Doing Something Right

Finally, a study that proves sometimes my parenting instinct is spot on. As reported in The Atlantic by Dana Goldstein, research shows that some types of parental intervention in the school are hurtful rather than helpful. Titled, “Don’t Help Your Kid With His Homework”, it turns some conventional parenting wisdom on its head.

Reading about the research was interesting. And let me emphasize two things: 1) “Don’t help with homework” doesn’t mean totally ignoring schoolwork or school involvement and 2) For better or worse, the measure of doing well in school was summed up by standardized test scores. There’s a lot more to school than test scores.

Oh, the other thing, and I see this often when I read about school in the media: When researchers or media are talking about schools, they are talking about public school. I imagine that much of the research can be extrapolated to children in private schools, although arguably, if a child is in private school, they already are operating in a different environment — at home as well as in school — that is going to affect their educational income.

Basically “don’t help with homework” boils down to making sure your children do their homework and giving your children positive messages about the importance of education. Then you have to step back and let them work to the best of their ability, or let them face the consequences of not working.

Last year, I did check Flora’s math homework. This year, she asked me not to. “We check it in class,” she told me. “You don’t have to do that.” I decided to take her at her word. I don’t check her work.

Also, I don’t do my children’s projects. Every now and again, one of the girls comes home with a report to do, or a project that requires drawing or crafty-ness. I let my children draw, color, cut, paste, and/or build with clay whatever they want for these latter projects. For book reports or research, I support them or help them figure out how to search things out on Google, but I don’t fill in the blanks for them.

I will admit, my fingers positively ITCH to help with their projects. Sometimes I have to leave the room. I want my children to turn in shiny dioramas where perspective is correct (i.e. the trees are taller than the people). But my girls don’t give a hoot for perspective sometimes. They just like arts and crafts.

The only thing I try to do consistently with my children is help them practice spelling. We do practice tests of the list words. And even that I’m not consistent with, although I do ask if they have a test that week and if they know the words.

So far, my strategy is working; the girls are bringing home As and Bs (and my husband is paying them $1 each for the As, that stinker).

Two big take-aways were:

1. Read to your children.
2. Request a certain teacher.*

And one big hypothesis: “Robinson and Harris posit that greater financial and educational resources allow some parents to embed their children in neighborhoods and social settings in which they meet many college-educated adults with interesting careers. Upper-middle-class kids aren’t just told a good education will help them succeed in life. They are surrounded by family and friends who work as doctors, lawyers, and engineers and who reminisce about their college years around the dinner table.”

I can see this in my own upbringing. My parents encouraged the routines and habits that ensured we did our homework in the evening. With the exception of my father trying very hard to help me with my math homework (with disastrous results), they pretty much left us to our own devices. My parents were children of people with no college education; in the case of my father, his parents were Irish immigrants. But my parents did well for themselves because of their education, and they had a lot of friends and family members (siblings, older cousins of mine) who clearly benefited from college, too.

The research is food for thought. Given the high cost of higher education, I wonder sometimes what Dan and I will do when our children are graduating from high school. But in the meantime, I’m not going to help them (much) with their homework. How about you? And do you pay your kids for As?

* More on this later.

5 thoughts on “Doing Something Right

  1. We’re not there yet, but I agree with your approach. This is roughly what my parents did. I was not paid for my grades, though. I was rewarded for every good report card by being taken out to a nice dinner by my parents, but I was not paid for grades. It felt more like “we’re proud of you, keep up the hard work, you deserve a treat” rather than a bribe. I think I’ll probably do something similar. A nice dinner might not be the reward to my kid(s) that it was to me so the details might change.

    • Yeah, Dan caught me off guard on that. However, he wants Flora to pull her spelling grade back up to an A. She’s a point away. We’ll probably give them the money, and then see if they want to use it at Five Below or something like that. I don’t think he thinks of it as a bribe, more like you viewed dinner, and a means to a treat. 🙂

  2. One of the problems is that the parents aren’t in the classroom, learning HOW the problem is supposed to be solved. That’s what messed me up in math. My parents taught me the shortcuts they used in order to solve math problems, but as a student of the “New Math” in the 60s, when it came time for me to build on what was being taught in class, I was screwed.
    (“The New Math,” as Tom Lehrer says, “the object is to understand what you are doing, rather than to get the right answer.”)

    • This is another issue the article mentions. As teaching methods change, children are learning differently. I may not be able to directly help my children as they get older because 1. I don’t remember learning a lot of this stuff in the first place; 2. The way it is taught now is not the way I was taught.

      I pretty much try to emphasize doing the best they can, and that they can improve if they practice. In some areas, that’s what learning is: practice. Especially spelling and math: practice, practice, practice. I try to give them the support and structure to do that.

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