The Homework Dilemma

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By Andrea Goto, “Mom 2.0”

Please sit down.  Get your pencil.  No, you can’t use pen.  I need you to focus.  Yes, you can sharpen your pencil.  Okay, go to the bathroom—quickly.  You need to go back and wash your hands.  And flush.  Now, please sit down.  You need your pencil.  Did you seriously just break your pencil…?

This is the homework dance I do with my 1st grader everyday after school.  It’s our least favorite time together.  On the car ride home, she joyfully tells me which boys chased her on the playground, who was assigned the coveted position of line leader for the day and who “moved their clip down”—the disciplinary equivalent of spending a day in the stockades.  When we get home, she skips into the house, hugs the cat and singsongs, “Can I go play outside?”

“Yes—after you do your homework.”

And with that my good-natured 7-year-old transforms into a depressed, apathetic sloth of a child.  Dress her in a black Morrissey T-shirt and she could easily be mistaken for a 50-inch package of pure teenage angst.  She suddenly loses the ability to read.  Her spine can no longer support the weight of her body.  Watching her write her name on her paper is like watching someone try to put toothpaste back in the tube.  And this is a child who excels in school—who likes school.

“I’m just so tired,” she complains. 

Ah, yes, the complex life of a first grader.  At her complaint I want to launch into a diatribe on taxes, mortgages and why-oh-why can’t Daddy unload the dishwasher, but instead I resist the urge knowing that it’s not about me—when dealing with a 7-year-old, it is and probably won’t be again for the rest of my life.

Contrary to her claim, she’s not tired.  If I set her loose outside, she’d do wind sprints for the next two hours, her jacket billowing in the wind like a resistance parachute.  No, she’s tired of listening.  Of obeying.  Of working.  But guess what?  The compensation for unemployed 7-year-olds is hovering right around the worth of a stale animal cracker with broken legs.  So let’s get back to work.

That said, I don’t want to become the Southern equivalent of a “Dragon Mom” (would that be an “Alligator Mom?”).  I want my child to have a healthy relationship with homework, and by extension, me. 

This year I’ve learned a couple of lessons about making the homework experience slightly bearable. 

Set the mood.
Imagine being woken up in the morning with your boss standing over your bed demanding that you draft a report in the next five minutes.  Everyone needs some transition time.  After a whirlwind day of school, my daughter needs a few minutes to get settled—time to take off her shoes and enjoy a snack—instead of me greeting her at the door with pencil and paper in hand.

Make it (relatively) fun. 
This is a little bit like making a visit to the dentist seem like a visit from Santa, but there are ways.  I’ll line up her collection of Barbies to illustrate mathematic equations and I’ll play-act the stories we read to the embarrassment of SAG members everywhere. 

Let it go. 
Sort of.  It’s homework, not a scholarship application to Harvard.  If she writes, “The buney hops akros the rode,” I don’t need to go into hypercorrect mode—a particular challenge to an English major, or really anyone who has respect for the English language.  If she wants to do her homework on her own, so be it.  And, in the end, if we’re running into minute 40 of what should be a 5-minute worksheet, I’ve learned to calmly walk away and in my best passive-aggressive tone say, “That’s fine.  Tomorrow when you go to school you can explain to your teacher that you didn’t want to do it.”

Luckily, she doesn’t call my bluff.  If she did, I’d be completing her homework with my left hand at midnight.  Instead, she grabs her pencil (finally!) and buckles down.

Like potty training and discipline, the best approach to homework differs from child to child.  You have to know what motivates your child and use it to your advantage. And most important, stick with it. 

One year down, 17 to go.

Andrea Goto swore that she would not let her child watch SpongeBob, take ballet, or consume food with Red Dye #40. Of course, that all changed when her daughter was actually born. Five years later, Andrea blogs about her revised approach to childrearing, which she likes to call Real-World Parenting. Her “technique” is based on commonsense and topped with a big dose of humor. Andrea is a regular contributor to
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My sweet lil 8year old is the same way full of life n is doen good in school.But when it comes to homework no matter what I have tried she just has had enough at the end of school day.... She askes me "Mom u dont do 'work' work at home,so why do I have to do school work at home"? It helps but they are so full from what they have at school she wants to play be with her lil brother and be the Teacher. Have mom read to her hold her have family time or anything but more work!!! she will even do the dirty dishes to get out of homework. so my hart is toren in2. PS both my kids love the YOU my 4yr old Boy just ask if we could watch the 'Lady' cook GRAMA DEAN..... yours truly Lisa Sanders.

By lisa sanders on April 05, 2013


Boy I've been there and done that !

By Jean Coble on April 05, 2013


Paula, Andrea has it exactly right. She has taken the task and worked with her daughter. As a teacher of 30 years, the notes I read about how it was my fault that homework wasn't done, or that it was my responsiblity to teach their child and not theirs were endless. Her approach to changing things up and giving her time to adjust is what teachers do all day long keep kids moving through the day. God bless her for being such a positive influence in her daughter's life and such a help in her education. Jane Schmitt Elementary School Teacher

By Jane Schmitt on April 05, 2013


I taught school for 24 years, grades 1,3,4 and reading recovery for six years. I retired nine years ago because I did not agree with the teaching and testing methods used in my Great State of Texas. In Texas the teacher begins day 1 having to teach to the test, therefore lots of practice as homework. It never made sense to me to teach to a test. Homework for my students was for practice and to keep mom and dad in the daily loop of what was taught that day in class. I was really out of step with many other teachers because I only gave 2 r 3 math problems not 25 , maybe a paragraph to read not 10 pages,and spell word out loud to dad or mom not write 20 words 10 times each. I believe children are children they should have a wonderful day at school and very little homework. When a child can complete the work in ten or twenty minutes it is easier to swallow, than sitting in a chair at home for hours. I also never penalized a student for not having their homework, and did not use it for a grade. Why you ask, because most of my students did not go home to a warm inviting home, a snack or a mom or dad who really cared. So as for me, I believe in very little homework, let them be kids.

By Verna Young on April 04, 2013


I am NO fan of homework. Some of my thoughts: 1. It teaches our children to become workaholics in their chosen career. In order to be successful you must eat, work and sleep your life away. 2. If teachers can't poke it into their heads in 8 hours, what can I (an untrained teacher)accomplish in a couple of hours with an unwilling, uncooperative student? 3. Battle Homework resulted in my child being forced to do the work and, would then refuse to turn it in. I am so glad he is 37 years old and I no longer have that war to fight! 4. Homework is the teacher's way of getting back at the parents - cruel and unusual punishment of the parents.

By Linda Soloski on April 04, 2013


Dear Andrea, I´m a mother of three and a double grandmother. I lived the most of my life in Germany, but got arround the world a little bit, because of my husbands job. My youngest is now 18yrs and got raised bilingual(German and English). He went the first three years in a German catholic elementary school which tought the students after the Montessori concept. They learned in there own pace and the ones they wanted to do more, got the next work paper while the other ones kept working on there first. Children who like to go to school, which your daughter does, like to do work but after school is over, it should be enough. Would you like to bring home work every day and have to work on it? No, you probably don´t, who would. Kids, especialy elementary students, loose the fun of going to school, if writing and reading is all they do and that for 7-8 hours a day 12+ years. But if they have to do some homework, the way you try to get you child to do it, is probably the right way. Much better then waiting at the door with pencil and paper wink Loved you article and you attitude. That´s exactly the way to do it, IFF you really have to. Greetings from the other end of the world ---Ulli----

By Ulrike on April 04, 2013


Teachers nowadays seem to use homework as a power trip. It's ridiculous how early and how much homework they are required to perform. Kids need to be kids. Teachers have all day with our children and then dictate their evenings, too. We as parents would like to spend quality time with our children and not have to complete the teachers job that they have all day to achieve.

By Tim on April 04, 2013


What a great story! Homework time is a toughie for us too. I could completely relate. I also love the picture of your daughter. It looks as if it should be in a Disney Family magazine article!

By Alli Yates on April 04, 2013


When our son Nicholas was in Kindergarten, I asked his teacher Ms. Millman how best to balance his homework assignments. She suggested that I allow him 20 minutes to watch cartoons first. I was helping him do his homework first thing when we came home; it was frustrating him and he cried. I may have been an overachiever in academics, and shouldn't have pressured my son at such an early age. I hope this helps because I don't enjoy having a 'battle of wills' as children will act out; need loving attention away from just 'academics'. My favorite subjects were the arts: music, dancing, drawing and theater, etc. Sincerely, Mrs. Janet York Marquez April 4, 2013

By Janet York Marquez on April 04, 2013


My oldest daughter would come right home, zip through her homework and be off but my son, well, let's just say he was a lot like your daughter. I described him as a caged animal just waiting for his freedom. Like your daughter, he was a good student. I found that if I just let him run free outdoors for an hour or so, he would zip right through his homework, too. No battles, no stress. He just needed that break so badly. It made both of our lives easier. I sure hope this works for your daughter, too.

By Sandy on April 04, 2013


I would try to let her play first. Doing homework directly after school is the equivalent of working overtime. She needs a break first!

By The Happy Homeschooling Hoosier Housewife on April 04, 2013


I am a second grade teacher and a mother. I always encouraged my son to play when he got home from school. Children are required to be quiet and follow instructions during the school day. They need to get some energy out and play. After a hour of hard playing, he was ready to focus and do his homework. I often tell my students' parents this tip because they say that their children spend over an hour on homework that should only take five minutes. Hope this helps!

By HenrysmomNC on April 04, 2013


If you could have more about Dementia /alzhiemers friendly fast meals ..I have a few of my own but My grandmother does get tired of them :o)

By Dorothy Riffle on April 04, 2013

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
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Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
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