By Eden Strong
My 6-year-old daughter came home from school with a homework assignment this weekend. She’s supposed to make a diorama of a frog habitat in a shoebox. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? A little moss, a fake pond, a plastic frog, easy-peasy, right?
In fact, it won’t actually take her any time at all … because she’s not doing it.
She won’t be partaking in this project in the same way that we did not partake in creating a large cardboard sunflower, a design-our-own board game, or a “cloud photography” assignment.
Why not, you ask? Because I have a BIG problem with the amount of time-zapping homework my daughter’s school system doles out and because of that, I’ve decided my daughter won’t be doing her homework anymore.
Not really. I don’t have a problem with homework in and of itself because, obviously, I understand it’s an important part of our children’s development process. My daughter needs to learn responsibility, time management, and self-facilitated learning and I’m grateful that homework provides some of those lessons for her. I’ve spent hours helping her learn how to read, do mathematical equations, and understand the history of our country. We’ve spent many a late night practicing spelling words and reading book assignments. As a single mom, I try my hardest to make her education a priority in my overfilled life because I know that education is one of just many things that will play a role in the foundation of her future.
That’s all well and good.
My problem with homework is that it’s given in excess and the lesson behind it is wrapped up in time-sucking busy-work.
And because of that, I’m rebelling against it. School, while important, is not everything to me. Some of the greatest minds in our country were college (and even highschool!) dropouts: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, the list goes on. But before you get all up in arms about that statement, let me assure you I would love nothing more than for my daughter to graduate college. Of course I would. But we also need to acknowledge that there are other “life” lessons to be taught outside of school; lessons she’ll learn through team sports, quality family time, playing outside, and everything in between, that have nothing to do with a grade. Those learning moments are more important and valid to me than gluing moss to a f*cking shoebox.
My daughter’s teachers thought I was insane, of course.
I reached out to them the first week of school to politely tell them my daughter would only be doing as much homework as would feasibly fit into our lives. I asked them to contact me if she was struggling in any areas so that I could shift our focus onto those subjects and I asked them if they had any questions for me.
They looked at me like I had absolutely lost my mind … which I was fully expecting.
Because what we are doing is not normal and I get that. The first year her teacher was great and completely understanding. The second year, not so much. She sent me a rather strongly worded email that “rules apply to all kids and that kids can’t be taught that they’re the exception to the rule.” Her email was followed up by a request for a conference with the school’s principal.
Thankfully, the meeting went well. The teacher seemed to understand that my desire to avoid homework was not because I didn’t want to put in the effort; it was because I wanted my daughter to have ample time to explore the world outside of the classroom. Although I went into the meeting thinking I was going to need to defend my alternative lifestyle, I walked out feeling as thought my viewpoints were not only understood, but respected. In the end, we decided some homework assignments would simply not count against her grade and other times, an alternate assignment would be given, one that was more adaptable to our lives and the educational path I’m creating for her.
I don’t want my daughter to feel that she’s “above the rules” and at the same time I don’t want to box her in. It’s a delicate balance that we continue to navigate.
Since then, my daughter completes about 40 percent of her homework. I make sure that she gets her core homework done and then, if she’s into it, we’ll occasionally do what I’ve deemed the “time-suck” activities: camouflaging a cardboard turkey, making a puppet out of a paper bag, you get the idea. Still though, even without all the homework we don’t do, she’s at the top of her class academically. She’s learning and thriving, not in a conventional way, of course, but in our own way - and it’s obviously working.
- Put the hardest homework at the top of your list. Why? Well, this allows you to kick it up a notch! You can start, move on, and then continue re-thinking it (starting gives it a place in the "depths" of your mind -- an inventive part of your mind) and then going back to it, to do more, so you won't get too bogged down, but it will have priority for the subconscious mind to work on it! See, you don't have to get stuck in that problem -- that might take all of your time:
Do a quick effort; make it a worthwhile try, then go onward to less demanding homework. Later, going back -- and seeing how you can improve the first one with fresh bits and pieces.
Open "secret back-channels" -- just starting, even if you have to come back to finish, gets your creativity to kick in (this gets dark recesses of your mind to really work for you!). Creative juices can be inspiring, refreshing, helpful!
Break it down. Make piecework; quickly overview the topic: scan!
~ Read headings, intro, maps, charts, pictures, captions, bold or italic lettering, footnotes, and chapter summaries to get ideas and perspectives/angles for ideas to start yourself thinking.
~ Begin your answer to each problem and essay question, by doing parts! How? Make a first sentence or step, do any logical, little bits and bites (go step-by-step).
~ Add a second thought/step and another -- each flowing from the previous one. Going one phrase or sentence at a time makes it possible to write or do something.
~ Skip some lines, to leave room to fill in later -- if you need to move on to another area.
To re-kick-start an answer: Read what you have already written/or have done to check it, and see what flows from there', to lead your thinking to your next thought/step, and so on.
- Take advantage of any holidays or vacations that may be coming near as a motivator. On a Thursday, remind yourself that it is almost the weekend, and the moment this homework assignment is done you'll be one moment closer. Remember that Thanksgiving, winter break, or summer break is nearing, and the moment your homework is done you can enjoy it to its fullest.
- Think of it this way: if you procrastinate, you're spending time worrying about the task in addition to the time you actually do it. If you just take action and complete it as soon as you think of it, then you'll have more time to relax.
Work smarter, not harder. A fried brain absorbs little information. Break up your homework time into chunks. Take regular breaks. Set a timer; take a five to ten minute break for each hour you study. Get up, stretch, and move around. Drink water and eat a little fruit: water will refresh your system, and half an apple provides a better effect than a sugary energy drink.
Think of the consequences. What will happen, if you don't do your homework? Will you get a bad grade? Will your teacher be disappointed in you? If none of these things seem to apply to you, remember that homework is to help you learn, which everyone ultimately wants. In the real world, knowledge helps you master the rules of the game.
Think of the benefits. What will happen, if you do your homework? You'll probably get a good grade. Your teacher will appreciate your efforts. You have learned a great deal, and you'd be paving your way for a better life simply by putting your pencil to paper! Putting yourself in a positive state will reap in the benefits and ultimately surge you with the energy and hope to focus back on your work, and even enjoy what you're doing!
Find a place with less distraction. Set up your special study place. No friends, television, or other potential distractions should be present. Your homework place should also have a hard surface, like a table, to write on. If you need to do some of your homework on a computer, as many high school students do, make sure to avoid chat programs, unrelated websites, etc. If you have difficulty keeping focused, or awake, consider doing your homework at the library, at a table with some amount of foot traffic passing by it. The quiet atmosphere will help you focus, the surrounding mild activity will help keep you from falling asleep, and if you get stuck, there are those helpful librarians and references.
- Don't go on a cleaning binge as a way to procrastinate. Focus only on where you'll be working, and leave it at that.
Find a homework partner. Make sure this person isn't one of your crazy friends who'll distract you. Find someone to sit with who is quiet and focused. This will help you feel comfortable working, because someone else is working along with you. Just be sure not to end up talking more than working.
Create your own learning method. Everybody learns at their own pace and uses different methods to help memorize the material. Some find walking helpful, while others like to listen to music while they study. Whatever it is, experiment until you find something that seems to work well for you.
Listen to some quiet music (optional). Listening to music and studying does not work for everyone. If you are going to listen to music, try to listen to classical music or instrumental songs. Or if classical isn't for you, just pick quiet songs that you don't know, and start working, so you don't get caught up in the words.
Exercise briefly during each study break. It will help relieve tension, clear your mind, help you focus and make you feel awake. For example, walk around, stretch, do jumping jacks, or jog in place.
Make a routine. A routine will get you into doing homework as a habit. Schedule times and days so you are totally organized as to what you're doing this week, the next, and even the week afterwards. Surprises will occur, but at the very least, you know what you're doing!
- Put your phone, computer, and anything else that might distract you far from your reach. Then stay in a quiet room where you know you won't get distracted. Keep a timer for every 30 minutes to an hour, so you know how long you've been working and can still keep track of time.
Prioritize. Divide your homework according to your ability in the subject. If you're not so good, do it first. If it's an easy assignment, take a break and do it in 15 minutes or so, then get working again! If it's a long-term project, do it last. Not that it's not as important, but you need to save your time for the things with near-due-dates.
Get some success: you might prefer to get one or two easy tasks over-with at the start of a homework session, saving the hard stuff for last. Diving right into the hard stuff can be discouraging, and studies show that many people learn well when they start with easier material and work up to the harder stuff. Getting a few easy tasks done quickly can remind you of how good it feels to be productive. Some people, however are more motivated to dig into the hardest stuff first. It will make the rest seem like a breeze. Find out what works best for you.
Use simpler problems to find the steps to do harder solutions. Most problems can be broken down into simpler problems. That's a key to try on most math and science work and exams.
So what are you waiting for, get to your homework!!