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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Give a little - homework strategies

There are two types of person on the planet, the typical and the atypical. The typical person, such as myself, ensures that everything is done ahead of time. The atypical person does everything at the last possible moment. The typical person has a list of tasks to accomplish and does the most horrid ones first, to get them out of the way. Atypical persons have their own bizarre set of rules that make no sense whatsoever.

With this in mind I have a rethink of the current homework policy, do it now, do it first, get it over and done with, because it is the most horrid. Next, the less horrible chores of making their packed lunch and choosing their clothes for the following day. Collectively, these three tasks consume every painful waking moment from the end of school until electronics time at 5:30 p.m. The lure or bribe, of electronics time, is the motivator. They must achieve electronics, so that I have thirty minutes to clear up and produce supper, otherwise the next two hour block of time before bed will be disrupted with dire consequences for all, especially me.

Many wise parents know that homework, after a long day of school is plain bad management. Everyone who returns from work or school, needs a little time to cool off, or chill as we Americans say.

This is why I know that I am frosty, frozen in the paralysis of my own way of doing things, a way that doesn’t work for my children. I examine the facts. Both my brother and my eldest daughter are so atypical as to be worthy of the title procrastinators. Burners of the mid night oil, they claim that it is only when they’re up to the wire that they win the race, due to the adrenalin rush.

Poppycock clearly.

The mere possibility that we shall fail to complete what we need to complete, within the designated time, is enough to give me palpitations. I must acknowledge the unwelcome truth, that I have morphed into a control freak of the worst order. How I envy those relaxed parents, the horizontal ones, who glide through their day and help their children surf to safety. How come I dipped out of the ‘surfing’ gene? When did I change from the ‘we’ll get there eventually’ type, into the ‘we’ve missed the boat’ type?


My daughter has gone to do her homework and then play, with her pal. Now is the ideal opportunity, with only two of them to manage.

I make my announcement as to the temporary rule change, that will be subject to change if it doesn’t work.

I watch them play whilst I riffle through their homework files. I read every page and clarify who is expected to do what, when and how? I ponder over the bits that are unclear, until they become clear. I determine that maybe, just maybe, I am now better prepared to single handedly guide them through their different homeworks.

I dither. Which would be worse or better? Constantly reminding them of the sands of time that are running out, so that homework time doesn’t arrive as a shock, or say nothing and let them enjoy their play time trouble free? When does constant reminding and reassuring become nagging? I decide to split the difference. Fist hour nothing. Second hour shows the visual timer on count down, not stapled to their bodies but over to the side, within radar range.

At five o’clock I haul them in. 30 minutes for homework and two chores.

He’s off to a flying start, head down with lots of rapid pencil movements. His little brother makes rooster noises but he is at least in position, at the table, pencil in hand. 3 work sheets later he’s off, charging up the stairs to gather clothes. This visual cue, the departure, sends his little brother into greater volume, rooster squalking mode, but his hand starts scribbling.

He returns and bowls into the kitchen, dumps his clothes vaguely in the designated area and starts the long business of choosing which squeezy yoghourt to favour for his lunch. The rooster changes to barking as the last ten minutes show in red. “I am be trick time!” he bellows as he flips it forward another 15 minutes. I ignore this deviation and haul him along for the next few lines. He hurls the pencil aside like a hot poker on the last period and catapaults upstairs with me close at his heels. He wrenches clothes from hangers, bundles them up and racing back downstairs. We leap around the kitchen lobbing foodstuffs into the general area of his lunch bag. As the last minute clicks off, both boys explode into the family room to pick up electronics.

I drag out the ledger, the heavy tome that I store in a zipped compartment of my brain just behind my right ear, to make my calculations. On the down side there is scappily completed homework, a wild assortment of random food items and mis-matched heaped clothes. On the upside we have skipped two hours of misery and have achieved, oh wonder of wonders, task completion. In the interests of fairness I have to weight the latter considerably. Overall, I would have to concede that this backwards result, falls on the positive outcome side of the book of life.

The bell rings.

I stagger to the door where my daughter stands with a face like a wet weekend. “I couldn’t do my homework coz I didn’t have any markers, cun you help me, pleazzzz, it’s gonna take forever.”

Rats! My scheme has failed. The evening routine is in tatters, as is the end of life as we know it.

I suspect we shall be on take out tonight. Positive reinforcement for mummies at least.

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