on time with all his books.)

My own life has seen many similar situations turn up.  We all will deal with change to our routines in different ways, depending on who we are.  Myself, I see change, I understand it, I just don’t like to adapt to it.  When I find a successful routine, I strive everyday to maintain my routine, tooth and nail.  When a variable changes, I get upset and frustrated.  No matter the situation, no matter how big, nor how small, it physically disturbs me.  I need that “Mr. Casey” to come and help me out of my “rut.”  My parents tried to be that help when I was young, but struck with a lack of information, they never cracked my code.

The most challenging part of these routine changes, is that they happened all the time.  It wasn’t the big, life altering changes that drove me nuts, but the little unimportant ones.  When I graduated high school, I was more disturbed with having to go back for a 6th year than I was when I finally started university.  I spend 5 years understanding and preparing to move on past high school, but a 6th year was a change to my plans more than actual university.  When my brother started high school at another school, I had to change my morning routines as my ride left earlier; still not that big of a problem.  My mom had the day off one day, and it was the end of the world for me.  Despite the fact that nothing was actually hindering my morning routine directly, having my mom home was enough of a change that I would shut down that morning and be unable to function properly.  Now that I think of it, this explains plenty why my mother and I were always at each others throats’ those mornings.  Man, change sucks!

But change is necessary.  Years later, and many research projects ago, I learned how these routines affect my life.  Today, I am able to articulate, understand, even predict when these changes will disturb my life.  My wife is my rock.  Don’t get me wrong, she absolutely hates how “stubborn” and “obsessed” I get with small things, but she understands me.  I’ve told her plenty of times why I can react like I do, and she helps me to relax and adjust.  I never use my disabilities as an excuse for bad behaviour, but I do use it to understand my behaviours.  When I start to get upset about a change, my wife is great at walking me through things.  She knows that just explaining the changes and how they will affect/ not change my life at all is enough to calm me down.  My wife isn’t a psychologist, therapist, mother, or has ever dealt with people that have disabilities.  She has come from a place where it’s accepted to see people with a disability as burdens to society, rather than individuals that succeed differently (we are all changing our views on disabilities everyday, only some places adjust at different tempos.)  For the record, since having moved here, and understanding more about me, her opinions have greatly changed.

The point being (sorry, stray tangent,) you don’t need a fancy degree or life experience to be a helping hand to someone.  We do it everyday for our friends.  We see our BFF sitting in the hallway crying about being dumped or cheated on by his GF, and we sit down with them, console them, and try to get them back on their feet.  The challenge is that people with a disabilities are different.  We need different help, and many of us do not know how to help.  Most of the time, it just takes some investigative work.  My favourite example is the “lazy” student.  A student doesn’t finish his work, many teachers say he’s “lazy.”  When you do some investigation, it turns out that reading about some love story that happened 40 years ago is not only extremely unmotivating for a teenage boy, but when you also have problems reading you’ll never get to the point where you can complete your work.  “Lazy” is an excuse to not care, as are many other words that allow us to say, “I’ve done all that I can.”

If you have a child with a disability, I’m sure that you can identify the conflicts and struggles that come with it.  If you have a disability, I’m sure that you know you struggle, as did I.  We all need to take some time to do some investigation.  Our society has become better and better at doing this, yet often we continue to avoid finding answers.  Organizations like the LDAO and developing programs in our local school systems are there to help.  Ask your teacher for resources, ask your principal, your student services teacher, call the LDAO, anything.  When you are at your witt’s end with a teenager that has a disability, whether it be socially, behaviourly, or academically, sublimate your own stress and find an answer.  You’ll make your life easier, the life of others around you easier, and you’ll find that understanding someone leads to success.  I found it in my life, I see it everyday as a teacher.