Homework Blog

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Rule #5:
Make Certain That
You Do Your Kids'
Homework and Projects

It is no secret that I am no fan of homework. For the most part, it is a huge waste of time- your child’s, yours, and the teacher’s.

Homework ruins evenings and causes strife and conflict for millions of families. And, for what? We have been led to believe that homework is beneficial, but homework can actually damage children in a number of ways.

For now, I am going to assume that your child is regularly assigned homework, and your goal is that they complete, check and turn in this homework. I am also assuming that you want this lovely scenario to repeat itself throughout your child’s academic career: he does his homework now, and he will do his homework when he’s a big boy in college.

This is what you want, right? A self-motivated, self-directed, independent, responsible student?

Then stop doing his homework.

Once again, it goes back to treating our children as though we believe that they are capable individuals. Mama Bird, if you swoop down and do their homework for them, you’re telling them that they need swooping (you know what I mean). If you sit next to them and read the directions for them, feed them the answers to math problems, come up with sentences for vocabulary words- then you apparently believe that they cannot do these things themselves.

Kids are smart. If we are going to do part or all of their homework, why shouldn’t they take advantage of it? Imagine a tired executive with a long to-do list. She has tons of work, but she also has a loving, enabling assistant hovering about. Instead of closing the executive’s door, taking care of his own work, and waiting to be summoned when called, this assistant plops right down next to the boss and takes over writing her reports, answering her email, and mopping her sweaty brow.

There is, however, a crucial difference between the executive and our children, and I am not talking about age.

The executive knows that she is perfectly capable of doing her own work; she is simply allowing her assistant to handle everything. Our children, on the other hand, don’t yet know what they can handle. If we act like they are incapable, they will probably start to believe it. They are smart enough to take advantage of a good situation, but not where it ends. Sooner or later, they will believe that they need you to do their homework or report or project. Parents tell me all of the time that their fifth and sixth graders can’t do their homework without them sitting right there!

Hardly the self-motivated, self-directed, independent, responsible students we said we wanted.

By doing your child’s homework, you are also teaching him that it is okay to cheat. Getting the answers from somebody else is cheating. You would call it cheating if the answers came from a friend, a kid that probably knows a lot less than you!

You still say it’s not cheating? You’re only helping and prompting and suggesting answers? Would you let the teacher see what you are doing?

Okay, then.

Adults doing children’s homework defeats the (supposed) purpose of homework. Let’s say that today your son was introduced to the exciting concept of dividing fractions, which means that tonight he has a page of problems. If you, educated parent, somehow remember how to divide fractions and do the problems for your son, the teacher won’t know if he actually understands how to divide fractions- until he flunks Friday’s test. I appreciate your effort, but, as a teacher, I would rather see incorrect or unfinished math problems because it alerts me to the fact that my student didn’t understand a concept and I need to re-teach it.

You may be thinking, “But what about teachers that don’t look at or correct the homework? Shouldn’t I make sure that my child understands what they learned that day?” If the teacher isn’t going to look at or correct the homework that he or she assigns, THEN WHY ARE WE MAKING OUR KIDS DO IT AND WHAT PURPOSE DOES IT SERVE?

If you want to be sure that your child understands that day’s material, have them do one or two problems. If they got it, great! Let them go out and play. If they don’t have it, let the teacher know. Your job is not to teach school.

Nor is it to build a pyramid out of sugar cubes, glue artificial trees inside a shoe box, write a power point presentation on the Kings of Egypt- or whatever project your child is working on this week.

Believe it or not, projects are for students, not their parents. Students need to learn about planning, research, collecting and organizing materials, writing a first draft, editing their work, taking a project from start to finish. When parents take over, students aren’t learning any of that.

Offer advice, make suggestions, but PLEASE, let your children do their own projects and write their own papers! If your children honestly cannot complete the project, let the teacher know before it is due. Keep in mind, though, that your children can do much more than they let on- if we give them the chance.

By the way, do you actually think the teacher is fooled when your child- her student whose work she corrects every day- turns in something you did?

The teacher is not fooled.

You’re angry. I can tell. You’re thinking, “It’s easy for you, Angela! I bet your kids have no problem doing their projects without your help.”

Actually, no.

As I write this, my family is in the midst of Project Hell. My daughter (now in middle-school) has had three weeks to work on a MAJOR project; yet, here it is the day before the dreaded thing is due, and she needs more supplies! She can’t decide what to do! She wants to stay home from school to work on it! Help! Help! Help!

I’m her mother. Of course, I want to push her out of the way and finish her project (I’d also like to put my car back into the garage). I could do a bang-up job, too. A few hours of my time, and that project would be finished and looking fabulous. I know that dozens of her classmates’ parents are doing their children’s projects. These are the same parents that did their children’s science projects a couple of months ago. Tonight, those same kids will be sleeping or watching TV while their parents cut and saw, glue and paint, type and print. Those children’s projects will look better than my daughter’s. I am as competitive as the next modern parent. I want my child’s project to be the best, just as I wanted her science project to win awards. Here’s the thing…

It’s not about me. It’s about my daughter. It’s about her learning a few things, like how to:

◊ devise a plan and stick to it.

◊ take advice when it is offered by an expert.

◊ not bury your head in the sand (TV, computer or iPod)when the going gets tough.

◊ do it yourself and not expect someone- parent, spouse, boss, friend- to come to your rescue.

So, tonight there will be pouting, huffing and puffing, slammed doors and tears in my house. We’ve been through it before, and I am sure we’ll have to go through it again. Sigh. I am willing to deal with the drama because I know that I am teaching my daughter some life lessons. Hopefully, she will learn from this experience and be better prepared the next time.

I keep coming back to the fact that parents have to let their children stumble and fall even though it hurts us to see their tears- and some really bad projects. I won’t always be there to do the projects and make sure the homework is turned in- and neither will you. There will come a time when our kids have to do it themselves. We have to let go, now or later.

We have to let them learn the lessons, and we have to relax. This project may seem like the most important thing in the world, but it will not determine the course of my daughter’s life. She can still go to college and/or become a productive member of society even if this particular project looks crazy.

Of course, I may have a different perspective at 1 o’clock in the morning.

Too often we give children answers to remember
rather than problems to solve.- Roger Lewin

Want to Read More?

Return to advice for parents.

Go on to Rule #6.