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.

Back To School: The Schedule, Kids’ Edition

Last week was our first full week with the fall schedule (that means girls at school and Michael at daycare). It felt like a full-out sprint.

I am working hard to help myself and help my children with the transition back to fall. It’s been rocky so far. Lots of deep breaths on my part. My goal is to have a routine that the children can stick to. It needs to be simple and flexible.

One of my worries in general is that due to work and school and homework and activities and so on, that our kids are turning into little worker bees instead of little kids.

Flora has a test or quiz nearly every day of the week — math, English, spelling (a pretest and a test), science (every other week), and so on. It worries me, and I don’t want to pass my anxiety onto Flora. Not that she can’t do the work, she can — she’s very smart. But that The Work will just be the goal, instead of actual learning, and taking joy in learning.

Kate I am less worried about. She’s in full-day kindergarten, but she only has a page of homework once or twice a week. She usually comes home singing the songs they learn in her classroom. She is having a blast.

And Michael! Well, here’s a good thing: he transitioned very well back into his daycare. To date, he has not cried when I’ve dropped him off in the morning. He seems to be excited to see the toys and the care givers and other kids.

Here’s the crappy thing: He’s not getting enough rest. He’s sleeping between 10 and 11 hours at night (I try to get him in bed at 7:30 every night); during the day, he’s gone from 2 to 3 hour naps to 1 1/2 hour naps (if we’re lucky, 2). Evenings with him are very difficult — tantrums, meltdowns, clinginess. And he’s TIRED. He’s rubbing his eyes by 6 p.m. some nights.

Evenings in general are very difficult right now. I am the sole Parent On Duty, Monday through Thursday. What I need, especially from Flora and to a lesser extent from Kate, is some self-sufficiency and self-motivation. To help, I have a schedule to help them develop new habits.

We’re still learning it. I have told the girls that until they develop these good habits, there is no night time television. I have tried to be firm and consistent. I try not to yell.

I have held firm on television. I sometimes yell in frustration. But I’m trying.

Here’s the general outline:

When we get home, they have to get their stuff out of the car.
Once in the house, Flora should go to the dining room to start her homework. Kate needs to go to another room to play, or do her homework quietly with Flora. I give everyone a snack if they want.
While I make dinner, Kate has to occupy herself, Michael has to play or eat his snack, Flora should do her homework. Mileage varies so far.
Then we have dinner, clear the table. Sometimes the girls have a quick chore (putting their clean clothes away, running the vacuum). Then bath, books, bed. The end.

Here are the problems so far: Flora has a very difficult time focusing on her homework at home. She does fine in school because everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. But at home, her brother and sister are playing (or having a meltdown — I’m looking at you, Michael), and she is constantly distracted from her work. I am trying to make dinner. Kate has a very hard time leaving Flora alone.

What should be 15-20 minutes of homework a night gets stretched to an hour, sometimes more. Flora is constantly interrupting herself to get a drink, get a snack, complain about something, whinge about Kate. I am constantly chasing Kate away from the dining room or kitchen. Michael, feeling neglected (and probably hungry and tired) throws a fit.

I’m an awesome mom, by the way.

To date, since full-time school has started, the children have not had a night time show (not counting Fridays. They can do whatever the hell they want on Fridays, I honestly don’t care as long as no blood is shed). We do not get outside time at all. We really don’t get much downtime in the evenings in general, actually. I feel like it’s a full-out sprint (again) from picking up the children to bedtime.

And, frankly, I don’t know if there’s a damn thing I can do about it.

Are my expectations too high? Should I just give into the sprint until the weekends? Any ideas? Or should I just suck this up for the next nine months? (*sob*)

More later this week on MY schedule, and what I’m trying to do to help myself.

Another Version of That Mom

Among many of the things I am generally opposed to as a parent is doing my children’s homework for them. Yes, I am present. I encourage, I instruct, I check Flora’s work. But she does it.

Except for last night when I did Flora’s homework for her.

Before we left for North Carolina, Flora came home with a paper about making a rosary. (Ah, Catholic school.) It was due the Friday that we were going to be out of town.

I forgot about it.

Yesterday, a little politely worded post-it note came home on Flora’s school folder.

“10-24-2011 Flora needs a rosary. This is the third reminder.”

Oh.

Flora: “I was so embarrassed that I had to borrow a rosary from Miss B!”

Oh, dear.

I had no idea they were using the rosary. For the record, this was the first reminder I remember getting, although when I mentioned it to Dan, he said, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you about that.”

Plenty of guilt to go around.

Last night was the usual craziness. Trying to sit down one-on-one with Flora to string beads was a futile mess. She did her math homework. She wrote her vocabulary words on index cards. By the time I got Michael in bed, and we found beads, string, and I figured out how to get the beads on the string (the yarn was too wide for the holes in the beads; stringing the bead involved tying thread to the end of the yarn, and pulling the yarn through the beads that way), it was 8:20. Plus, Kate was hanging over me like a shawl.

I sent the girls to bed. Flora cried. “I’m supposed to help you with the rosary!”

“I know,” I told her. “I know. You did help. We counted out all the beads and you drew the cross. I think it’s more important that you have a rosary to take to school tomorrow than I let you stay up extra late to help.”

Reasoning with a soon-to-be 7-year-old is not very effective. In case you didn’t already know that.

Between making the rosary and various and sundry other PITA activities (trying to cancel a lost debit card, finding a puddle of water under my clothes washer, cleaning the kitchen — which never did get done), it was 11:15 before I went to bed. I’m not proud about having done the rosary for Flora, but other options seemed more unpalatabale to me.

What would you’ve done? More importantly, how do I keep from having to do this type of thing again?

Random Thoughts: Are the Kids All Right?

Homework is an issue. It’s an issue for a number of reasons:

1. Flora doesn’t have the longest attention span.
2. Flora’s attention span is further hampered by the fact that so many other things are going on while I am trying to get her to do her homework.
3. My kitchen table has too much crap on it that’s not related to homework.
4. She doesn’t really have enough time to do her homework. Or we’re not using our time effectively. Or something

The combination of all of the above is making homework difficult. I’m still figuring this out.

If I just got home an hour earlier I think the issues would go away. But I don’t know. Evenings are 3-on-1. Trying to get 1-on-1 with Flora to help her with homework (she’s not yet a self-starter, as you can imagine. She’s 6!) means turning on the TV for Kate, holding Michael or letting Michael explore the front room while I keep one eye on him (so that’s not really 1-on-1 right there is it?), or giving Kate “homework” and still holding Michael/keeping an eye on him.

Anyway. I just feel it’s not going well. Her homework should take about 15 minutes, 30 max, and instead it’s like pulling teeth until night time treat/bath/bedtime. Hers AND mine.

Thank goodness she’s smart.

++

Michael is making more noise. Along with the “dadada” that’s been in his verbal repertoire for a while now, he is also (finally!) saying “mamama” and “bababa”. He also says, “hhaaii” whenever I say Hi to him after not seeing him for awhile (i.e. when I pick him up from daycare). It’s super cute.

He’s also discovered yelling. He will sit in his high chair at dinner time and shout! The girls only encourage it. Dinner time is pretty noisy.

He likes drinking water from a sippy cup, but he refuses to hold it himself β€” same with his bottle. Loves his bottle and snuggling with mommy, and there’s no way he’s giving that up to hold the bottle himself. No thank you very much.

He will stand on his own, but he hasn’t taken an unsupported step just yet. I’m equal parts excited for him to start walking and dreading it. Any parent of more than one child understands this feeling. Heck, parents of one child probably understand it too, but maybe with a little less dread. I don’t know. I remember being SUPER EXCITED when Flora started walking, and super stressed when Kate did.

And he climbs on or up everything: stairs, the couch, any box or toy he can get under his feet; he stands in his high chair looking for the next step up.

++

Speaking of Kate, she has become my shadow. She follows me from room to room, and she always wants *me* to take her to school or daycare. She is definitely having middle-child syndrome and also still adjusting to life with Michael. I really need to get some one-on-one time with her soon.

She is still not sleeping in her own bed, either sleeping with Flora or me and Dan. I’ve given up on this for now. Sleep is too vital for me to be fighting with her in the middle of the night.

The other morning she said to me, “What do you do when you have a nightmare?” I said, “I cuddle with Daddy.” She nodded her little head. “If I was you and I had a nightmare, I’d snuggle with Daddy, too.”

++

In my ideal world I would:
1. Get home with the kids at least an hour earlier.
2. Sign Flora up for bowling on Sunday, and Dan would take her, and Kate and I would spend those two hours on Sunday baking (Michael would be napping, of course).
3. And while I’m at it, I’d have a fabulous part-time job that I loved and/or be a millionaire. Or both.

What is your fondest wish to make your life β€” as it is now β€” easier?