I don’t know about you, but I used to feel anxious when my children came home with certain types of assignments. A book report. A science project. A research paper. Homework that I didn’t understand. A test coming up with lots of material to memorize.
I felt that I was being tested, and I wasn’t sure I would be successful. Even worse, I knew it meant a lot of work—for me! Some truths:
- No child in elementary school writes a book report or studies for a test on his own
- No child in middle school does a science project or research paper on her own
- Homework is sometimes practice of a math technique that your child doesn’t fully understand, and it is not the way you learned to do it
- Sometimes you offer to help, and your child says “that’s not what the teacher wants”, but he can’t explain it better
- Standardized tests are a mystery—you actually have no idea what will be tested
What can a parent do? We know how to do our jobs, but this is not your job. You want your child to do well. You know these skills are important: writing, critical thinking, problem-solving, comprehension. But why do they have to be done at home? Short answer (from someone who spends a lot of time in schools)—the school day is too short.
In order to help your child and survive, you need to take these assignments seriously, right from first grade. They aren’t going to go away, unfortunately. Some tactics that have helped me, and other parents:
- Allow lots of time, at least twice as much as you think you’ll need
- Ask your child to tell you as much as they can about the assignment, and make an outline or list of the steps. Break these into smaller amounts of work, post these on the family calendar, and check off each one as it is completed. Sometimes there will be a packet outlining the necessary parts—this is very helpful, so be sure to use it
- For homework, if you don’t understand how to do it, email or talk to the teacher. The exact method may not matter, as long as your child can do the problems. If your child doesn’t understand part of the curriculum, set up an after-school session so the teacher can teach it again
- Identify what your child needs from you—supplies, help searching for information, typing, help with design, reviewing material, supervising an experiment, etc. It may be painfully slow, but let your child do as much of the work by himself as possible. Skills get better with practice.
- Standardized tests given by the school don’t matter until 10th You can’t help your child practice. Encourage your child to do his best (see my earlier blogs) or keep him home, and if he doesn’t pass, meet with the school and find out why.
We all want to help our children succeed. We want those posters and science projects to look professional. But remember, you have already done this grade in school! Don’t let the school make you feel anxious or doubtful about your parenting skills. The best parents let their kids do the work for their grade.
You are the expert on your child, and you know these are skills your child needs to develop. I completely agree.
As always, I welcome your comments or questions. Please share this blog with any parents or professionals who might be interested.