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Whose Homework Is It Anyway?

? Success vs Ethics, part 2 |


| To Hell With ALL That ?

May 04, 2006

Whose Homework Is It Anyway?

Amy Dunkin

I'll never forget my son's first homework assignment. He was three years old and he came home from preschool with a blank cardboard cutout of a child that he was supposed to decorate to look like himself. Seriously thinking that this was a three-year-old's project, I sat him at a table with crayons, markers, and glitter glue and told him to draw a picture of himself on the boy.

When he was finished, he had made some colorful scribbles to represent the clothes, a crude face, and a few black lines around the head for hair. The next day he proudly brought it to school--and I just about wanted to die. As I looked around the room at the other kids' projects, I saw works of art like you wouldn't believe: mini-me's with custom-made clothing and shoes and lifelike faces and hair. One even had a baseball cap that had been cut to fit the two-dimensional head. After the teacher hung up all the projects on the wall, Eli looked them over and said, "Mommy, my boy looks naked." What I wanted to say back to him was, "Honey, your boy is the only one that was made by a child."

Ever since, I've been struggling with how much I should get involved in my children's homework. I want to help, but I don't want to do it for them. I want to inspire them to do a good job, but I want the end result to reflect their sensibilities and skills, not mine.

My instinct is to back off--to let my sons do the work, then to correct the obvious mistakes at the end. The teachers tell me that's exactly what I should be doing. They say they can always tell when the parents have done the work--and it never helps the child when mom or dad takes over.

What is it about parents that makes them feel they should do their kids' homework? Do they really think their kids will be at a disadvantage if the teacher sees a wrong answer, or if the grammar in an essay isn't perfect? Is this just overachieving by proxy?

I think we need to step back and let our children make their age-appropriate mistakes. Let them see they don't have to be perfect. We can coach them up to a point without being overly interfering. For example, point out a spelling error but then don't spell the word. Have them sound it out, or look it up in the dictionary. Suggest some points they can make in a report, then let them write it in their own words. If there are some grammatical errors, let the teacher see them so she/he can know how to guide your child.

Sometimes you just have to hold yourself back. Yesterday my son was putting together his project for the school science fair and he was gluing some pages to a presentation board. I was hovering about watching him work and started making some suggestions: "Why don't you move that page over here?" "Don't put so much glue on the back."

After a few minutes of this, he looked up at me and said, "Mom, I can do this myself." So I went into the kitchen and left him alone. When he finished, the project looked great--and it was all his own doing. As it should be.

10:52 AM


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that is so sad how parents are consistently doing their kids homework. it seems to happen a lot in southern california, maybe b/c of how competitive it is out here.

on the other hand, i remember how annoying it was to be told to "look it up" when it was a word my parents obviously knew growing up. it always felt like they were too disinterested to give me lesson on the word themselves and would rather have the dictionary do it for them. so i guess it is a fine balnce

Posted by: jess at May 6, 2006 01:49 AM

Dear Amy,

i don't know who you are or what your qualifications as a child expert are. I have worked 25 years with all ages of children as a school psychologist. I always recommend the book "Liberated Parents, Liberated Children"(subtitled, Your guide to a Happier Family by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich)to anyone looking for parenting advice simple because there are no pat answers to any parenting question. Have you read this book? It is the best parenting book ever written.

Posted by: Jane Idell at May 6, 2006 12:18 PM


This is a blog for working parents. Amy is a working parent, and that makes her enough of an expert for me. I think the Faber/Mazlich books are so important not just because of their professional training, but because they each have 3 kids. Everyone figures what works best for their families.

Posted by: Martha Feingold at May 8, 2006 06:30 PM

The objective of a homework assignment is to practice and reinforce skills that have been taught in school. Homework gives parents the opportunity to observe their children, assess their understanding and facilitate the learning process. This can only be accomplished by allowing the child to work independently, reviewing their work and giving constructive feedback.

Posted by: rosanne rosenberg at May 9, 2006 03:56 PM

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