An experiment in “homework”
Mermaid Girl came home one day about 3 weeks ago all excited to show me her new reading journal (she is in first grade). It was crafted with construction paper, and lined paper, with the days of the week and dotted lines on each page. She had decorated it in fancy drawings, and colors, and made sure her name was all over the thing so that nobody would mistake it for theirs. (of course!) With a classroom of only 15 children, this was a real risk. :)
Along with this journal, she hands me a piece of paper. It was a note from the teacher, in which she explained that she was “doing an experiment with homework.”
For at least 10 minutes every day after school, the children were to read. They would write down the start time, and finish time on each day of the week (M-F). On Fridays, they would turn it in to the teacher, and they would get them back on the following Monday to take back home again. No pressure, just fun, and we’ll see what happens.
Jumps up and down.
Sprints to the bookshelf.
Mermaid Girl was oh so eager to get started with this “experiment.”
Now the reason for this over the top celebration is because for the last 2 years, she has (have no idea WHY) been asking her teachers to give her homework. When they don’t give it to her (she’s been in kindergarten and first grade so they don’t do that at that age), she will make up her own homework, and then sit down and do it at the table when she comes home. Not all the time, but often enough that I’m sharing it with you now. She’s even made homework for the waitress to do at the sushi restaurant we frequent (and then checks if she’s done it the following week when we go again).
But let’s move on…
After all, this was going to be a cinch! Both me and Mermaid Girl, LOVE reading books! It is one of our favorite activities to do together…..it is always so fun to get to read!!! Wow, I wish all homework would be THIS easy! How great that they are introducing the concept of homework with something fun, and not something like REAL work.
Dutifully and proudly, Mermaid Girl looked at the clock, noted the time, wrote it in her journal, sat on the couch, and began her “homework.” (which really wasn’t actually homework in my book because we do this every day all the time, no this is nothing new.) Nonetheless, I sat next to her and helped her sound out the longer words she didn’t know. But she was at it, man….Mama, I don’t need HELP!!
Exactly 11 minutes later, she finished her book. She looked at the time, and wrote it down in the journal. Off to something else then……
So much for the “experiment.” Not sure why the teacher thought this would be so hard. We’re only doing what we do every day, right?
Not so fast, proud mama.
When she got home from school the next day, and because this “homework” thing was new to us, I gently reminded her of her new responsibility.
“Not now, Mommy, I’ll do it later.”
“It might be a good idea to get it done now, that way you can get it done and not need to remember it later.”
“I want to water the plants first.”
OK, this is a good exercise in time management, I will see what happens here.
Before bedtime, I again noticed reading had not been done. She picked up her book and read herself her bedtime story. 12 minutes. Awesome. Check!
Next day. We went to the playground after school with a friend, and because I was not yet in the homework habit either, it wasn’t until the next morning that we realized we hadn’t done it yet! It was 7:55 AM and we leave for school at 8:15. Quick! Need to do the reading NOW!
That afternoon, I give a gentle reminder. I remind her that she forgot the day before, but I take some of the responsibility because I didn’t remind her either.
But as I’m speaking the words, I’m thinking to myself…she is 7 and I should be expecting her to be responsible, right? But maybe this homework thing takes a while to kick in to the routine….so I don’t know. I never got homework until 4th grade and I ended up at Harvard, so why is it a big deal to start kids on homework so early, anyway? This is weird.
Despite the reminder, she again does not repeat her sprint to the bookshelf from the first day.
An hour later, another gentle reminder.
Another hour later, another gentle reminder.
More excuses. More resistance.
Flash forward 2 weeks……
No longer, is reading fun in our home. No longer, does she marvel at the books, her ability to sound out words she didn’t think she knew…..
No longer, does she get excited and jump up and down, when I say the words, “Do you want to read with me?”
In a matter of a few days, this “experiment” has managed to take the curiosity, joy, excitement, and intrigue out of one of Mermaid Girl’s favorite activities.
Maybe it is an innate stubbornnes that she inherited from me. Maybe it is the need to feel pride and accomplishment when it’s her own drive to learn, but not when someone else tells her to do it. I remember when I was younger, I would literally be walking to my room to clean it, and my mother would call out to me “Erika, clean your room.” And all of a sudden, it was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do. Not because I was trying to be defiant, but it was because I wanted to be acknowledged by myself, and maybe my parents too, for doing it without having to be told. I wanted to feel great about myself because I cared enough to clean my room.
Now cleaning a room and reading are not the same things, but I bring up the example because I wonder if that is what is going on here.
It could also be something else. It could be an example where when you take something you enjoy, and then it becomes “work,” that something happens. The enjoyment gets sucked right out of it.
My brother is a photographer and a successful DJ, he loves photography and music, and he’s managed to make a living doing both. I remember him warning me when I became self employed, “Be careful taking something you love, and trying to make a living from it. You won’t enjoy it anymore.”
I believe that is true in certain circumstances – especially for him. Particularly in the arts. In order for creativity to thrive, there needs to be inspiration. There needs to be “space” for the artist to connect to their inner selves. When the pressure of finances, deadlines, and “have tos” come into the picture, it becomes difficult to let that energy flow. Call it creative stage fright.
I’ve seen that with my husband, who is a creative genius visionary in the field of entrepreneurship. As with many entrepreneurs, there are successes, and there are failures. They might go years with very little “hitting”and then have a big win that pays off substantially. When my husband is in one of those dry spells, it becomes harder and harder to do what he does best. Recently, he has had a long dry spell….while he has income from businesses he’s built, he hasn’t done anything “big and new and exciting” in a while (not since I have known him, actually). Recently, he had a big success that brought him a sum of money.
The next thing I know, he’s working on 6 other deals. Those opportunities were there the whole time, but all of a sudden, it was as though he had the “space” to create. No longer worried about finances, he was able to shift his energetic resources if you will, into creating. It’s a beautiful thing to watch someone in action with their gift.
So what does this all mean for conscious parents? I’m not really sure. I need to think more about that. I do feel that understanding this dynamic, is helpful to knowing how we present certain ideas to children, and makes a big difference. A “hey you need to do this” is very different than, “want to do this?” But real life is about responsibilities, and life isn’t fun all the time. So how do you balance that?