There is a special kind of parental suckage when it comes to your child experiencing the exact same struggles you did, isn’t there? I still remember how I hated homework when I was in elementary school, and how I chose every single increasingly problematic alternative to knuckling down and getting it done. It was miserable then, and now that I have a child who views homework much as I used to, it is miserable now.

Riley mostly got on board with my eat-your-frog approach to homework, and this year he has none outside of reading — fifth grade apparently decided to opt out, for reasons that aren’t fully clear to me. (I’m not really complaining, except that 1) it’s not consistent with other grades, and 2) it seems like middle school is going to be one holy hell of a transition.) Dylan in third grade, on the other hand, has quite a bit, and he’s a completely different kid when it comes to schoolwork. He’s bright, he’s capable … and he’s stubborn as a goddamned mule.

He has no internal motivation to get it done, he rushes the instructions then can’t figure out what he needs to do, he shuts down almost immediately and becomes surly and uncooperative. He’s also eight, so, you know, I realize things aren’t exactly dire, here. That rabbit hole of doom has such a pull to it, though.

My least favorite assignment is the daily response journal. I remember Riley slogging through this a couple years ago: the idea is to read a short chapter or two in a small provided book each day, then write your responses in a notebook. Response meaning how did you feel about the story, did you like it, what do you think is going to happen next, that sort of thing, as opposed to a summary of what happened. Dylan gets stuck on wanting to recap the basics of the plot, and when I try and help, I end up putting words in his mouth. His memory isn’t a problem, nor is is grasp of language, exactly … it’s the part of reading where the book comes alive in your imagination. That’s not happening.

This seems in line with his preference for picture books as opposed to chapter books. He’s a dreamy kid that spends a lot of time in his own head, but books aren’t his thing, at least not yet. The response journal activity is surely intended to teach him reading comprehension, but it’s an uphill battle at the moment. I hate everything about reading being a dreaded chore, where something I wish was enjoyable just feels like punishment to both of us. I hate the fact that I already went through this homework nightmare, and here I am again, seeing things in a new perspective from which — surprise! Sorry, Mom! — it turns out the whole experience is even crappier.

Most of all, I hate that the familiar terrain doesn’t give me any special superpowers to help my kids avoid the same pits I fell into. Third grade homework aside, I am thinking of larger problems they may come to face one day. There is almost nothing I fear more than my children facing addiction. I know one thing isn’t necessarily connected to the other, but it sort of feels that way, in my heart. Like a thousand landmines tied together with string, and I am afraid I don’t have the strength and wisdom to help guide them into the clear.


23 Responses to “The places you know”

  1. T on October 30th, 2016 1:28 pm

    I don’t have words of wisdom about this topic. I do have strong, terrifying memories of homework issues that started when my son was in 4th grade. I could not help him with math at that level and he had zero motivation. I will tell you to keep the faith and hang in there because they end up figuring it out. They have to. The student he is in college is the exact opposite of the student he used to be. Dedicated, motivates, and enthusiastic. I could not and would not have predicted that based on the years of tears (both of us) and arguments school provided!

  2. Amy on October 30th, 2016 2:06 pm

    Sounds like we have the same 8 year old, 3rd grade boys. ZOMG. Best wishes to us both for making it through. :)

  3. Grace on October 30th, 2016 2:11 pm

    I HATE homework with a passion that defies reason. It’s why I refuse to give any outside of reading to my students. That being said, I teach first grade…sooo…

    BUT, I may have a possible solution to Dylan’s lack of interest in reading comprehension of more complex stories. AUDIBLE BOOKS. The point of reading response is responding to literature and increasing engagement in stories so throw Harry Potter or Percy Jackson on the iPad and let him listen to a chapter. Instant engagement. My son started with Eragon in Audible (he’s dyslexic so reading homework was a nightmare) and we have to fight to get him to stop listening. Perhaps it will help your guy.

  4. Maureen on October 30th, 2016 2:37 pm

    I love Grace’s suggestion about the audio books! What a great idea. Like you said Linda, I cringe when teacher’s assign things that will make reading such a chore. Are they assigned books that he has to read? I think this kind of thing would go well with graphic novels, they could do the response questions, and they are reading-but it would be more enjoyable for the kids. I feel any kind of books that have students running into the library to see if the book is in, (I’m a substitute teacher who covers for librarians whenever I can) gets them used to having a book in their hand, and they perceive books as something to be excited about.

  5. Andrea on October 30th, 2016 2:44 pm

    Wouldn’t a crystal ball be wonderful right now? We could gaze into our children’s futures and rest, reassured that all is well, and they are thriving, successful, and happy! I can share my experiences of my homework hating/non-reading boys, and let you know that at 24 and 22 they are thriving, successful, and happy. My 24 year old who I feared not graduating from high school because he just didn’t turn any English papers in his senior year, spent more time figuring out what the bare minimum he needed in order to get B’s in his English classes up until senior year had no issues with math, science, and history. He didn’t develop a love of reading until the summer before 4th grade when he discovered Harry Potter. I am so happy that he and Harry grew up together. He loves reading, and will read to the exclusion of doing anything else.He did graduate from high school, and even got accepted to college.Graduated from college, and is now in graduate school.He does his homework, and has since the moment he could choose his classes. He placed out of freshman English, fortunately, so that horrible, “I have to write a paper and read something someone else chose for me to read,” was never an issue.

    My 22 year old was never a typical student. Had to do it his way. Hated reading. Hated writing. Discovered To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby in 9th grade, and loved them, but I’m not sure he has liked anything else. He has loved Consumer Reports, and Golf Digest since elementary school. His writing reflected that, and I remember talking to his 7th grade teacher about how this was going to “stunt his reading and writing development more than it already is.” She was just thrilled he was reading something, anything. Told me that if he was reading comic books, she’d take it. Then he discovered Calvin and Hobbes, and her wish came true. Anyway,he had to work hard at it, and he did. Connected with a couple of teachers who were his cheerleaders and recognized his strengths and challenges and really worked with him to make his high school academic experience more tolerable. He will graduate from college in June. He started in community college, and like his older brother, when he could pick his classes he was so much more successful.

    I had to tell myself overandoverandover, there are many, many paths one can take to get to where they want to be. I always felt like I HAD to go to college right out of high school, and I HAD to finish in 4 years, and I did. In retrospect, it may not have been the best choice for me, but that’s definitely hindsight. Knowing that though, helped me to keep it together, and remind myself that there is a reason childhood and adolescence lasts so long, and there are many decisions that don’t have to be made immediately. With a loving safety net and support system, our kids hopefully will trust themselves to try things, make mistakes, call a do-over and learn to fly.

    And if you talk to a middle school counselor when D gets there, they will say, “Oh yes, middle school boys. They’re all like that.” No, they aren’t ALL like that, but so many of them really are.

  6. Christine on October 30th, 2016 7:18 pm

    My son’s teacher says “play the movie in your head” to help the kids make the story come alive. Of course, if Dylan’s anything like my kids he won’t listen – or appear to listen – if you tell him that, but it might be worth saying anyway. Just in case it helps.

    I hate this enforced reading. I hate the way it seems to turn kids off reading, and if they come to love books it’s in spite of school rather than thanks to it.

  7. Jeannie on October 30th, 2016 7:29 pm

    I hear you. In second and third grade i had a boy who would scream and fight and cry over homework; it’s better now, but now we are into friend issues and I am sometimes surprised, as someone who was very shy and introverted and had a handful of good friends through school, that my children are not extroverted and popular. They aren’t.

    But my kids learn from me how to be friendly, because I put the effort in to doing it. And similarly, they see you battle with addiction, and you are teaching them at every moment how to live better. It’s not the same, I know. But I just wanted to say that I so admire what you are doing, and I bet your kids do too, and so it’s not a slippery slope.

  8. Paul Ilse on October 31st, 2016 4:54 am

    You can get your child interested in homework just by offering him something in exchange. Like little bit more pocket money

  9. Kristi on October 31st, 2016 8:10 am

    The homework struggle is alive and real in our house as well. My 4th grader sighs and pouts around after each math problem. He understands the work but simply doesnt want to do it. What should take 20 mins is usually an hour long chore. I get so, so excited when there is nothing but spelling words to study!

  10. Liz on October 31st, 2016 8:11 am

    My son is very similar to Dylan and last year was just the worse with homework and how much turmoil it caused our family. This year, his school did a big survey with the families and the teachers all got together and decided on a no-homework policy for the young grades and limited homework for 4-5 grade. I have to tell you it is amazing for us. The teacher gives some project ideas on the website and kids can pick something and work through it on their on time and share with the class if they want, but nothing is required. I have a lot of teacher friends and they all get behind the no-homework thing for young kids. Here is what I am going to suggest: opt him out of homework. I didn’t know this was a thing, but it can be a thing! My teacher friend opted her kindergartner out of homework. If he is doing fine in school, if he is performing at grade-level, and the teacher doesn’t have specific concerns for him, you can opt him out. I can send you language if you want, but the truth is research doesn’t support the fact that homework actually improves school performance or retention. The one thing research supports is reading at least 20 minutes a day. Think about it. But if the turmoil it is causing is greater than the takeaway, it’s probably not worth it for anyone.

  11. Allison on October 31st, 2016 10:25 am

    We have opted out of the reading portion of the homework. Fuck that noise. Life is too short for me to have to shove reading down their throats in addition to math worksheets and other bullshit homework assignments. I have told their teachers basically that I have neither the energy, nor the inclination to force them to read, and then log their thoughts, track their pages etc.

  12. Anonymous on October 31st, 2016 10:27 am

    My dad was a serious alcoholic for years. We all knew it though we ignored it. He was functioning for many years and then, well, not. I tell you this only because I’ve never had any addiction problems, nor has my older brother. So there is hope. Awareness is half the battle. I tell my kids about Pop Pop’s alcoholism and even now remind them that they may be prone to it (they are 13 and 9 year old boys). That’s the best we can do–warn them of what could happen and love them to death. As for homework, ugh, I have no words of wisdom.

  13. sooboo on October 31st, 2016 11:21 am

    I think it’s hard to tell what a kid will be like based on their childhood habits. I was a bad student (high school drop out) who now has a master’s degree. My husband does not like to read, really struggled in school and is now a well-liked college teacher. You are raising your kids in a safe, loving environment where they are appreciated and can express their feelings. That’s the best foundation for creating great, productive people. Also, homework sucks! I can’t believe they are still making young kids do that!

  14. ASL on October 31st, 2016 11:38 am

    The reading log makes me absolutely BONKERS. “Here, I know! Let’s take a kid who hates reading and make sure that he *really*, *really*, *really* hates it!! Great idea!” And half the time, my 2nd grader’s comes back with notes from the teacher like, “pick a different question to answer each day, please” or “this is what you wrote last week.” Way to suck all the joy out of books, SCHOOL.

  15. Mary Clare on October 31st, 2016 11:53 am

    Some of the elementary required reading homework has really sucks! The books are amazingly boring. Maybe its about finding the right book to catch his interest? My 3rd grader is also not so interested in chapter books but loves Big Nate and Calvin and Hobbes. Every now and then she picks up a chapter book that she loves and she’ll plow through it. Good luck fighting the good fight!

  16. Mary Clare on October 31st, 2016 11:54 am

    Oops: Has really sucked

  17. Beth on October 31st, 2016 12:20 pm

    I’m glad I am not alone in my loathing of the reading log. My 2nd grade son also finds reading a chore and slogs through doing that. I sit with him to help and feel my blood pressure rising each time. So thanks for sharing this.

  18. Shawna on November 1st, 2016 7:59 am

    I was going to say what Liz said. Research has shown that there is literally no benefit to homework in the younger grades.

    When Harris was in first grade he had a teacher that believed fervently in homework and we basically told her that he read regularly and was a good reader, and we would not be signing his reading log on a regular basis. I wanted to formally opt out both that year and the next, but my husband didn’t want me to, and preferred the passive-aggressive approach of just not making him do it.

  19. Vic on November 1st, 2016 11:25 am

    Not trying to second-guess your frustration at all, and this is easy for me to say because my kid’s only in preK so this is mostly theoretical. But they really are re-thinking homework for little kids now: “Most important to parents, studies show that homework for younger children doesn’t actually correlate with improved school performance, and in fact, can hinder learning.” For what that’s worth. Good luck getting through this!

  20. Jennifer H. on November 3rd, 2016 12:35 pm

    Chiming in as a daughter of two alcoholics to say that neither my sister or I ever had a problem with addiction. In fact, I think it was protective in a way, to see my mom struggle and know that I didn’t want to have the same struggles. Not that we came out unscathed, but a little therapy goes a long way.

  21. Kris on November 4th, 2016 11:29 am

    My 8-year-old guy, too. He reads the words … omg – the HUGE words that kid knows … but he doesn’t connect those words with the story being told. To him, they’re just words on paper, and it frustrates all of us to no end.

    It’s a very real battle, ending in very real tears, because we have this stupid goddamned AR point system in his school. The eager readers get to play hooky & go on field trips to see plays & have picnics & go to the bounce park; while my son gets to stay behind because he tests terribly and doesn’t earn enough points.

    I don’t have an answer; but miserable suckage parenting loves company.

  22. Jen on November 6th, 2016 4:35 am

    Not sure if it was mentioned ready but would the teach accept him typing it up? As a 4th grade teacher I completely would. We use Google docs all the time. I do love what a previous person mentioned of audio books too. I’d keep pushing to find a series he loves dearly and that’ll make it easier for all. Know it’s a challenge though! Best of luck. 8 months down!

  23. Amy on November 26th, 2016 9:38 am

    That fear- I know it. It’s hell living, just waiting for the other shoe to drop… feeling sure you’ve noticed a subtle behavior that confirms your fear is coming to pass… I know it. I hate it. Thinking about it everyday. Damn it.

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