Using Homework to Encourage Hard Work (Or Why I Have No Reason to Fuss At My Dawdlers)



This past fall we started participating in a small co-op. It meets once per week and I teach Science and Latin. The three school age children take classes and Jack and Daisy hang out with friends (although Daisy usually ends up on my back by late morning).

I have really been enjoying teaching in a classroom again. I love the energy of the kids and the ways that they push each other to learn.

I also love the opportunity to see what my children need to work on.

The classes are all multi-level, usually with a two- four grade spread, but I don’t find that keeping up with the academics is the hard part. The children struggle with not being the focus of my attention and with having to listen while I give instructions to the group rather than getting their own explanation!

In some ways this doesn’t really surprise me. It’s one of the places where “socialization” makes a difference and listening without being distracted by the other people in the room can be a real difficulty for homeschooled students. I expected to have to do some training on this with all of the students and that has been the case.

What does surprise me is the way that the older children expect that I will be there to “save” them if they forget to write down a homework assignment or do the assigned work. They seem to think that they can stare around the room while everyone else copies off of the board and then do the work while everyone sits around waiting for them!

It got me thinking.

One of the hardest things for any parent is to let their children fail and that is exacerbated for homeschool moms who really want to do a good job of homeschooling and who provide their children’s only standard.

You see, it’s easy for me to say to someone else’s kid, ” You didn’t do the assignment. I can’t give you credit.” ?If he or she gets upset I probably won’t have to deal with the attitude and I can fall back on “The assignment was written on the board etc.”

When it’s my own kid, I have to deal with the attitude. I have to decide on consequences for work not completed and I have to do the training in responsibility!

So what to do?

The biggest thing has been to really firm up my requirements on the days that we aren’t at co-op. The big two are in fifth and fourth grades and while we have been moving towards them taking more responsibility for their own work I hadn’t taken the final steps of ?insisting that they be finished with schoolwork before doing anything recreational. I had been having them finish incomplete work in the evenings on a kind of ad hoc basis but I had been allowing them to read or play during the little children’s naptime.

Not any more.

Since we resumed school after Christmas I have told them that they must finish incomplete work (anything not done by noon) during naptime and without help from me! ?I make sure that they have clear desks to work at in their rooms and have them work until they are finished. On some days they ?have nothing they need to finish and on others (like today ) they will be doing the bulk of their lessons on their own.

They start their work in their rooms while I work with the little boys. Spelling, Latin and Handwriting are all things they are capable of doing on their own and are the usual places for dawdling. ?Each assignment should take 10-20 minutes and most days they are able to start their days off with accomplishment. Getting three subjects completed before they even come into the schoolroom makes them feel like they are getting something done and when we then sit down to do math they are in a mood to work.

Some days though….

One dawdles or pesters the other during morning jobs and they come to school ready to fuss and take their time.

It’s OK. I offer support in not dawdling by setting timers or suggesting a change of subject to help get their minds working. ?Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t and we move into their “teaching time” (Math, Science, Economics for Buggle and English for Mouse) with the first three subjects incomplete.

From 9:30 (when I am done teaching Reading and Phonics) until 11:30 I am available to teach new concepts and answer questions. ?Usually that’s all the time that is needed, but if not they can work at the kitchen table while I make lunch and then continue their work during quiet-time.

Only rarely does the work carry past quiet-time. The prospect of the other children going out to play while you are stuck doing Spelling tends to encourage diligence!

The hardest thing has really been for me to calmly enforce “no playing until the work is done” and let the children reap the consequences of staring at the page instead of working. I really hate to see them sad and upset, but self-discipline is something that they have to develop and that I will actually hinder if I fuss and harry them through their work.

SO HARD! I’m the kind of person who likes to pour words on a problem and shutting my mouth except to say “responsibilities before privileges” takes self-discipline too!

SO WORTH IT! I started writing this post in January and now at the end of March I can say that I have seen diligence increase. Not perfectly by any means but definitely better, both in school and in household chores.

So, no fussing here! The dawdles are self punishing and the children seem to have figured that out!


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