Since school started several weeks ago, I’ve quickly come to loathe Mondays because that’s the day Siena, my third grader, comes home with her work for the week. And every time I review what needs to be done, I want to cry. I don’t let Siena see my reaction but it’s getting harder and harder for me to hide it. For the most part, it takes us about two hours per night (for a nine year old) to get through it all. I say “us” because there is no way she can do it all on her own. There is a list of ten spelling words (which last week included antenna and antennae) plus five bonus words to memorize, another ten vocabulary words that I often have never heard of, 20 sentences to write, four pages of daily math pages, 30 minutes of reading, and additional worksheets that boggle my mind. Plus each Monday she must make flashcards of each vocabulary and spelling word to take with her to school the next day so the kids can work on them in class, too. The whole thing is utterly overwhelming for Siena and it breaks my heart.
Growing up, I was a good student and graduated from college and built a career. How I managed to do this without spending ridiculous hours doing worksheets and mounds of busy work I’ll never know. Because it appears these days, the mindset is that children won’t learn much unless they spend almost as much time at home working on assignments as they do during the school day. And in the younger grades, all that homework means that the parents are doing it right alongside them. Bonding? Hell no. Maybe I shouldn’t care and just send Siena to her room to do it all on her own but I don’t. Yet offering all that help isn’t always that easy because the math assignments make me want to bash my head into a wall. Case in point: Siena is working on rounding numbers. She can round every single number without a problem. But, wait, that’s not good enough. She has to map out how she got to that rounded number. I have no idea how to help her do it and she doesn’t get it either. So instead of getting perfect scores on her math tests, she’s nearly failing them.
Thanks to homework, our evenings have become dreadful. I too often ignore my 14 year old because I can’t spend hours with my younger daughter, make dinner, do dishes, put laundry away and actually talk to anyone else. As for the daughter I spend almost every minute with, it isn’t helping either. Siena too often goes to be tired and frustrated because there is no break for her. She is mentally exhausted.
Earlier today, I was lamenting over all of this with my friend, Julie, (who also happens to be a high school teacher and mother). She said something that was incredibly liberating and powerful. Her daughter was coming home with insane amounts of homework, too, and she just learned to say no. If her child is struggling in a certain subject, she’ll work with her on that topic. Reading for at least 30 minutes per night isn’t negotiable. And if there is a group project or a special project, Julie makes sure her child gets it done well and on time. Anything beyond that, it just might not get done. When she told her daughter’s teacher this, she said, “Well then Kate will get an F on her homework packet for the week.” Julie’s response, “She’s in third grade. I don’t care. She needs rest, family time, and she plays soccer. That’s important, too.”
Wow, just like that. Julie took control of her family back. I am doing the same. So as of today, if Siena doesn’t turn in every single worksheet on Friday completed, that’s ok. Which is not to say that I’m not pro school, education and teacher. I am! Very few things are more important than learning and having that foundation required to progress through the later grades and college or other training program. I also know that it’s important to teach my children to be responsible and dependable people, and completing school assignments teaches that skill. But I’m not willing to sacrifice our evenings and our relationships in favor of busy work assigned by a well-meaning teacher. I just can’t do it.
So I say enough. I say yes to better evenings, to building better relationships with my children, and to a little evening sanity. If I thought that cutting letters out of a magazine and pasting them on a page would actually turn my child into a genius, then maybe I’d change my mind. But until that happens, I’m putting up a few boundaries. Mondays are sounding a bit better already.