By Meika Rouda
My son is in first grade and this week he received his first homework. It is “reading” each night and writing down the books he looks at (he can’t read yet). The first night I tried to sit him down to do it he ended up throwing his pencil across the room and melting down in tears. This is not what I was going for. My son is a reluctant reader and writer. He hurries through his letters so they are not a uniform shape or size. He refuses to sound out words or blend letters. While he knows many sight words, he gets mad when I ask him to say them, like somehow I am punishing him.
My son is anxious and I think he doesn’t realize how much he knows. The thought of having to read or write stresses him out and that is the last thing I want. This is such a time to build confidence around learning, to have children succeed so that reading and writing are fun. Homework ends up being something he does because if he doesn’t, he loses a privilege like watching a TV show he likes. So how can I make homework more enjoyable for all of us? How to avoid the threats and the wall of refusal and help him embrace learning at home.
First, I am not going to call it homework. When I hear the word homework I have a Pavlovian response that makes me want to turn around and run far away. It is just something no one wants to do, it sounds difficult and dreadful. I am going to call it funwork or maybe brainwork or what about brain-stretching. Perhaps if I associate it with super hero qualities, which reading and writing sort of are to a 1st grader, then he will be more inclined to do it.
Secondly, I am going to have his three year old sister do work as well so he isn’t alone brain stretching. There are many workbooks by Brain Quest or Kumon where she can practice her numbers and letters. Maybe that way, by the time she is in 1st grade she will like to do her brain stretching instead of resisting it.
Third, brain stretching will be done at the same time each night. I personally hate being stuck to a schedule. When my kids were babies I readily pushed nap time if it wasn’t convenient for my day. But my son needs structure. He needs to know what to expect and a routine he can count on is mandatory for him even if I like a more organic schedule.
Finally, he will get a reward when he finishes. A star sticker or smiley face on his weekly chart. At the end of the week if he completes all his tasks on his chart, he can pick a special prize or activity for us to do.
I realize how important it is to set up good habits now and I really want him to succeed. Self esteem is everything at this tender age and if one feels like they can’t keep up in class or aren’t good at learning, that stays with them a lifetime. So the effort I put it now will hopefully pay off later. Now I just have to get used to the word Brain Stretching.
Photo Credit: Chris Yarzab