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Too much homework?

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Second-grade homework is kicking my butt!

Now that we are well into the second month of school, nightly homework is in full swing, and my son, Javier, isn’t the only one struggling to keep up. He is expected to read for at least 20 minutes and practice math drills for 10 minutes each night, plus do daily spelling and math homework. When the school year started, the teacher sent home a letter about homework, and it said it should take no longer than 20 minutes to knock out. That must have been a typo because yesterday it took us two hours and 15 minutes (the length of a flight halfway across the country) to get through everything, and that’s with having done two-thirds of the spelling homework for the week on Sunday. Did I mention this was second grade? I had less homework when I was pursuing a master’s degree from one of the most notoriously demanding journalism schools in the country.


After my initial frustration at having too much homework and the specificity with which it has to get done (fold this page in half; use this website for that subject only; skip lines when numbering sentences), anxiety snaked into my mind. “Is something wrong with my kid?” I thought. “Does he have a learning disability? Do I?” While I certainly don’t want Javier to experience any difficulty learning, it would help explain some of the struggle. But he doesn’t have a disability, so far as any of his teachers can tell, and I’m pretty sure that I am in the clear, too. So after I put Javier to bed last night, I did the only thing I could think of to do: I wrote the teacher a letter.

I did my own math and explained that nothing added up to 20 or even 30 minutes, and then I asked for her sincere help. I knew if I only rattled off the frustrations about having too much homework, I would damage the relationship and minimize our chances of relieving the problem. So I let my fingers run wild typing, then decided to sleep on it at the recommendation of my ex-husband. “Look at it again in the morning, when you’re not so exhausted, and make sure you’re being collaborative and not combative,” he said. Great advice, but just as I was shutting down my laptop, my friend, Michelle, called. Her son is also in Javier’s class. “In the math homework, page 24, problem number one at the top: What the heck are we supposed to do there?” she said. I laughed empathetically. The confusion and exasperation in her voice made me feel so much better. “They get too much homework!” she added.

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After I helped Michelle out as best I could, I went to bed and thought about my own homework as a child. In second grade, I learned multiplication tables. Javier is not set to learn these until third grade, which is now considered standard (I am starting to see why American kids are so far behind the rest of the world). My teacher turned it into a game. She split the class into teams, crumpled up pieces of paper and gave everybody a turn shooting paper into a wastebasket for points if you answered a multiplication problem correctly. Everybody loved it. The girls wanted to crush the boys. The boys couldn’t stand it if we won. Engaging us this way was way more fun than endless hours of worksheets and hyper-specific instructions. The homework was simple: Memorize the tables and be ready to play. After teaching us the various ways to practice, it was up to us how we chose to do it.

The ping of a new email message pulled me out of my nostalgic fog and back into the present. I was surprised to see a note from the teacher so late at night. (She beat me to it!) Clearly she was up late working, which is admirable in and of itself. The email talked about the campout the kids had in class the week before and how much they loved it. They cooked s’mores and listened to stories while curled up in sleeping bags.

Wait, what? While I am here at home, struggling to keep track of what my 7-year-old is supposed to do and how to do it, even though it’s at least one grade level behind what I was doing at the same age, he’s camping out at school. The irony made me laugh, but I know they don’t camp out every day in second grade. I know the teacher has the best of intentions and is trying to do as much as she can with the resources and guidelines she’s given. I understand all that, but where does that leave the parents, especially working parents who can’t even start on homework with their kids until well after 5? And perhaps more importantly, where does that leave our kids? The last thing I want is for Javier to come to hate school because he finds the whole thing so painful.

I woke up ready to read over my letter. I made sure to avoid any accusatory remarks that would communicate some kind of system failure on the teacher’s part. She is the sweetest teacher we’ve had to date, and it’s only October. We have many months ahead as partners in Javier’s education. I want to show her that she has my utmost respect. So I asked for ideas on how to get a handle on the workload and politely requested that she let her years of experience guide me and offer suggestions. Perhaps we don’t have math homework on the same nights as math drills. I don’t think she’s going to go for it, but I wanted to offer suggestions and solutions rather than just lay out problems.

Do your kids struggle with homework, too? I’d love to know how other moms are making it work.


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