How much homework is too much?

How much Homework is Too Much?
by Joanne Mikola

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this asking if I am hurting or my children are actually being hurt from to much “homework”.

Furst of let me say my children (2boys ages 10, and 11) are behind in school.  On the End of grade tests my 11 yr old did very poorly on reading, which he did bring his grade up alot from the first of the year.  Also my 10 yr old is alittle behind in his reading.  My boyfriend makes them read books and do book reports, with correct grammer and spelling, for every word misspelled they have to have that as thier spelling word for the week.  These word are writting 25 times daily and definitions written from the dictionary also.  They spend hours doing this even though it is summer vacation.  I object to this very much, I believe it is hurting them and making them not want to do school work or want to learn.  We fight over this constantly, he says I am being a bad mother and hurting them by not making them do this more.

Can you let me know who is actually hurting them, and what can be done to improve reading and spelling skills.

Thanks so much for any help you can give. May 28, 2002
Greetings from Lesson Tutor;

From the snapshot summary that you have sent of ‘how I spend my summer vacation,’ I would say that both you and your boyfriend are struggling with the same issues. You both want your boys to improve their reading skills and levels, but you disagree as to how best to reach each, individual child. Your boyfriend is into structure, repetition and imposed discipline; you seem to have a more laissez-faire approach – hopefully because you would like to foster a life-long enjoyment of reading.

You need to answer these questions objectively:

  • Are the boys responsive to your boyfriend’s methods?
  • Do you feel left out, threatened or undermined by your boyfriend’s methods?

I have a couple of ideas that might help if you have the time to dedicate to
your own priorities:

Pick a novel that you think the boys might enjoy (the Harry Potter series comes to mind – my 2 oldest are 9 and 10 and they really enjoyed all 4 books last summer) You read to them every night before bedtime. Plan at least 20 minutes to get through a chapter, a natural break in the story. Once the story starts to get interesting, the boys may offer to read out loud in your place. Stay and let them! Then you’ll have to make sure both take turns (alternate nights). You will need to stop them if a word doesn’t quite sound right and take a look yourself to re-inforce a correct pronunciation and/or an explanation.

When the time/chapter is over, have a verbal discussion of what happened, what is still to come or has gone unanswered, and what the boys think might happen in the next chapter(s). Once we started this routine, even my husband joined us and took his turn – and more than once pleaded that we not add another session after lunch just to find out more! We were all hooked. The goal is a relaxed atmosphere – one in which the boys are not afraid to ask questions or for clarification. Another benefit is the attention the boys will receive from you and your time together.

One of the ‘benefits’ of the school system is that the ‘disciplinarian’ role is
often shifted onto an ‘outsider’ – the teacher. Some families also use a
‘good-guy/bad-guy’ routine for certain tasks. If you would like your boyfriend
to continue in his chosen path because it works, then let him. If, on the other
hand, you think the boys are resentful of the work and, by extension, your
boyfriend, then you’ll have to find a way to tone it down.

On our website we have a few novel studies ready to print and use that sound similar to your boyfriend’s approach. One is ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ and another ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, both classics by Jules Verne (known as the father of science fiction) Every chapter has a list of words already picked out: ones that the Grade 5 – 6 student probably has never encountered or used before; a quote of the word in context; a space for the student to ‘guess’ the meaning; and a space to copy the dictionary meaning. Should either of these books appeal to your sons, and you follow this study guide, then you/they can ‘blame the teacher’ rather than your boyfriend! His role could still be active, which is a good thing, by reading their answers and choosing  words from a chapter for a ‘quiz’ on a set time/date. Perhaps a reward system could be set up to go along with it?

Competition between the boys may or may not be best. You are a much better judge than I. For my boys, set on a common assignment, they work best together rather than on their own. They actually talk to each other
without fighting and are developing their skills to defend a point using
examples from the book and their own experience.

In short, every one of you needs to be an active participant in the boys’
reading development. Don’t let resentment or a failure to recognize a viable
alternate method impede their progress. This goes for both yourself and your
boyfriend. Finding the right balance between ‘homework’ and play time is never easy all year round. I wish you every success in creating the best blend that works for all of you.

I hope this helps get you through the summer in harmony with everyone. We are anxiously waiting for the next Harry Potter book – but I think that won’t be
until Christmas. I’ll have to search for another series that might keep all of us up past our bedtimes, again. Enjoy.

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