29 May 2021
During my days of au-pairing, I used to fall into the trap of immediately asking them what was for homework when I collected them from school, as I dreaded it as much as they did. I had no idea what to expect – would it be a huge assignment, prep for an oral, or something they didn’t tell me about beforehand that is due tomorrow. My personality also wants to always get any tasks out of the way as quickly as possible, so I no longer have to think about it, but children operate totally differently. I soon realised that this was the worst way to go about it.
The Woes of Homework
I put myself in their shoes. It has been a long school day, I am tired, hungry, emotionally spent, and all I want to do is get out of these school clothes, stop thinking and being asked questions, and relax. Yes, I know I have homework. Do I want to do it? Absolutely not.
It is the elephant in the room, the doom and gloom hanging over both of you. When are we going to do it? Are we going to fight about it? How many excuses will you have to not do it?
Honestly, I feel like homework ends up stressing out parents, more than it does the kids.
Here is what I have learned, and now implement, when approaching my assistance with homework:
- Change the energy, dialogue, and doom and gloom expectation. When they get into the car at collection time, don’t bombard them with questions, a simple “hello, I missed you, I hope you had a great day” is more than enough, let them be still and silent. And let them take the lead on the conversation – if they offer up news, or stories, let them vent, keep the questions to a minimum, keep the conversation simple. They want to decompress from the day, be connected to you, but not interrogated. How many times do you ask, “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?”, response “I can’t remember” or “I don’t know”!
- On getting home, don’t immediately start rummaging through their bags for notes, homework, marks, or dirty lunchboxes. This is going to start peaking the anxiety levels in both of you.
- Encourage de-compression and relaxation time with a light-hearted approach, “Wow it’s been a long day, should we get in our comfortable clothes, and have something to eat? I’m starving”.
- Give them options of how they would like to relax, let them feel in control of their time after school, “Would you like to sit outside in the sun with me and eat our snack together?” or “Would you prefer some alone / quiet time?” They are also looking for connection, they have missed you, and want to reconnect with you, in a one-on-one reassuring, loving, and relaxing capacity, not involving homework.
- Once they have chosen, manage expectations. “We are going to have a 45-minute break from school, for you to relax. Eat your snack and go play and enjoy yourself. I’ve set the timer and when it goes off, can you come and find me so that we can chat about your day and get ready for tomorrow?”
- Ensure that you have a consistent workspace that is homework allocated. It doesn’t matter where, or what it is, but make sure it is always prepped and ready. That can be with the relevant stationary, a water bottle of theirs that they love, their favourite workbook – something that is theirs, they have chosen and represents this is their place to work. So, when they arrive home from school, they see it and are already clocking what that means.
- After they finish their snack, and are decompressing through play, calmly go through their homework book, lay out the materials and supporting books that are needed. Don’t set a negative tone by saying things like “this is too much”, “we will never get through this all”, “I cannot believe they expect you to know this by tomorrow”, this is only setting an example that homework is the pits.
- 10 minutes before the timer goes off, give them notice, to prepare them, bring them in and understand it is almost time, “10 more minutes of play time, can I make us a cup of hot chocolate ready for when we get started?”
- Sit down at the workstation, and wait for them, calmly, don’t shout and create an atmosphere of negative energy. Let them come to you, it is always much easier to wrap your head around doing something, when it is your decision.
- If they arrive out of their own accord, let them choose what they want to start with, and in which order.
- If they don’t arrive and are starting to hunker down for an argument about it, walk away. “I see you are frustrated about doing your homework, I get it, I also used to struggle with it when I was your age. But we have to do it to help you learn. So, I am going to walk away, because I don’t want to fight, when you ready, come find me, and we can tackle this together.” Lay down those boundaries and expectations, consistently and calmly.
- It is really important, that there is a relaxed, cooperative environment, and that they feel like they are in control and have chosen to do it. If not, what will ensue is homework by force, are they learning? No. Are you both resenting each other? Yes. Is this going to be the precedent going forward? Yes, you will both dread and hate it in equal proportions.
- Take breaks, be kind and patient with each other, and take it slow. Unfortunately, we have many years of homework ahead of us, set a precedent early, create a strategy to manage and create an environment that is sustainable for the both of you. You are in this together, and unfortunately homework doesn’t go away.
- If you are stressed, and rushing through it, they will say they understand just to get it to stop, and to please you. Rather take the time to explain something, to the point they understand it, even if it means today’s homework isn’t done, rather lay a foundation for future learning, than doing it for the sake of doing it. The teacher will understand (keep that dialogue open).
I found that when they feel like they have a voice, and a say, the atmosphere completely changed. When I didn’t force them to do it my way, on my time, or in an environment that was creating duress on both sides, we actually started to enjoy that time together! Be honest too, admit you have no idea what the answer is or how to solve it – research it together, watch videos, read books, message the teacher or a friend for help – showing weakness helps them to understand that you are human and that we never stop learning.
However, I realise that this is the most ideal situation. Let’s be honest, we all have really bad days, them included, and it might not always work out the way we want it to. Remember that at the end of the day, we are the adults and we need to lay down firm, confident, and caring boundaries – be consistent with your boundaries, be firm (but loving) in your assertion of them and be aware that we do know what is best for them. What we can aim for is that most of the time we can get through homework in this way, what we accept is that some days we won’t, be kind on yourself – tomorrow is another day! My favourite way to call it as it is, “today was tough for both of us, we had a bad homework day, I am still really proud of you. Let’s try again tomorrow”.
I hope this helps! Remember these are just my own thoughts, learnings, understanding, and practical tips I apply and feel work best, everyone is different, and you need to do what is right for you and your tot.
Teacher Amy! x
Amy Stevens, more affectionately known as Teacher Amy is a qualified foundation phase and early childhood development teacher. Her mornings involve running a private play school in Sea Point, Cape Town and in the afternoons she offers in-home learning support sessions for children between the ages of 1.5 to 8 years old.