Homework Help

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Julie Lenzer Kirk

The other morning at breakfast my 10-year-old daughter announced, "If I get a bad grade on this paper, it is your fault." Ugh. Right for the jugular of the guilt-ridden working mom. Thankfully, that did not describe me anymore. I gave up guilt years ago when I realized that I was in control of how much guilt I felt. Prior to this revelation, my daughter's comment would have had me erupting into a screaming tirade, much as my similar announcements had made my mother erupt years before.

Instead, I looked at her across the table and asked, "How do you figure?"

She explained that yesterday she had been ready to work on her paper and had needed my help. I had worked late and was not available to assist.

I thought for a moment before responding. There were several facts she had chosen to overlook. First, her paper had been assigned for over a week. We had already tried to work on it together but she hadn't been "in the mood." Additionally, the assignment was not due until the following week, which gave us the coming weekend.

I assured her that we would have time to work on it then. After we got that behind us, we talked about the give and take that is required in a family. Because we have all busy lives, it is important that we plan ahead where possible. I know she is only 10, but she is starting to realize that Mommy has a life, too. That doesn't mean I care less for her, it just means she has to communicate her wants and needs. She can't assume that my life is all about her. It is a tough lesson for a child, but one worth teaching early.

What's your relationship with your child's homework? Do you help? How much? Have you found ways to use homework to teach lessons about family balance?


Julie Lenzer Kirk is an author, speaker and consultant on the subject of entrepreneurship. She writes the entrepreneurial "Ask the Expert" column on Working Mother's Web site as well as a column for Enterprising Women magazine called "Serious Mom, Serious Business." Her book, The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business, was published by John Wiley & Sons in July 2007. She lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area with her husband and two children.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 15, 2008; 7:20 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Once again, we are treated to a "commercial" column with an author with a point of view and a book to sell. When will we be treated to a column by a person who is not hawking, how ever subtlety, a product?

Posted by: anonthistime | January 15, 2008 8:07 AM

More of the oh, so white bread, and goyim big bag guilt of B.S. on the OB. When, oh, will it ever end??

And wil Leslie, oh Leslie, ever GET IT??????

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 15, 2008 8:13 AM

So why is writing about an exchange with my daughter commercial? Just because I wrote a book doesn't mean I don't struggle (daily!) with balance issues like everyone else. No B.S. here...real deal....

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 8:23 AM

Julie is right...this is a real problem with too many parents. It doesn't matter if Chitty feels it is choice/BS or what, because, in the end, people have to recognize the problem before seeking a solution. "She can't assume that my life is all about her. It is a tough lesson for a child, but one worth teaching early." Repeat, rinse, repeat. I put it this way: I have a life and I'm not afraid to use it.

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 15, 2008 8:26 AM

This is a refreshing point of view - that the kid is actually supposed to do the homework, and needs to plan appropriately. A woman I work with constantly refers to homework duties in the first person - "I had a science project to do," "I had english homework last night," etc. To hear that is a little disconcerting.

Posted by: akmitc | January 15, 2008 8:31 AM

Julie is right...this is a real problem with too many parents.

Duh.... no, it's a choice. It always has been and it always will be!!!! Duh!!!!

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 15, 2008 8:35 AM

Oh, Julie Lenzer Kirk, are you ever playing my song this morning! I had been mulling over the same thing lately -- whether the child has the right to "not be in the mood right now to have you explain algebra to me." Why exactly does his or her schedule take precedence over mine?

My pet peeve is when I've blocked out some time to work on a project with the child and the child pisses away twenty minutes at the beginning of each session with various tasks related to getting ready. I seem to spend inordinate amounts of time standing/sitting around waiting for other people. (And I'm feeling really stressed lately about not having enough time.)

My next favorite is when I set aside time to work with you and you decide you're only up for doing half of it, so I now have to find time to help you with the other half tomorrow.

I'm thinking of telling my children that I will be holding "office hours" at home -- like I do at the university -- and that if anyone wants academic help with anything, these are the hours during which I will be available and providing help. what do you think?

Posted by: justlurking | January 15, 2008 8:35 AM

chitty-the-one-note-wonder strikes early this morning

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 15, 2008 8:36 AM

My mom took more of the 'take-it-or-leave-it' approach with me. If I asked for help, she said when she'd be available. If I wasn't available ('course, I have to wonder what was jamming up my schedule at the age of 10...) or just didn't feel like working on it at that time, that was tough noogies for me.

In the end, I learned to really schedule my (and my mom's) time. Of course, it probably helps that I was a geek (was *snort* I still am) and it stressed me to no end to wait until the last minute to work on a project.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | January 15, 2008 8:41 AM

justlurking - I don't know how old your kids are, but I think that setting up 'office hours' is a good idea. You're trying to teach them to plan and that is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives. SO many kids get to college and freak out their Freshman year because they realize that the world does not, indeed, revolve around them. I think more kids need that lesson earlier. And depending on their age (middle school is a good time to start this on a strict basis) I don't think it is too harsh...

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 8:44 AM

What kind of help was your daughter looking for? Seems to me she should at least be able to bang out a rough draft of any kind of paper without your help, anyway.

My daughter is too young, yet, for me to be facing this problem as a mom. But when I was a nanny, I was in charge of homework help. My policy was that the child needed to at least give the entire assignment a good-faith try before I'd get involved, unless he had a very specific question (for special or artsy projects, he at least needed to come up with a solid plan of attack, then I'd help him fine-tune). I wasn't interested in sitting and holding his hand every step of the way then, and I can't imagine being more interested now that I have my own kid.

Posted by: newsahm | January 15, 2008 8:47 AM

justlurking - I also think it is a good idea. However, I would ask also them to start a calendar showing projects as they are handed out, due dates, and the like. One of my sons forgot he was going out of town for an entire weekend...he thought he had plenty of time to finish up...but, because of family needs, he didn't.. A family activities/school calendar solved that problem. He also can only talk to me about problem clarification early on (not the date before it is due)....

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 15, 2008 8:49 AM

Corvette1975 - my oldest daughter gets stressed when she waits until the last minute but it still took her a while (6th and half of 7th grade) to realize that by planning a project and working on it along the way, she could alleviate the stress. This is the part of parenting where patience and persistence pays off...

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 8:51 AM

Wow, some people are snippy this morning!

Yes, I have a life and I'm not afraid to use it. But a major goal in my life is getting all of my kids successfully through school and out into the real world, so that means making myself available to help with homework.

When they were younger, we all sat around the table after dinner and went through assignments, and I provided help when needed.

Now that they're (all but one) teens, and have schedules, I help when I can/they need it. First, they have schedules - sports, jobs, band, etc. - and second, they're different people. Middle DD has always come home from school/sports and immediately knocked out her homework - questions from her come early in the day. Oldest DD and youngest DD are procrastinators, so if they need help it tends to be later. And sometimes they just don't get help because it's too late. DS is kind of in the middle; when he does his assignments depends on what else is going on that grabs his interest.

If they just have a quick question or two that I can answer, then they can ask for help with homework anytime - e.g., "Dad, I just don't understand how to integrate this function" can usually be handled while I'm cooking dinner. But things that require me to do some research have to wait until I have time. (The Fall semester had the college freshman, high school junior and high school sophomore all in chemistry classes. Been a while since I took chem, so some things took me quite a bit of research to be able to answer a question or help them out.)

But I must admit, I still get a kick when I get asked for help. And sometimes it's really fun - when oldest DD was taking GT Statistics her senior year of high school, I discovered that her textbook was written by two guys from Purdue - one was my graduate advisor, the other was a good friend. At one point, I found an error in the book, which DD insisted wasn't an error because her teacher showed them how to solve something. I was convinced the book was in error, so I called the author, in front of DD! "Hi, George, ArmyBrat here. Say, DD is using Dave's and your textbook for her high school class. Can you tell me about problem 19 on p. 232? A typo? It should be an x, not a z? That's what I thought. Thanks, George....." Took DD an hour to scrape her chin off the floor.

I wouldn't have missed that for anything.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 9:00 AM

I think Julie is being pretty reasonable with her daughter. I think young children, elementary-maybe middle school, need two basic kinds of homework help:academic material and organization. The only thing that I could think to help with this is to map out an organizational plan at the start of the project. Like Mommy is available on this night and this day. You need to do the following before the Mommy help session. (Also where is Daddy?). But it is an important lesson for the kid to learn that help is not always available. Especially if she blew off other times. But 10 is still young and does need some general guidance. I would hope almost all kids have basic organizational skills by HS and quite a lot will have them by middle school. I honestly, can only remember my parents helping me twice in school. I was just self organized and a self starter. But I do have a question to teachers, why do they keep assingning all this work that needs so much parental help? How is that really benefitting the kid?

Posted by: foamgnome | January 15, 2008 9:10 AM

It seems there has been a flurry of guest columns recently written by writer of blogs, books or other electronic or printed media.

Not to say this column is not authentic but it would be refreshing to see a guest column by a person other than a professional writer.

Posted by: anonthistime | January 15, 2008 9:16 AM

Armybrat - the chin on the ground is AWESOME! Your 'cool factor' went up 10 points with that one. It sounds like you have a system with your kids that works and doesn't stress you out because you're not afraid to say "And sometimes they just don't get help because they waited". Way to go!

Foamgnome: My 10-year-old was in 5th grade at the time but she's a smart kid who tends to be a bit lazy. I think it pays to know your kid and react accordingly. As I tell them, "fair isn't always equal" (boy, do they hate that one!).

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 9:17 AM

I try not to get too involved with homework. For the daily stuff, my kids are pretty much on their own--I check through things afterwards and only intervene if there's a major error (that is, not minor mistakes, but more like if they completely misunderstood the concept or directions). For longer projects, I just try to keep my daughter (third grade) on track--reminding her of what needs to be done that day, making sure she has the materials to do it. I only get tough if a deadline is looming and she's goofing off and hasn't done the work. My son (kindergarten and severely autistic) requires more oversight, but even with his limitations he knows the drill. It's so cute to see him sit down at the homework table, pull out a crayon, and go to work on his alphabet and shapes worksheets. He's not very independent in most ways, so this is a huge victory for him (and us!).

Posted by: sarahfran | January 15, 2008 9:22 AM

We help with the occasional math problem, and I help with the organizational portion of large projects. Once I help out with plotting strategy on those, DD is usually pretty good about keeping to the schedule.

What's driving me crazy about 4th grade is that the teachers don't send anything home in the way of spelling lists, a sheet explaining the assignment and a due date, etc. The kids are expected to write it down and remember. That's been a tough transition for DD and it's been a tough year for both of us. I hate not knowing what's going on and trusting that she's remembered the assignment correctly. We went through a phase of missing assignments and arguments, but she finally figured out the system and finished out the Fall in her usual form. However, that winter break seems to have brought us back to square one. Hoping she straightens out earlier this time.

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | January 15, 2008 9:31 AM

Oooohhhh....

This is a SERIOUS pet peeve for me. I assign homework to my STUDENTS, not their parents. In my fall letter and at back-to-school night, I make a special point to tell parents NOT to sit down and do homework with their children. Homework is practice and reinforcement. Answer the occasional question, but let the child do the work, right or wrong. If the child is really flummoxed, send me a note so I can help the child at recess, and there will be no penalty for not doing the work. I close by reminding the parents that they passed fourth grade already and there is no need to do it again (and I'm safe saying that with my parent population -- I can certainly imagine schools where such a statement would not necessarily be true, but mine isn't one of them).

Nothing bothers me more than a child who has every homework assignment completed perfectly, has no questions for me, yet fails a quiz because he or she doesn't really get it, because mom/dad essentially did the work.

If a student comes in with a book project or other assignment which was obviously done by mom/dad, I actually deduct points.

Just yesterday, I had a child tell me his dad showed him the 'right' way to do long division (at the bring-down step, bring down all remaining numbers). This is not the preferred method (for several reasons), it's not the way the text does it, and it's not the way I want it done. Well, now the kid is confused, because he has to choose between dad (who must help him a lot) and the teacher.

That being said, I like the idea of posting a calendar in the area where homework is done, with long-term asignments and tests posted. The child should be increasingly responsible for updating and referring to this calendar. By high school, it should either be in the student's room or in his own day planner. I also like the 'office hours' idea. My sons knew I worked and was a grad student, and I had homework like them, so they knew they had to work pretty independently.

Posted by: educmom-615 | January 15, 2008 9:32 AM

I am sure that Leslie would publish well-written guest columns from non-professional writers. Heck, she's probably publish marginally written columns as well! How about some of you complainers get off the stick and submit something?

I think the writer took a good approach with the daughter. If the daughter wants help then she needs to ask. Mothers have many powers but mind reading isn't one of them. If this project had been truly urgent daughter could have called Mom (I"ll bet she's got a phone) and asked some questions. Most of us can fit in a phone call from a kid in need of help!

Kids become expert at trying to blame you for their failings. Dealing with it is a part of parenthood.

Just this weekend my newly graduated son griped at me because I hadn't told him he should save his pay stubs, and by the way, what had I done with the offer letter his employer sent him six months ago? He wants to rent an apartment and needed proof of income and employment.

Parenthood and guilt are lifelong endeavors.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 15, 2008 9:33 AM

foamgnome: "But I do have a question to teachers, why do they keep assingning all this work that needs so much parental help? How is that really benefitting the kid?"

It depends again on what type of help the kid needs. Sometimes you just can't seem to figure out a tricky algebra/calculus/chemistry/whatever problem, and one question plus two minutes of discussion clears everything up.

Sometimes the kid needs help organizing, structuring, analyzing, etc. and a lot of major projects are assigned with that in mind - to teach the student how to analyze a big problem, structure a solution and organize to successfully complete it. In those cases parents do their kids a dis-service by helping too much, but can really help by showing the kids what will be needed and telling them where to find it.

Heck, I still remember Freshman composition class in college. I had a legendary hard-nosed prof who was famous for handing out random items as tests - you had to write an essay on what the item meant to you. I was home on weekends because my job was in the town my parents lived in, not the college town an hour away, and used to ask my mother the high school English teacher for help getting started. She showed me a few tricks for getting started on the first few I got - she didn't write the darned essay for me, but showed me how to look at a picture for meaning and subtext, rather than just saying "this is stupid."

julie, it wasn't the cool factor that went up when I placed that call, it was the geek factor. But then my kids know that half their genes come from me, so they're pretty much out of luck as far as cool/geek goes.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 9:35 AM

Foamgnome, I think sometimes teachers want students to do more than they have time to do in class, so they devise these elaborate assignments. Our teachers do very little of that.

Posted by: educmom-615 | January 15, 2008 9:38 AM

LOVE the "office hours" concept!

it is a huge priority of mine to get my kids to do their homework by themselves. teaches them independence and confidence -- that they are smart enough to do it by themselves! the school reinforces this independence and specifically tells parents not to correct kids' homework (or if we do, to write in the margin what we did and why).

one of my kids needs extra help due to a learning disability. i give it generously -- but my goal is still to get my child to as much independence as possible.

i think when you only have one child, maybe it is easier to get overinvolved in their homework. I know parents of single children who check every part of their homework every night and have been reprimanded by teachers because their kid hands in work that is "too perfect." but with three it is simply not possible -- even if i wanted to!

Posted by: leslie4 | January 15, 2008 9:48 AM

Educmom--can I give you the flip side of your pet peeve of parents essentially doing the homework (which I wholeheartedly agree with)?

Teachers sending worksheets home for homework without the textbook! My kids only get worksheets--textbooks get left at school. I kind of understand the reasoning behind this, but in the example you gave, how on earth should the parent know the preferred way to do long division if the textbook is at school and all they are looking at is a worksheet with problems and the child confused and trying to explain this foreign way of doing division? Naturally the parent will teach the child the "right" way because it's the only way the parent knows! I've run into this with my daughter's math homework--there's so much emphasis on the process of math, and the process may have changed since I was in school. If I don't have the textbook and my child doesn't remember what was taught in school, of course I'm going to fall back on what has served me well for 30 years.

Posted by: sarahfran | January 15, 2008 9:52 AM

"Just yesterday, I had a child tell me his dad showed him the 'right' way to do long division (at the bring-down step, bring down all remaining numbers). This is not the preferred method (for several reasons), it's not the way the text does it, and it's not the way I want it done. Well, now the kid is confused, because he has to choose between dad (who must help him a lot) and the teacher."

I have a question for you as a teacher. Why is this not the preferred method? I have always done it this way and it works for me.

My husband has a PhD (in math) and teaches high school math (don't ask). He complains that most students cannot think mathematically. I think you have the opportunity to talk to your students about the idea that there ARE different ways of approaching problems, even if you are trying to teach one specific approach for the time being.

A child who can solve a problem only one way is "trained" but can't necessarily approach other problems with an analytical mind.

Other than the text says to "do it this way" and you want it done a certain way, what if this child is better able to learn when the father explains it? What then? Is the goal for the child to do things your way, or to learn how to do math?

On another note: My kids are responsible for their own homework. My husband and I ask what their assignments are, and they are free to ask for help, but we would never, ever do an assignment for them.

My daughter's 5th grade teacher requires the class to do all projects in the classroom, because she doesn't want parents to get involved. I love this approach!

Posted by: readerny | January 15, 2008 10:03 AM

Educmom - Just have to say, the father teaching his child a different way to do long division may have been doing him a favor. Whatever the pedagogically preferred method may be now, it is almost assuredly not the only correct way and may not be the best way for all students. It was and continues to be a pet peeve of mine when math teachers place an inordinate amount of emphasis on the particular process by which students do basic math. I realize that the process is important, but it's not everything, and if a student can understand the concept better and get the correct answer using a different (often quicker) process, what's the difference? The whole exercise of going through extra steps again and again is boring and frustrating, particularly for students who are good at math.

Posted by: burntnorton | January 15, 2008 10:08 AM

It annoys me to no end when parents talk about the assignment or project "they" had to complete, rather than their child. I usually try to give them a blank look and mention that I tell my kids (4th, 6th and 10th grades) that I've already completed that grade and now it's their turn. I do try to give them lots of support and encouragement and answer specific questions, but that's it. Luckily it seems to be working.

Posted by: cmoore | January 15, 2008 10:09 AM

If anyone is interested in reading a book on the subject (as opposed to the book written by the guest blogger which has nothing to do with the subject), I suggest The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, by Alfie Kohn.

Posted by: fake99 | January 15, 2008 10:23 AM

We haven't reached the long-term homework projects yet since our oldest is only 7, but I like that her school has first graders starting to use a daily planner, which is carried to their various classes and brought home with their homework. The thinking, I suppose, is that by the time they start larger homework projects that stretch over days or weeks, they will have learned to break projects up into small steps and list the steps appropriately so that time doesn't run short at the end.

Posted by: glovpk77 | January 15, 2008 10:25 AM

cmoore, et alia: the "one right way" is a touchy subject. It depends on what the goal of the lesson is - is it to teach students a way to solve problems JUST LIKE THIS ONE, or to teach them to understand a general method, with certain problems chosen as illustrations?

Sometimes the answer's one; sometimes it's the other.

For example, when I was a graduate TA in calculus classes, it was a never-ending battle to get the students to follow the proper process. We wanted them to learn what derivatives of functions are; why they are important; and how they are calculated. Once they thoroughly understand that, then they can apply formulae and shortcuts to get answers. But you first had to work out the second derivative of 5x-squared minus 3x plus 2 from scratch, by hand, to demonstrate that you understood. The response "but I know the formula; do it this way" drove me up a wall.

Similarly when I was an adjunct comp sci prof. I know that you can probably cobble together a really ugly program to process the data I gave you for this assignment, but I need to know that you really understand how a computer works and can generalize a solution to other data.

On the other hand, once you know how derivatives work and why they're important, then you can use any formula/shortcut you want to get the answers to these 30 problems.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 10:28 AM

"I am sure that Leslie would publish well-written guest columns from non-professional writers. Heck, she's probably publish marginally written columns as well! How about some of you complainers get off the stick and submit something?"

When guest blogs were anonymous most seemed to be written by "regular" people. Once it became required that your real name be used many people decided it wasn't worth it. So now only professionals are willing to put their names out there.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | January 15, 2008 10:29 AM

vegasmom: I think one of the things that is the hardest to do is to let our kids learn through failure. Your DD is only in 4th grade so this is the perfect time for her to learn how to get organized - BEFORE the grades really count for much. That said, we can't let them flounder so much that they get discouraged and hate school. It is a fine line and it really helps to know your kid.

fake99: True, this post didn't have anything to do with my book, although being an entrepreneur has been the way I find balance. But I think it would be short-sighted to only write about what promotes my book. After all, writing a book is something I did, not who I am...

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 10:31 AM

whoops, sorry - I was responding to burntnorton, not cmoore

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 10:33 AM

The academic curriculums at the schools that my kids attend are so intense that formable parental involvement is necessary for the kids to succeed. The achievement standards are causing so much stress for the average student that it is causing a whole wave of anxiety related ilnesses in our youngsters. Homework? Ha! . A huge number of parents now-a days are taking their children to resource tutors as early as the 1st grade and have no problem paying them $75 an hour just so their child can keep up in school. Education isn't like it was when I was a kid, today's parents are required to get involved and I don't think it's a small matter of organization that will solve the homework issue. The sheer volume of homework expected from the students requires parental dedication. Young parents, be prepared!

Of course, if you and your spawn have an exceptionally high IQ like Army Brat and his kids, the challange isn't such a hardship.

But my advice for us average folks: Get your kid his own computer, teach him the art of Googling, downloading and paraphrasing. It will save you a lot of quality time with the family and give your child's grades a boost.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 15, 2008 10:37 AM

I am sure that Leslie would publish well-written guest columns from non-professional writers. Heck, she's probably publish marginally written columns as well! How about some of you complainers get off the stick and submit something?
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Acutally, some of us have submitted columns to Leslie. (and I specifically mean me.)

Posted by: anonthistime | January 15, 2008 10:42 AM

I thought submissions had to have full names, but what Leslie actually chose to post as the guest blog could use our nom-de-blog (e.g., Fred)...but maybe Fred posted a guest blog before a rule change? Ditto foamgnome...

Leslie, can you clarify this?

Also Fo4 - ArmyBrat also seems to say there are successes in his family in spite of his genes, not because, of his genes. We all have some successes mixed with a flavouring of failures. It is best if the flavouring is not bitter.

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 15, 2008 10:44 AM

Dandylion, I think you're partially right about the higher standards today. Last week my 6th grader brought home a page of chemistry equations he had to balance! I don't remember doing that until I was in 10 or maybe 11th grade. Has it really changed that much? (At this point my biggest fear is that my own math/science helping skills are going to reach their natural limits somewhere around the seventh grade and then where will we be? Tell me it ain't so!)

Posted by: justlurking | January 15, 2008 10:48 AM

"(At this point my biggest fear is that my own math/science helping skills are going to reach their natural limits somewhere around the seventh grade and then where will we be? Tell me it ain't so!)"

How about then your child will be on their own doing homework? I don't regard it as a bad thing that my child's education exceeds mine - especially if it means that my child may be smarter than me.

Posted by: mom_of_1 | January 15, 2008 11:12 AM

Acutally, some of us have submitted columns to Leslie. (and I specifically mean me.)


Posted by: anon | January 15, 2008 10:42 AM

Have you followed up on it? Asked her how far back in line it is? Whether it HAS TO have your real name, or your nom-de-blog?

Maybe she's more amenable to publishing nom-de-blog essays if she's gotten a feel for the writer already. If you see what I mean.

Seems to me that if someone is willing to use their real name on a blog and has published something, then it's simply a nicety that your writing get mentioned. I mean, we're all writing here, right?

As for homework...I supply the times, the places, and the "reminders" for the younger set. I'm around in case of questions--but IF you ask me something DO NOT expect me to waste my time arguing with you over whether or not I'm right in my methodology. Sometimes you just know that a kid is arguing for the sake of dawdling. I then blow them off with, "Well, this is what your teacher assigned for YOU to do. You're the one who will have to (take the quiz or test, read the assignment, give the presentation, or whatever), not me. I've already graduated--it's not whether or not I can learn this stuff. It's whether YOU WILL."

So far, no summer school, no social promotions (I refuse to EVER let that happen, if it comes up), no big nightmares. Knock on wood.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 15, 2008 11:16 AM

First, as to the division method: there is a certain amount of process instruction, which is why we teach the problems a certain way. There are also curriculum consistency reasons. In my opinion, the method also reduces the likelihood of transcription errors, and there are thought process reasons I don't want to get into here. Suffice it to say, that's how we do it in our school, and I think that's how the NCTM (the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) thinks it should be done (although I'm not sure about that). If a student just cannot 'get it' one way, even after much practice and review, I will be happy to sit down individually and go over alternative methods. And, by the way, it was the dad who said his method was 'right' as opposed to different.

And as to sending home worksheets (or assigning workbok pages) without the text -- I always tell the kids to take home the textbook, especialy if the skill is new! How else are they going to reinforce the textbook lesson?! I don't get that either!

Posted by: educmom-615 | January 15, 2008 11:23 AM

The following post is from Maxine (who had trouble posting herself, so I said I'd do it for her).

Regarding the child's comment that her Mom would be responsible if she got a bad grade on her report, my response would have been, "Excuse me?!" I raised four children and never once sat with them to do their homework. I was always available to answer specific questions, offer suggestions when they got stuck, or explain things when they didn't understand. But sit down with them on a regular basis? Not on your life. Whose homework was it, after all? Homework has three purposes: to reinforce what was learned in class, to introduce students to material that will be covered in class, and to develop responsible behaviors, such as planning, organization, and the ability to meet deadlines. Parents do their children no favors by hovering over them constantly and walking them through their assignments. Getting a bad grade on a report because you waited until the last minute to write it is not the end of the world; it is a lesson learned. (By the way, my children didn't suffer academically. My son has a Ph.D, two of my daughters are finishing up master's degrees, and the other daughter graduated an elite university with honors).

Posted by: leslie4 | January 15, 2008 11:43 AM

I love your answer. We're not at all there yet but I guess in the ideal world in my head (ha ha) we'll have "office hours" every day to check in and plan out more help than that.

I am not a big fan of homework though, esp. homework that has to involve the parents beyond basic organizational/cheerleading support (except for the odd interview-type assignment).

It drives me crazy to hear kindergarten teachers say it's their job to create busy-work assignments to "get parents to get involved." For my nephews, it was much more important for their long-term education that they RUN AROUND before and after school - something that a parent/guardian would know and not necessarily a teacher. I hate that paternalistic streak in teachers... I understand where it comes from, but I just don't think homework is the way to address it.

I actually think children, particularly under 12, benefit from time to pursue their own interests more than worksheets, etc. I've read one teacher's blog where he said he stopped assigning homework because he realized he was using homework to fill the gaps in his own time/classroom management issues rather than as an educational tool... I thought that was stunningly insightful and honest.

Oops that was a rant.

On the division question I understand there is a difference between an ALGORITHM to solve a problem and the underlying understanding around solving the problem.

I have no trouble with algorithms being taught (and am suspicious of whatever that curriculum is that doesn't teach them at all). But I do think that unless a specific package goes home to parents explaining the algorithm, it's not very smart to assume all parents will know that one.

Also, as others have said, some kids do better with different ways to approach problems so I'd hope that over the course of a term that would be addressed.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | January 15, 2008 11:48 AM

Amen Maxine! And congratulations on raising academically-able children...

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 11:50 AM

Contrary to what many believe, homework is not supposed to be "perfect". Homework is supposed to be a child attempting to do something as well as possible. While I often had discussions like this with my boys, it always came down to the same thing - you try it yourself first, then bring it to me if you still have problems. If they needed to write a paper, they write it as well as they can and then I read it and offer suggestions.

I just don't get why this girl can't even get started till her mom is there to help...

Posted by: jjtwo | January 15, 2008 11:56 AM

I just don't get why this girl can't even get started till her mom is there to help...

Posted by: jjtwo

Some kids are more like burrs than others. I have one like that...drives me crazy...but I can't hasten maturity no matter how hard I try.

It really can be crazy-making though.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 15, 2008 11:58 AM

To educmom:

I think it's unfortunate that a teacher would discourage a child from learning to solve a problem multiple ways. Perhaps instead of telling the child that their Dad has taught them the "wrong" way, the teacher could explain WHY both ways work.

I remember as a young child I really enjoyed trying to figure out multiple ways to solve math problems. Somewhere along the way it got beaten out of me. Then, I went to graduate school and took higher level math and engineering classes. The profs loved nothing better than to debate the theory of why various methods to approach a problem would or would not work. In many classes, most homework problems revolved around figuring out how to solve the problem, not applying a rote method. It's really hard to get the gears grinding again after a couple decades of being taught to follow formulas.

Posted by: jen_omeara | January 15, 2008 11:58 AM

"I raised
four children and never once sat with them to do their homework"

Maxine's above advice, though workable back in her day of raising kids, is a poor example to follow in today's parenting world.

For instance, my kindergartener's homework is to have a book read to him every day, and then the parents sign off.

Of course, the parent can just sign on the line without reading the book. Kind of lieing, but I suppose it works.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 15, 2008 12:04 PM

I think the homework approach depends in large part on the kid. My 9th-grader is actually WORKING in school for the first time, and hasn't yet figured out how to ask for help (because she never needed it before). She's actually better at asking her 1-year-older friends than asking me or her dad. Last weekend, though, she did a bio research paper on her own, which we both then read - me for grammar, syntax, etc, and dad for content (he's more "sciency" than I am). Worked fine.

Son - age 10, in 5th grade, has ADHD and is terrible at planning and strategizing. I am trying to work with him on not leaving stuff for the last minute, breaking projects down into smaller steps, etc. I do have to oversee him very closely, but I try my best not to do the work for him. Also, he knows that I do not have time to tackle projects during the week, so we do those on weekends only.

Both my kids are realistic about our family's schedule and my availability.

Posted by: lorenw507 | January 15, 2008 12:08 PM

jen,
In my experience, the alternative methods given to children by the parents tend to confuse the student. I don't discourage alternative methods; sometimes I teach two methods concurrently, depending on the unit.

And, again, it was the DAD who said his way was RIGHT (and the textbook was WRONG) -- I did NOT tell the child the dad's method was WRONG, just that we were going to learn this particular method in class, and for graded work I prefer the method taught in class. This was not a case of a child who did not understand an assignment and got help from a parent which varied from the curriculum. I want the child to learn the same method as all the other fourth-graders in our school BEFORE he goes on to experiment with alternative methods.

Posted by: educmom__615 | January 15, 2008 12:16 PM

I want the child to learn the same method as all the other fourth-graders in our school BEFORE he goes on to experiment with alternative methods.

Posted by: educmom__615

A la' Picasso and e.e. cummings?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 15, 2008 12:23 PM

A la' Picasso and e.e. cummings?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 15, 2008 12:23 PM

They were taught the fundamentals, so they had solid foundations from which to jump off and experiment!

Posted by: educmom__615 | January 15, 2008 12:28 PM

I have two kids. One is in Kindergarten where the school does not believe in homework until 3rd grade (thank goodness). The second is in 3 year old preschool. The preschooler has some "homework" that I end up doing because quite frankly I am not spending his attention span (about 15-20 mins) several times over the next several weeks coming up with a bulletin board. Not happening. I am a believer in kids doing their own homework but at 3, it is not happening. Now in preschool 4 when the assignments are tailored to their attention spans and level of ability (cutting and pasting), he will do it on his own just as his older sister did

Posted by: MomTo2Kids | January 15, 2008 12:51 PM

Dandylion says: "But my advice for us average folks: Get your kid his own computer, teach him the art of Googling, downloading and paraphrasing. It will save you a lot of quality time with the family and give your child's grades a boost."

++++++++++++++++++++++

Gee, isn't that just a form of plagiarism? Great skills development for the next generation. Whatever happened to developing critical thinking and writing skills.


Posted by: gottabeanon | January 15, 2008 12:54 PM

A la' Picasso and e.e. cummings?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 15, 2008 12:23 PM

They were taught the fundamentals, so they had solid foundations from which to jump off and experiment!

Posted by: educmom__615

My point exactly. (smiles)

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 15, 2008 12:55 PM

I am totally with educmom__615--I tell my kids that homework is designed for them to do on their own--that's how they learn. Then again, their dad is totally of the opposite mindset--he sits with my daughter almost every night and does her math homework "with" her. I don't agree with that method--I think that if the work is too hard for her it's a sign the class is too advanced for her, and if the class isn't too hard then she should be able to do it herself without hand-holding. But I consider this to be an area where my ex and I are allowed to have our differences in parenting styles and don't make an issue about it. Frankly, it's probably as much about my daughter spending time with her dad on an almost daily basis (we're divorced and have shared custody) than it is about the actual work.

At any rate, he has been known to do the ArmyBrat thing of finding errors on either the teacher's part or the text book's part (he's a PhD statistician). I don't love the meddling parent aspect of him calling the teacher to explain why she's actually wrong and my daughter was right....but again, there are other things in the world worth stressing over and I don't count that as one of them.

For what it's worth (e.g. nothing) I have done a few guest blogs here and am not a published writer, at least not in the sense that many guest bloggers are.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 15, 2008 1:05 PM

I do not have a book to peddle and would absolutely do a guest blog if I did not have to identify my real name and if I had a good "hook." I am your standard working mom. I seek balance every day. Some days I succeed, and some days I fail miserably. My problems seem fairly common and discussed ad nauseum here. So maybe an idea would be to have people come up with ideas and then a regular poster may want to take up that issue or spin on an issue. For example, balance when spouse is overseas; balance with a nanny or manny; balance with night shifts; balance with ill parents; balance with 8 grandparents (divorced and remarried :). I know some of these have been done but I am trying to come up with ideas.

Posted by: MomTo2Kids | January 15, 2008 1:12 PM

Because we have all busy lives, it is important that we plan ahead where possible. I know she is only 10, but she is starting to realize that Mommy has a life, too.

This part was the part i found to be so surprising. The child is 10 and JUST now realizing that mommy has a life too? I'm a SAHM and my 5 and 7 yr. olds have known for some time that while I am here for them, I do not work FOR them. From about the time they were four they learned to say "Mommy, when you are done with that can you... (help me, fix this, play with me etc..)

I too agree, that if the child needs help every night with their homework then either the child is in the wrong class or the teacher is not teaching well enough. Either way, a conversation with the teacher is in order.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 15, 2008 1:12 PM

Maggie: "he sits with my daughter almost every night and does her math homework "with" her. I don't agree with that method--I think that if the work is too hard for her it's a sign the class is too advanced for her, and if the class isn't too hard then she should be able to do it herself without hand-holding."

This may be a difference of degree or maybe even just of wording, but in my book there's a difference between "help" with homework and "hand-holding".

When the kids were younger, I used to have them at the table and supervise. That is, I sat with them, kept them on task, made sure they knew what they were doing, and answered specific questions. That's not "hand-holding" in my book; it's being there to address specific trouble spots.

Now, with the kids being older, we don't do the "sit at the table" bit. They do their homework when and where they deem appropriate, as long as it gets done. They come to us (DW for English/humanities-type questions; me for math, science etc.) with specific questions. The fact that my son has difficulty with two chemistry questions out of an assigned set of 30 doesn't mean that the work's too hard for him, it means that there's some subtle point he's not picking up on. I find that often, it's because the teacher hasn't had time to cover every single, nit-picky detail of a topic in class, and he's expected to discover things on the assignment. The fact that I can guide him in the proper direction doesn't indicate any "hand-holding", or anything else.

I look at it as similar to the "tutoring" help the schools already offer. In the kids' high schools, National Honor Society members, as part of their service projects, offer tutoring help to younger students in classes they've already taken. These students will share tips that they've learned to understand the material better, or maybe explain things in a way that the 9th or 10th grader can understand. Oldest DD's college is the same way - there's a tutoring service offered by upperclassmen that helps out Freshmen with some classes.

(This is all distinct from any paid tutoring.)

I don't regard either the NHS volunteers or the college upperclassmen as "hand-holding"; I view it as a source of help for a student who mostly understands the material but is struggling with little bits of it.

And I think it's fine.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 1:18 PM

Heck, even I done a guess blog hear and my writting realy sucks because I gone to pubic school and my teachers ain't learned me my english no good.

And I never got no help from mmommy or daddy either!

Posted by: DandyLion | January 15, 2008 1:18 PM

unless the assignment was one that specifically required parental assistance, such as interview your mom/dad about something related to their childhood etc... her bad grade is just that her bad grade. At age 10, she is responsible for her own homework! and even if their was a parentla aspect, then she should have done it when you made yourself available.

Posted by: wwwdst11 | January 15, 2008 1:27 PM

moxiemom: I have worked and traveled for business since before my kids were born and never stopped. They know I have a life, but it is interesting when they get to a certain age (maybe middle school?) they seem to forget that. They begin to be more focused on themselves again and it is our job to remind them that it isn't all about them. Has anyone else noticed that with their kids?

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 1:32 PM

ArmyBrat--when I say "hand-holding" I mean he sits there and "they" do the work; I see it as the same thing as having a tutor, but having him for every single assignment. I'm not over there now so can't say for sure, but back when we were married and I lived in the same house, he would sit with her and start with question 1 and talk through the entire assignment.

It's definitely more than her going to him with questions--it's him calling to say she has an assignment due the next day so can I drop her at his house for a few hours so he can "help" her. The issue I have with it is that I wonder if he is not maybe undermining her confidence--not even giving her the opportunity to try on her own. It's one thing to say call me if you need help, but to insist that she do her math homework at his house with him EVERY night is a little much.

But again--maybe the whole thing is about her spending time with him, and she's obviously learning something because she gets As on almost every test and also scores very high on standardized tests. Which leads me back to what I said above--she probably doesn't actually NEED as much help as he wants to give...but I digress.

I don't really get why people are so averse to using their real names on a guest blog.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 15, 2008 1:36 PM

OK, here are some possible new blog topics. Please add to this list. If anyone thinks they can write a guest blog about it, please do and send it to Leslie. Put in the subject line your blog name because it will get her attention. But here goes:
1) balancing holidays and interfaith marriages
2) blended families and getting along
3) intergenerational families and balance
4)balancing family needs when children are very far apart in age (say 10 year difference or more)
5) balance with multiples
6) pros and cons of shared custody
7) starting a family after age 40
8) balancing family when you have kids from another marriage not living at home
9) balancing life and fertility treatments


Any more people? After we get a good list, we will email it to Leslie.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 15, 2008 1:37 PM

"Dandylion says: 'But my advice for us average folks: Get your kid his own computer, teach him the art of Googling, downloading and paraphrasing. It will save you a lot of quality time with the family and give your child's grades a boost.'

++++++++++++++++++++++

"Gee, isn't that just a form of plagiarism? Great skills development for the next generation. Whatever happened to developing critical thinking and writing skills."

Posted by: gottabeanon | January 15, 2008 12:54 PM

"I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!

"Plagiarize,
Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize...
Only be sure always to call it please, 'research'".
--- Tom Lehrer '47

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | January 15, 2008 1:44 PM

Maryland Mother ;)

maggielmcg, thanks. And I just LOOOVE (hahaha) parents like your ex...even though we find errors in the text all the time!

Hey dandylion, you and me can learn you some there good English if you know where the school is at

Posted by: educmom__615 | January 15, 2008 1:52 PM

Yes, bring on the Guest Blogs! Since the washpo changed the name policy I have gotten fewer. I need 'em! Send them in!

Aside to Matt -- my parents are class of 56, same time Tom Lehrer was playing at local bars. I grew up listening to his music and have most of them memorized. Glad there is at least one other person on the planet who knows who he is (and how funny and politically incorrect).

Posted by: leslie4 | January 15, 2008 2:46 PM

Notwithstanding all the finger-wagging I'm sure this will generate, I can think of few more positive things than for a dad to spend a couple of hours each evening hanging out with his daughter and batting around mathematics concepts. That's real attention -- and it's being devoted to her intellectual capabilities. When this girl is older, she is highly likely to be secure enough to kick the jerks to the curb and wait for someone who makes her feel as important as her dad makes her feel.

Homework is a conversation starter in our house. Whether our kids dot all the i's and cross all the t's, and, frankly, whether or not they remember to turn in whatever the assignment was, if it is interesting enough to generate a family discussion, we consider that the goal of learning for that day was accomplished. My job isn't to raise kids that please their teachers. It's to raise kids who have a life-long love of learning and don't have their curiosity crushed out of them by the end of second grade by Ms. Worksheet.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 15, 2008 2:48 PM

Well, I disagree with what Julie is doing -- but not at all for what you might suspect. Moreover, I don't blame Julie, either. In fact, to be completely clear, it's not what Julie is doing that I have the ultimate beef with -- it's the school. It makes little-to-no sense to me why homework requires a parent's help.

If the theory behind homework is that it reinforces what the child LEARNED in school, then why would a parent need to be involved? Moreover, if the parent is involved, who, precisely, is DOING the homework? How can a child benefit if the parent is doing the homework (or at least participating in doing the homework)?

This, of course, is not Julie's or any other parent's fault. This is the fault of the school and/or teacher. If the homework is too difficult for a child to accomplish on his/her own, then the school is essentially giving the parent homework, and that's absurd. No homework should be too difficult for the child to accomplish.

To further this issue, I should also mention that the benefits of homework for elementary school children is highly dubious. While homework is certainly important for high school, elementary school children would best spend their time outside of school doing other activities, which should not be dismissed as unimportant or uneducational in their own rights. Even just goofing off with friends for the afternoon highly valuable.

It's unfortunate that so many people (and schools and teacher) believe that homework actually improves performance for elementary school children.

Posted by: rlalumiere | January 15, 2008 2:56 PM

Educmom, be careful with me, I still have a special gift for giving teachers nightmares, and I graduated over 2 decades ago. Tell me what you think about this:

When my kids came home with those addition, subtraction, and multiplication worksheets, the way I would help them was to have them verbally state the problem, (or did they change the word "problem" to something PC), then I would give them 1 guess, and if they got it wrong, I gave them the answer. Having them try to figure it out by counting on their fingers or doing the trick with the 9's I thought was just a waste of time. The idea here is to get the answer as quickly as possible and then move on.

I've always told my kids that when it comes to math, it's not a matter of getting the answer correct, it's a matter of how FAST you get the answer correct.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 15, 2008 2:57 PM

mn.188--maybe my post conveyed the opposite, but I agree with you. I don't agree with the concept of him doing her homework for/with her every day, but like that she can have that time with him.

And may you be right with your prediction that so much positive dad attention will build her self-esteem for future dealings with jerky guys; that is my exact hope.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 15, 2008 3:01 PM

rlalumiere: just to be clear, the majority of help I provide my kids on their homework is more related to organization rather than subject-matter. What I have seen in working with the kids (I substitute teach in their middle school on occasion) is that they all learn differently. Rarely does a teacher have time to work individually with each child to pose a problem or a solution in a way that works best for them. Also, I have yet to be impressed with the schools' ability to teach kids how to study for tests: they throw a review packet at them, go over it in class, but don't spend much time teaching them how to study it. But the state of the education system is a WHOLE OTHER discussion.

And I agree with you - we need to leave more time for kids to be kids!

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 3:11 PM

rlalumiere, you've restated Maggie's position almost entirely. And I disagree with you just as much as I did with her (although reading her later response it may just be a disagreement with wording).

There's a significant difference between helping a child with her homework and doing it for her or "hand-holding".

I don't have elementary schoolers anymore, but when I did their homework was almost exclusively spelling and math. Now, sometimes one of my children had trouble with one spelling word out of the ten per week that they got. If I help that child understand how to spell that word, who's DOING the homework? My child is; I'm merely helping with one tiny problem. But am I involved? Yes, I am.

There's a big difference, and I really think that you've missed it entirely - you seem to be equating "please help me with this one math problem or this one spelling word" with "do my homework for me".

As to your larger point - did the math and spelling homework help my children when they were in elementary school? I honestly believe that it did. Yes, it helped them to have homework by enforcing the repetition necessary to ingrain the concepts. But that's just my opinion.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 3:26 PM

Never not once did my parents help me with homework. Never looked it over, never checked it out, never.

I'm so annoyed that they give homework to kids who can't even read, since that means that the kids can't do it alone - and what is that teaching the kids? Hmmm?

Really - kids should be responsible for their own stuff.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 15, 2008 3:32 PM

I've always told my kids that when it comes to math, it's not a matter of getting the answer correct, it's a matter of how FAST you get the answer correct.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 15, 2008 02:57 PM

Well, sometimes...for example, we give timed tests for simple addition and subtraction, and standard times-tables multiplication and division. They get their allotted time to work, and those problems are done in pencil and recorded as the 'speed' grade; they then finish the sheet in red, and the total score is recorded as the 'accuracy' grade.

By the way, if you're talking about one-guessing the mental math stuff, that's one thing, but I hope you don't make them one-guess multi-digit divisor long division problems!! That's just mean!! Actually, I like your drill method. Those tricks end up slowing down students, and they tend to rely on them too much.

And, no, we still call them math problems. Thank heavens! The biggest PC influence in math is the multicultural names used in the word problems.

Posted by: educmom__615 | January 15, 2008 3:33 PM

wow, you parents who want to know when assignments are due, etc, to what purpose? If your kid is going to learn how to organize for themselves, how are they going to do it if you are constantly overseeing things? And no, I don't think it should happen when they are young, either.

But again, I think it's a little crazy that there's homework in kindergarten. It's a little absurd.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 15, 2008 3:36 PM

In response to DandyLion, "back in [my] day" (ouch!) homework was for children, not adults. Perhaps it's time parents stood up for themselves and put their proverbial foot down. I applaud teachers' concern about encouraging parental involvement and instilling a love of reading in children, but it can't be done by coercion. It must be a labor of love. Otherwise children will come to view reading as nothing but a chore and miss out on what has come to be known as "quality time" with their parents.

When our children were young, we read to them constantly--and not only books, but poetry as well--because we wanted to, and they responded. Some of their fondest memories are of reciting The Owl and the Pussycat or The Walrus and the Carpenter with me or their Dad at bed time. I don't think that requiring a work-exhausted, stressed out parent to read to a child as homework will produce that type of memory or accomplish what the educational establishment hopes to.

Posted by: sirimaxi | January 15, 2008 3:48 PM

atlmom: With all due respect, how is a kid supposed to learn organizational skills without parental involvement? I think that's probably my biggest job as a parent when it comes to school -- not teaching letters, reading, or math. That's the teacher's job.

When I sit down with my daughter and her calendar and discuss strategies for completing a long-term project on-time and without all that last-minute staying-up-'til-midnight carp, I think I am teaching her a valuable skill. She is responsible for completing the work and sticking to the plan of work that we have devised together. My job is mostly to ask questions to prompt her to think. "How long do you think it will take you to read the book?" "The teacher wants 5 paragraphs -- how many nights do you think it will take to write that?" "I think the glue for that project needs to dry overnights -- be sure to plan for that." Etc. The first time we did this (1st grade), I did a lot of the organizing. Now, I usually just look over her plan when she's finished and ask a clarifying question or two.

Organizational skills don't magically appear by osmosis.

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | January 15, 2008 3:56 PM

Oh don't get me started! The homework my fourth grader brings home (and has since first grade) appears to be designed to require heavy-duty parental involvement, not to mention assorted lists of specific materials and entire weekends spent in assembling special projects according to designated "rubrics."

For math, we parents get these regular letters so we can learn the unique lingo and the complex and multiple methods for doing something like a subtraction problem. I swear the school assumes every child has a stay-at-home parent with a PhD in education. I could spend hours learning how the school is teaching my child so I can follow up appropriately at home.

I don't see how this homework does much of anything EXCEPT measure parental involvement. (Plus did I mention anything not finished during the school day also comes home -- on many occasions making it absolutely impossibly to meet the demands and still go to bed on time)

How this contributes to much beside our stress level, I'd like to know.

Posted by: anne.saunders | January 15, 2008 3:59 PM

atlmom: "wow, you parents who want to know when assignments are due, etc, to what purpose? "

Because it's a gradual process of learning. They learn organization, prioritization, breaking up large tasks into manageable chunks, etc. over time.

When they were younger, we sat down with them every school night and went over what was coming up the next day. Have you done all of your homework? Do you need me to look at anything? Is there something coming up at school? Is there a field trip coming up for which I need to sign a permission slip? Is there a band concert? Do you need money for some activity?

As they got older, and they learned all that, then our involvement got to be less and less. In middle school and high school, all students in the public schools carry and "agenda book"; a calendar book in which they're supposed to write down all of their assignments. The teachers are supposed to check them periodically, and if there's an issue with students not turning in assignments parents are advised to check the agenda books regularly to see what's being written down and what's not.

At this point, I tend not to check too much unless there's been an issue; if I get a note from the teacher that DD isn't turning in assignments I go check to see what the problem is.

But just like kids learn math, spelling, etc. at different rates, kids learn organization at different rates. With DS, it was a constant battle when he was younger to make him do his homework. He was just that disorganized. Now, some might say that the proper thing for DW and I to do was just let him continually get 0's on homework assignments because of his lack of organizational skills, but we just couldn't do that. We didn't DO the homework for him; we just made him do the homework.

Today, he's a high school junior with outstanding grades and test scores through the roof, and he's much better organized, but we still check in on occasion because it's extremely frustrating when he got a B in the class even though he aced every test and in-class assignment, because he just didn't remember to do a couple of homework assignments. He still needs a couple of swift kicks in the caboose (figurative, of course) to get going.

What will we do in two years when he's in college? Nothing, he's on his own then. Hopefully, he'll be even more organized than he is now, but the point is that DW and I gave him every chance to succeed. Whether he does will be up to him.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 15, 2008 4:10 PM

argh....the 'rubric' word. I swear I never heard that word until we moved back to America in the 2000s. Where did this word come from? Educational PhD-dom?

My teen just came in and told me rubric was one of his 11th grade vocab words today. And I got a hug too...life is good.

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 15, 2008 4:21 PM

dotted, LOL, I am right there on despising the "rubric" word.

vegasmom, you're danged right about the necessity for teaching organizational skills.

atlmom, I want to know when assignments are due out of respect for the school and our kids' teachers. Our kids understand our priorities not by what we say, but by what we do. We don't rant on about grades -- it's too late by then. We set the stage where good grades can occur by asking about upcoming assignments and considering our kids' progress with those assigments before approving playdates, sleepovers or out of town trips.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 15, 2008 4:47 PM

*shrug* I don't know. But I do know that my parents NEVER EVER helped me with homework. Of course, I probably didn't have homework til I was in third grade. But NO ONE helped me to 'organize' or whatever. It was up to me.

We had one teacher for the whole day in elementary school, so the teacher helped tremendously with organization since he/she KNEW 99% of our assignments (I was in G&T, so three or so hours a day, 2 or 3 days a week, I was not in the classroom, but somehow managed to get all that work done, anyway).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 15, 2008 4:55 PM

"I have worked and traveled for business since before my kids were born and never stopped. They know I have a life, but it is interesting when they get to a certain age (maybe middle school?) they seem to forget that. They begin to be more focused on themselves again and it is our job to remind them that it isn't all about them. Has anyone else noticed that with their kids?"

I haven't, but perhaps it's because my kids look at me and realize it's not all about ME, so they learn by example that it's not all about THEM. Maybe you're traveling for business too much and your kids need more of your time. Maybe they need you to show them that you put as much effort into them as you do into your job and travel and whatever else constitutes your "life." In my experience kids don't clamor for more attention if they're getting enough attention in the first place.

And about your blog as it relates to your book - it's true you shouldn't have to blog about your book topic, and you're likely just as needing of balance as anyone else. But why then the plug for your book in your signature? That is a continuing theme around here - Leslie putting up guest blogs by professional writers and plugging their current books, instead of accepting guest blogs by regular everyday people seeking balance in their lives.

Posted by: fake99 | January 15, 2008 5:15 PM

Oh! Oh! I know who Tom Lehrer is!

The following is funny (if long) from his song, New Math (1965!--no, I wasn't born yet :-) ):


Some of you who have small children may have perhaps been put in the
embarrassing position of being unable to do your child's arithmetic homework
because of the current revolution in mathematics teaching known as the New
Math. So as a public service here tonight I thought I would offer a brief
lesson in the New Math. Tonight we're going to cover subtraction. This is the
first room I've worked for a while that didn't have a blackboard so we will
have to make due with more primitive visual aids, as they say in the "ed biz."
Consider the following subtraction problem, which I will put up here: 342 -
173.

Now remember how we used to do that. three from two is nine; carry the one, and
if you're under 35 or went to a private school you say seven from three is six,
but if you're over 35 and went to a public school you say eight from four is
six; carry the one so we have 169, but in the new approach, as you know, the
important thing is to understand what you're doing rather than to get the right
answer. Here's how they do it now.

You can't take three from two,
Two is less than three,
So you look at the four in the tens place.
Now that's really four tens,
So you make it three tens,
Regroup, and you change a ten to ten ones,
And you add them to the two and get twelve,
And you take away three, that's nine.
Is that clear?

Now instead of four in the tens place
You've got three,
'Cause you added one,
That is to say, ten, to the two,
But you can't take seven from three,
So you look in the hundreds place.

From the three you then use one
To make ten ones...
(And you know why four plus minus one
Plus ten is fourteen minus one?
'Cause addition is commutative, right.)
And so you have thirteen tens,
And you take away seven,
And that leaves five...

Well, six actually.
But the idea is the important thing.

Now go back to the hundreds place,
And you're left with two.
And you take away one from two,
And that leaves...?

Everybody get one?
Not bad for the first day!

Hooray for new math,
New-hoo-hoo-math,
It won't do you a bit of good to review math.
It's so simple,
So very simple,
That only a child can do it!

Posted by: marian3 | January 15, 2008 6:01 PM

"With all due respect, how is a kid supposed to learn organizational skills without parental involvement?"

Hear, hear! I also never got homework help -- in fact, my parents only ever paid attention to school at report card time (and usually for about a week or so after, until my inevitable grounding had expired). I am the first to admit I was a HORRIBLE student -- lazy, disorganized, you name it. For years, I did my math homework in the five frantic minutes before class, and I routinely failed "long-term assignments," as they were called back then, because I'd get stuck on some small point, the procrastinate until the literal last minute before throwing something together.

My own fault? Absolutely. But I sure could have benefitted from at least a little bit of parental involvement. As it was, I was in high school before I finally started to get myself together. Maybe I'd have twigged a little sooner if my parents had provided oversight when I was in elementary school?

Posted by: newsahm | January 15, 2008 6:04 PM

"But I do know that my parents NEVER EVER helped me with homework. Of course, I probably didn't have homework til I was in third grade. But NO ONE helped me to 'organize' or whatever. It was up to me."

So? Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses. Because you are apparently well organized, nobody else should ever get help learning that skill? If I let my kid flounder at something because some other person can do it well naturally, I wouldn't be doing much as a parent.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 15, 2008 6:16 PM

Children should be able to do their own homework and projects--but parents have to be content with projects that reflect the child's abilities (and are therefore not perfect). My (admittedly very bright) first-grade niece came home today with a project: she has to create a poster on a historical figure with a picture, life facts, etc. Having seen big sister do projects for several years, she's THRILLED. Came home and immediately got on the computer and started Googling to find pictures and information. She's a self-starter, and with minimal help could probably do a really good first-grade poster.

But mark my words, my sister won't let that happen. Niece's poster won't look "perfect" enough, and sister will be afraid that other kids' work (done by their parents) will make hers look bad. Teacher, of course, would be thrilled to see niece's own work, as it would probably be adorable. But she won't see it. She'll see the micro-managed, way-too-advanced-for-a-first-grader version, which won't be nearly as wonderful. Worst case scenario, Niece will learn that her efforts aren't good enough, and will eventually "need" Mom more.

I suspect that much of the parental over-involvement in kids' homework has less to do with the kids' needs than with the parents' desire for perfection.

Posted by: highschoolteacher | January 15, 2008 6:37 PM

Hello Everyone!

Finally got a chance to read today's blog (and finish reading yesterday's).

My comment on today's blog is I am glad that my last one is almost out of high school!

As to Maggie's questions about names, Brian's column back in April covered why many people wish to use their nom de blog! I recall that one woman had her home and home tax information posted on the blog. Not everyone is willing to risk this type of exposure.

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/onbalance/2007/04/staying_anonymous_in_the_balan_1.html

My blog was published before the new rules about identity went into effect.

Posted by: Fred | January 15, 2008 7:18 PM

fake99 - you ARE feeling feisty today! Leaning a little on the judgemental side, too, aren't we?

I really think you try too hard to read into things. I travel perhaps once a month and since 2005 have been working from home most of the time so I am home when my kids get home on most days.

"Leslie putting up guest blogs by professional writers and plugging their current books, instead of accepting guest blogs by regular everyday people seeking balance in their lives."

Again, I thank you for the compliment of calling me a professional writer but I only just started writing two years ago when I left my software company. What do you have against authors, anyway? How are we not 'regular everyday people'just because we like to write??

Posted by: juliekirk | January 15, 2008 8:05 PM

Hi Fred!! How are you?
Just came back to see where this discussion is going. Still laughing at the New Math song!

For the record, IMHO:
Homework should be limited to practice & reinforcement -- problems from the day's math lesson, studying spelling and vocabulary words, independent reading, that type of thing -- and should not take all night.
Parents should begin to teach organizational skills when a child enters first grade. Over time, responsibility should be released to the child, so he can organize himself by seventh grade, since sixth grade brings major adjustments.
Some people hit this perfectly on the head -- parents have to let the child take less-than-perfect work to school!! I don't WANT to give Mom & Dad a grade!

And rubrics...well, the purpose is to set out clear expectations and guidelines, so everyone knows what the teacher wants. When they're done well, they really are helpful to teachers and students. Problem is, they are seldom done well! In my MEd program, all my professors used extremely detailed rubrics, and I found them tremendously helpful. But I can see where a ten-year-old would not exactly be helped.
In my case, I don't send out rubrics for the monthly book projects (the only long-term work I assign). I explain the assignments, and use detailed grading sheets. Much more effective.

I must be doing something right -- the parents fear me (since I'm the 'hard' teacher) and the kids tell me I rock!

Posted by: educmom-615 | January 15, 2008 8:57 PM

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