Let me start by saying that the whole idea of young grade schoolers doing homework is kind of a load of bullcrap in my opinion. It’s bad enough that kids these day have so much less playtime than past generations did, and that testing and academic achievement is being emphasized at earlier and earlier ages.
So when my first grader began to show some serious aversion to homework recently, I didn’t push too hard. I asked him to at least try to do something, but that if he was too tired or just needed a break, he didn’t have to do it. There were several times I ended up writing his teacher a note saying that he wasn’t doing homework that night, and it was never a problem.
But I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a great long-term solution. Either we had to figure out a way to make homework tolerable, or we were going to have to meet with the teacher to tell her we were opting out. It had gotten so horrible – my son often reverting to throwing the textbook across the room, and crying till those little blotches formed around his eyes – that I knew something needed to change.
When I discussed options with my son, he told me that he actually did want to do the homework, but he just hated having to sit down in the middle of his downtime to do it. As he said that, he leaned his sweet little head into me, and I had one of those “mom lightbulb” moments.
I realized that the moments I was setting aside for homework time were among the most chaotic and stressful hours of our day. Whose house isn’t a total zoo between the hours of 4-7pm, right? I wondered what would happen if – instead of homework feeling like just another chore added to our “witching hour” stress – it was rebranded as an escape from all of the chaos, a chance for my son and me to reconnect and unwind together.
It sounds totally bonkers, right? And I thought maybe it was. But then I tried it – making up what IT was as I went along – and it ended up being a smashing success.
What I did was take my little guy to my bedroom – away from the pile of dinner dishes, away from his big brother doing his big brother homework, and away from the constant cacophony of a house full of chatterbox kids and grown-ups. In the dimly lit room, my son and I – along with his dreaded homework — plopped cozily into bed.
Well, actually, my son started jumping on the bed. And I let him do that. I let him get out his energy. Then I told him that we were going to do homework, but it was going to be FUN. Thankfully, he’s at the age where he kinda, sorta believes me when I say stuff like that. But I still had to prove myself.
We started with spelling, which was definitely the more tedious and most dreaded aspect of homework. There were about 12 words he had to write two whole times each. Thankfully, writing and spelling aren’t the hard part for my son – it’s really the drudgery and boringness of it all. So I came up with a game where each time he wrote a word, we’d act it out.
For example, the first word was “eat,” and we pretended to cook each other into pizzas and then gobble each other up. The next word was an easy one – “hug” – so we had a cuddle-fest. For “see,” we did a staring contest. You get the picture. With so many words, it took a pretty long freaking time, but it was a heck of a lot shorter than when he cries for 20 minutes after writing two words.
By the time we got to math, he was pretty chilled out, and I didn’t have to be quite as inventive. I played the “I don’t remember anything about math” game, where I look at the problems with him, and say, “Yeah, I think I know what 16 minus 9 is, but give me a minute here.” Then, while I sit there like a fool pretending to count on my fingers, my son gets frustrated with me, and blurts out, “It’s 7, silly,” and hastily fills in the answer.
Now, let me pop in and say that my son’s problem with homework is not academic. He knows all the answers, and if he felt like it, he could do all the homework himself. His problem is initiative and interest – plus the fact that he’s tired AF after school. Different kids and different parents would have to approach the “game” part of the endeavor in their own way, knowing their kids’ strengths and weaknesses.
But I will say that since the afternoon that we first reinvented homework, things have gone amazingly well. Each day he actually requests to do “bedroom homework,” and he hungrily eats up the time with me, looking forward to each little “game” and the chance for us to have that sweet time together, just the two of us.
This way of doing things may not work for everyone and isn’t always feasible if you have more than one kid who needs you at that time – I totally get that. And it’s not really something bigger kids want, or even need (I think encouraging independence at homework time is totally appropriate for older kids).
But for reluctant little ones, turning homework time into quality parent and kid time is something we all can do in our way — just set the intention and see where it takes you. The main idea is to make homework a time where you can truly give your kid your attention, and add an element of play into it.
Yes, it might make homework take a little longer, but since 90% of homework is asking your kid to actually do it, having it be an activity your kid looks forward to saves you a ton of time. And it’s always a wonderful and welcome thing when you can turn an annoying task into one of love, play, connection, and extra hugs.