Module 4: Homework: An Archaic Idea. {One of 5 Modules in the Life Skills and Anger Management 4 My Family Program}

{This module is complimentary for a limited time, because Covid-19 has turned every parent into a home-schooler. While this module is designed for parents helping children with homework, the same principles can be applied to helping your child complete assignments while home-schooling. Handouts are attached to the end of this module instead of in the handout book. All parents have tried structure and “rewards”, but usually with little success and the power struggles continue. Page 5 will outline exactly what to do and how to respond when children ignore the program and seem uninterested in celebrations. Knowing how to remove yourself from the power struggle is a critical component of the program.}.

Homework: the bane of many a family’s existence. Getting homework completed can be a huge stress for some families, but even if homework is not a painful issue in your home, you should find the suggestions in this module very helpful. For those who find homework a constant battle and stress, the homework program should bring welcome relief.

Homework is an idea well past its prime. As public schooling evolved in the 1800’s children left school in the early afternoon so they could get home to help with family chores such as feeding livestock, chopping wood, baking, and farming. Studying took place in the evening as kids had to make up for time lost during the day. As the need for family chores decreased, kids came to assume that a five hour work day was the norm, and the rest of their time was for leisure. It’s not surprising they perceive homework as an intrusion upon their free time.

The need for homework could be avoided if school hours were extended until 4:30 and the last 90 minutes set aside to complete assignments and study. Then kids could come home, relax, and have the night free from homework. That’s how most adults work; they aren’t expected to work for 5 hours, return home, and work again that evening (of course management jobs, split shifts or jobs like teaching are the exception). While adults might like the sound of finishing work at 3 and bringing work home, it would soon become an onerous burden. Employees would procrastinate getting back to work in the evening, they would stay up late completing their work, and spend twice as long as necessary because they multitasked in front of the TV. Even teachers stress about grading papers and prepping classes in the evening. If it’s a bad idea for adults, it’s a bad idea for kids.

While the idea of having homework may be archaic, the school system’s not likely to change! Homework remains a fact of life, and families have to deal with it. It’s up to parents to create a structured work time so their children develop good study habits at an early age. A well designed, structured approach to homework reduces family stress and creates more time for families to enjoy their evenings together.

Why is Homework So Difficult?

It’s difficult to have to start homework in the evening, but it’s doubly difficult because of how it’s typically structured. Homework is often tackled in the worst way possible; a way that would never work for adults, let alone children.

Each evening, the first question a parent asks is; “Do you have homework?” This implies their child only has to do homework if it’s due the next day. If there’s nothing due, the kids reply they “don’t have homework” while conveniently forgetting about assignments due in the future. This leads to panic the night before the neglected assignment comes due and kids complain; “my teachers all gave me work due the same day”. It also encourages kids to neglect studying in advance for an exam. Some kids may also “forget” homework at school, believing if they don’t have homework in their backpack, they don’t have to do it. Imagine if adults only had to work when projects were due the following day. Everything would be done at the last minute, and no one would be starting projects early.

Homework often has a vague start time; “I’m doing my homework after dinner”. After dinner it’s easy to procrastinate and plan to start after that first show at 6:30. Then the hamster’s cage needs cleaning, then a text needs to be replied to, and on it goes. Without a clear start time it’s easy to procrastinate and parents begin reminding the child to get to work. Everyone is feeling increasingly anxious as the evening progresses and the homework is still incomplete. The child feels nagged, the parents feel frustrated, and what should have been an hour’s work has dragged out to ruin the entire evening. Imagine if adults could just go to work whenever they wanted. Many would procrastinate planning to go first thing in the morning, then after that second cup of coffee, then after that quick trip to the store while it’s quiet, and so on. Soon everyone would be going to work in the evening, and the entire day would have been spent procrastinating on getting to work.

Once a child settles down to work, homework continues only until the work is “finished”. “You must finish your homework before you watch TV”. This rewards children for doing the least amount of work possible. It teaches kids to put in just enough effort to get by. When the parent checks the homework, they’re dismayed to see it’s been a rush job and barely meets minimum standards. Imagine if employers told their staff they could all go home as soon as they finished their work. Projects would be completed to the bare minimum standard, and everyone would be out the door by noon.

Many kids work on their homework with little supervision. It’s hard, especially later in the day, to keep their mind on their work. It’s easy to daydream, fiddle with toys, and not get down to task. For children with attentional issues it can be a nightmare, and the benefits of medication have likely worn off. Even adults need supervision to work. Just knowing someone is observing and measuring an employee’s performance motivates them to stay on task. There are of course self-motivated and hardworking kids and adults who work without supervision, but they’re probably not the norm. Even adults have to prove themselves responsible before they earn the right to work unsupervised.

If the above description sounds like your family, you need to make some changes. Start by considering homework as a child’s part-time job. It should be structured as though the child was working at a fast food franchise. An employee has a specific shift that is scheduled well in advance. They never call up the day before to inquire if there’s work to be completed that day. Their shift starts and stops at a specific time, and they can’t just arrive whenever they feel like working. Employees need to be in uniform, hands washed, and ready to start at the beginning of their shift. While working, there’s a shift supervisor who ensures they’re on task and not distracted. When the shift is over, they’re free to go home. There’s no such thing as finishing the shift early; if a task is completed, the employee is assigned another task until their shift comes to an end. Employees can relax and have fun before and after their shift without having to worry about work. Homework should follow these same basic principles.