Tag Archives: Homework

I Never Said I Was Good at Math

Of all the hurdles I thought I’d have to face as a parent, I never thought homework would be the one to trip me up the most, causing so many tears and leaving some of us flat-faced on the floor. When will this nightmare be over?

When I was a kid, I came home from school and did my homework. It wasn’t until high school that I remember writhing in pain as my dad tried to teach me formulas and pre-calculus while my eyes rolled back in my head and I bit my tongue hard to keep bad words from spilling out.

I despise math. I could not sit in a chair long enough to listen to anyone explain it because I did not care about it. Yet, somehow, I managed to survive it. I thought with the repeat of my college algebra course that was the end of it. No more. Hallelujah! The only math I’d see was for simple household measuring, grocery shopping. My word, someone has put a curse on me and given me children who sometimes need help with math. And I have to be the calm one.

Occasionally I check my son’s homework. Not always. I look at those long division problems and three-digit multiplication and know it would take me all night to work it out in my head. I don’t have time for that. My son does well in math. I glance and figure it’s OK.

Yesterday I got out the calculator to check up on him, just to make sure he wasn’t struggling. He got four of those big multiplication problems wrong. He redid the first one—992 x 91—and got the same answer. He did it again, same answer.

“Well this is the answer the calculator says. You’re not doing it right,” I told him.

Mind you, I didn’t take away his dinner or tell him he couldn’t have candy for a year, but the rolling on the floor and fussing that ensued would have made you think so.

He did the problem again and he got the same answer. His mechanical pencil mysteriously “fell apart.” I worked the problem on the calculator again. It had the same different answer I got before. Then I worked the problem on paper and got an entirely different answer from any of them, but it was closer to his.

“Hmmm.”

Quiet.

This was not looking good. Are calculators sometimes wrong? I use this calculator for work, for important things. I’ve used this calculator since college. This calculator gave us an answer that was nearly 60,000 off. I thought the answer seemed strange but who am I to question a calculator?

We went to the computer and got the same answer I got on paper. The calculator was wrong. My son was wrong. I was right. What is wrong with this world when you can’t rely on a calculator to check your math?

My son had only missed two problems and not four. Our calculator could not be trusted. And I guess that meant that I could not be trusted in my son’s eyes. I guess it also meant I’m going to have to start working all those problems out the long way. Or maybe he has this multiplication thing down good enough.

calculators make quick work

Am I smarter than a calculator?

 

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Homework: It’s a Bad Word in My House

Homework may be the word most dreaded by school kids every day, but it’s also one of the most dreaded words by this mom. It ranks up there with lice and vomit, two other words I don’t want my kids to come home from school and tell me about. Though those ailments may have much worse consequences in the short run, homework provides day in, day out gut-wrenching exhaustion in the long run.

Some days my first- and third-grade kids come home, finish homework without so much as a whimper, and scoot out the door like a scene from a 1950s television show. Many other days, though, someone fusses, whines, cries, or screams over homework. Sometimes that someone may even be me. As far as I can tell, no quick remedy exists to cure this homework repulsion. I’ve tried every approach and tactic I can think of, failing miserably in the process and often wanting to crawl under the table myself and join my daughter in a fit of tears. But I hold my head high as long as I can, keep my voice calm, and tell myself that if their teachers can get two dozen kids to do their work each day, surely I can get two through a half hour of skills practice.

When my kids get home from school, they’re tired. They’ve practiced things like subtraction, division, writing complete sentences, and reading comprehension all day. When faced with homework that requires them to do this yet again, sometimes they lose it and they take it out on me. And tears flow. They squirm. They writhe in agony as if some unknown force pulls their limbs in every direction. They collapse in despair, bodies sprawled across the table too weak to hold a broken pencil. They ask for my help and then get mad when I calmly explain the work. They want me to do it for them and get madder still when I don’t comply. They spend 40 minutes fussing about homework and it could have been done in 15. It doesn’t add up. My kids obviously need a refresher in math skills.

Homework, not my favorite time of day. What I've found is that distance helps.

My son and I then argue over whether other parents check their kids’ homework. He says they don’t. I say who cares. He needs to know what he got wrong and why.

Between the storms, we have had success. So what worked best to break out of our writhing, squirming, under-the-table-and-screaming afternoons?

1. Freedom. Letting the kids decide when to do their homework helps. If they don’t want to do it when they walk in the door from school, no problem, as long as they do it before dinner.

2. Location. If they want to do their homework in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, heck, even under the kitchen table or in the bathtub, I really don’t care.

3. Routine. It takes my kids time to get back into the routine once school starts. They come home from school, shove food down their throats, and run upstairs to play before they settle in with their books. If we have somewhere else to be one afternoon, such as soccer practice, I know we’re in for a rough afternoon come homework time because it messes up their routine. We have a routine, even when they choose when to do their homework, and we stick to it as best we can.

4. Time. It simply takes time for my kids to adjust when a new school year starts, not weeks but months. They do a lot in a day and they have to get used to a schedule that requires a lot of them again.

5. Independence. Once my kids were old enough, I let them do their homework alone if they understood it. Then I check it when they finish.

6. Love. I joke about it because humor helps lessen the sting, but when all else fails, a hug gets us all through those really rough times. Sometimes we just need to stop the craziness, sit on the couch, and snuggle and laugh. Refocusing breaks us out of the funk.

I tried other things that didn’t work, such as getting mad and frustrated. My kids tried things too, such as putting down any answer because their teacher doesn’t check that homework. The funny thing is, we’ve all learned lessons. I don’t know how long homework will cause an upheaval in our lives each year and when my kids will just accept it and always do it without a fight. I simply haven’t done my homework on that.

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