Question: With competitiveness today I feel like I have to always stay on top of my 9-year-old with her homework. I work full time and homework fills our night. I feel guilty about her not being able to play or be a kid. Would appreciate your perspective.
Answer: You describe a tricky balancing act – how to teach responsibility and personal excellence while still maintaining a fun, age-appropriate schedule. Evenings are a critical time to build family life. They cannot be totally consumed by homework and chores or you will find yourself avoiding the obligations and your daughter hating learning. Evaluate your daughter’s play-work balance keeping two factors in mind: play and work are not exclusive categories and the timeframe to consider is from after-school to bedtime not just evenings.
Play is the work of building young minds and bodies that may in fact be the “competitive edge” that many children are lacking these days. Children need movement, risk-taking, social maneuvering, and imaginative exploration to literally build a thinking brain. Academic concepts are reworked in play thereby strengthening neural pathways. (The math and music connection wasn’t true only for babies!) Play also refreshes the mind so it can focus on challenging problems. At the same time, homework shouldn’t be all drudgework. If you can’t make the homework itself more fun, you can make the homework setting more positive. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about the possibilities. Sit at the table with your daughter (read the newspaper or a book, do your own work, pay bills and organize statements). Serve easy-to-eat desserts like cookies and brownies on a special “homework” plate that is only brought out on homework nights or served when homework is finished. Create a “thinking place” with things that inspire creativity – an interesting desk pad, pictures, and those special doodads that captivate 9-year-olds. Show your daughter with your actions that you value her investment in learning. Read and discuss her work.
Hopefully, you can limit homework time to 1 – 1 1/2 hours per day. If it is taking longer, you may want to speak to her teacher for recommendations. You may need to work on improving your daughter’s study habits and time management. Help her to be clear about the assignments and focused about her work.
Finally, create a balance between work and play by creating a realistic schedule for after-school and for the weekends. Keep portions of your daughter’s schedule open to just do nothing! If the after-school program is unstructured, then a calm but productive evening routine is possible. If you want family “down” time in the evening, find someone to help with homework after-school. Keep some nights or designate a weekend time for family games, getting outdoors, or spontaneous fun. We all need balance. This is your opportunity to actually do it!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.