When it comes to my relationship status with my kid’s homework, the best descriptor would be: “It’s complicated.” I see the value in having little ones flex their mental muscles outside of school hours. It’s good for them to spend some time hunkering down at home, and it’s good for us parents to connect with what they’re learning — as well as their level of understanding (or…you know…not). I’m pretty careful not to lament over the amount of homework, even if four worksheets for one five-year-old can seem a bit excessive. Teachers are professionals, and I trust that they’re doling out what they see fit for the little minds in their care. Homework happens, and it ain’t stopping anytime soon! But that doesn’t make homework time easy — let alone enjoyable — unless you know how to navigate it. Homework success looks different for every family and every household, but here’s what worked for us.
Before my oldest son, Henry started “real” school, he was excited at the prospect of homework. There was work that needed doing! And it was all his! His sense of pride and ownership was unexpected, and actually pretty exciting to witness. Then school began, and with it came the reality that six hours of learning, five days a week, at five years old was no walk in the park. Aside from the lessons, there was the giant social and behavioral learning curve: Navigating the bus routine, knowing where to go in the building, remembering his lunchbox, opening his own juice-boxes and zipping his own fly, paying attention, following the rules, and making friends in the process — to name a few.
Needless to say, starting from day one of year one, Henry came home totally tapped out. On his very first day of kindergarten, when the bus came to a stop, a stream of neighborhood kids trickled out…but no Henry. He had a crowd of family waiting to welcome him home; a crowd that fell silent and exchanged concerned glances when it seemed like he missed his bus, or had gotten on the wrong one. But nope! As his dad and I approached the bus and told the driver who we were looking for, she hollered his name, and a dazed little familiar face slowly appeared in the front window. He wore a sheepish grin as he bumbled down the stairs and into our arms, admitting that he’d fallen asleep (even though he was the first stop from the school, where he was picked up minutes earlier).
Although that was the only time he conked on the bus, he came home day after day, week after week, in search of quiet downtime after his school days. And hey, I couldn’t blame him! He didn’t want to dive back into the lessons he just worked on for hours, just like I didn’t want to come home, open my laptop, and get back to a project I toiled over for the better part of the workday.
So straight off the bus was out for homework time. Got it. But it didn’t stop me from insisting that we get his homework done at night on the evenings he was with me, because A) That’s what I’d always done growing up, and B) Mornings were chaotic enough without adding anything else to the mix.
The nighttime homework sessions were often met with grumbling, resistance, and some tears. Henry even cried, too, every once in a while (#MomJoke). If we were somewhere quiet, focusing entirely on the task at hand, he did more complaining about the work than completing it. But if we were in a high-traffic area in the house, he’d distract himself with…literally anything else. He was suddenly very interested in the nightly news or whatever his little brother was playing with; even if he’d called it a “baby toy” before it started to look more like a way out.
What was happening? He liked school, and showed a solid understanding of the material. So if it wasn’t the content that was the problem, maybe it was the time itself. I was onto something. I’d been forcing a time of day that didn’t work for my son’s personality and preferences. And overstimulation, frustration, and exhaustion could not be invited to the homework table if it were to be a remotely positive experience — period. So, we tried something new.
Henry and I have always found our best connection first thing in the morning. I wake up early, relishing the quiet as I putter around getting ready for the day and drink all the coffee. He wakes up earlier than his brother and joins me downstairs, fresh off a full night’s rest, eager to talk, and ready for breakfast ASAP. As much as I love his undivided attention in the early morning, I realized I would be willing to share it with whatever homework he had waiting in his folder, if it meant getting it done without a struggle. So, without announcing it was homework time, I started setting out his things alongside his breakfast, and we’d begin to mix our morning chit-chat over breakfast with a side of productivity. Some days, we’d head over to his grandparents’ house where he catches the bus, setting up shop there for the new homework-and-breakfast routine. There were more distractions, but there were also more loved ones ready to hop in and help. There were mornings he’d think it was fun to go through his math worksheets with his Papa. Sometimes it was flashcards with Grandmom. But all the time, and almost always without fuss, his homework was getting done with the attention and care it required. Imagine that.
Once I shook my preconceived notions of when and how homework time is supposed to look, the war I never meant to start was over. I’m here to tell you that homework time doesn’t have to be hellish. It has to happen, so embrace it by remembering that you’re both invested, picking a time of day that feels right for you both, and running with it.