Saturday, 19 January 2013

To help or not to help THAT is the question

How many times was your child told by a teacher to not ask for help with homework? I’m talking 7 and 8 year olds, not teenagers (even then, isn’t it an odd thing for a teacher to say?)

Can you recall a teacher telling you not to help your kids with homework?

Surely as parents it’s our obligation to help our kids whenever they ask, and sometimes when they don’t. How do they learn if we, amongst others, don’t show them?

Of course self-discovery is fabulous, and that’s an incredible way for kids to learn and be empowered, but aren’t we as parents also supposed to be there to help too?

While writing this, I am wondering how much parental help is too much? Should we step back and let them be?

MissM’s math teacher prefers children bring in unfinished homework rather than have parents (or tutors) help the children as it may confuse them. Its her way of knowing which bits have sunk in during class – tho one would think she already knows this as they are in class several times a week.

Of course there's a huge difference between HELPING and DOING. One has to have confidence that the parents know too and are merely HELPING their kids (we're talking grade 3 maths, not some whizz bang science extravaganza)

I recall years ago, one fee paying (private) school in the Eastern Suburbs emailed parents saying that students would loose marks for obvious parental involvement in homework, especially project style work.

MissM was given a project to do in kindergarten at YIS. They had to make a diorama of their perfect classroom. Money was no option and no one could say no because it was their perfect classroom. Long story short, we misread the instructions and MissM created a collage and not a diorama... she still received top marks.

When I asked her teacher how did she manage to do so well when we clearly misread the instructions, she said simple. It was obvious that MissM (and 2 others) had done the project 100% on their own with minimal, of any parental help. The kids were kindergarten age - as if they could have built some of the incredible dioramas on show!

She went on to say that MissM answered all her interview questions very well. She didn't hesitate with any answer, she said when we had helped her and what she did on her own, she could explain every aspect of her room. Hence the top marks.

We were there to help her (gave her magazines to cut), guide her (we talked thru what she might like in her class room and why then she set about finding the pictures to display her ideas), but she did the project (she sourced the images, cut them out of the magazine herself, pasted them on the page)

Isn't that what parents are supposed to do? Help, guide, and support their kids with all manner of 'stuff'. Of course we are talking little people here but that in itself begs the question - when, if ever do we stop helping our kids?

Back to math .........

So, kids have been told, don’t ask for help. Parents told, don't help your child.

MissM (and others) has interpreted all that to mean, if you can’t do your homework, that’s ok.  

This makes no sense to me (or several other parents). You can imagine the conversation every Monday night.

What, you can’t do it, so you won’t even try?
You are OK with handing in incomplete homework?
Surely you can do this – MrsA wouldn’t have set you work you can’t do. And don’t get me started on the extension work ….. MrsA says we don’t have to do that, it’s only for the kids who have swallowed calculators. (So why include it on the math homework if there’s no expectation to at least try it?)

Needless to say, MissM has NEVER handed in a blank piece of homework. Those who know me will be laughing at this point saying ‘doh’ to themselves for sure.

I received an email this week from Maths teacher because of something MissM said in class. Here's a paragraph:

One of my little stories is that your brain is like a chest of drawers; if every morning your mother gets out your t shirt, socks and pants and lays them on the bottom of your bed ready for you to put on the next day, you never learn where these things belong for yourself.  Similarly, if every time you get a little bit stuck with your work an adult nudges you in the right direction, you never learn to think for yourself; you have to learn to ‘open’ that drawer which holds the information on ‘fractions’ and get it out for yourself.  

I can be a bit slow from time to time, so I read this several times and still came up with the same questions ……. Isn't it our role as parents to SHOW our kids where the drawer is rather than expecting them to just know? Of course a lot of stuff they discover for themselves, but other stuff we show them.

Of course it’s an analogy, but for goodness sake, she even says ‘nudge you in the right direction’!

So, based on this, I should not have explained to MissM that when she’s given 30 math questions over the week, that rather than doing them all in one go, she can divide the time over the week but she has to take into account ballet on Wednesday and pottery on Thursday which means there’s not actually 7 nights, but rather 4 or 5 (allowing for a Friday or Saturday night off).

Or the same with her history project; I should not have taken the time to guide her thru planning the project thru, how to research online and the library books (maybe she should have taken herself into town); how to gather the notes before committing them to the project.

I should just sit back and leave her to it?

How and what does that teach (insert the word show, inspire, motivate, guide) her for this and future, more difficult assignments?

This weekend, like others, MissM has spelling words to learn. She wants to take full responsibility for it this week, which is awesome, tho she’s not done one minute of practice.

When do I jump in and suggest she come do 10 minutes? Do I leave her all weekend and then deal with the fall out Sunday night when she realizes she hasn’t learnt one word, and won’t do well in the test?

Is she too young to say ‘well, you said you’d be responsible, bear the consequences’

According to her math teacher, this is pretty much what I need to be doing (tho I’m sure with out the sarcasm)

So, as I sit here, biting my tongue not reminding her to come do 10 minutes, I wonder, what would you do?

I’m sure tomorrow sometime I would have burst, and insisted she come do 10 minutes.

With friendship


  1. Tricky isn't it! When my kids had a school-wide pirate project, it was very apparent whose parents "helped" them (ie, did it for/with the kid), versus whose parents actually helped them. I don't think you can ask a parent not to APPROPRIATELY help their kid - otherwise, your kid will learn to not bother asking you. And that will bear consequences when they are a bit older ... for example not bothering to ask about sex! So I would take the teacher's "request" with a grain of salt, and as you metaphorically put it, show your kids where the drawer is. And be supportive when they need help but not do it for them. I think it's a fine balance and will keep changing as they do. [You might have clicked that I'm facing some of the same issues, having compared some new friends'kids' behaviour to mine - mine are SO much more independent but I often have to remind them to ask for help if they need it!!!! Parenting is definitely an art, not a science...]

  2. Thanks Margaret .... of course, there's a much bigger picture to this and it's to do with establishing open lines of communication between parent and child; encouraging them to ask questions (a very clever teacher once told me, there's no such thing as a stupid question, just stupid answers) and knowing, trusting, instinctively that we are there for them, every time no matter what.

    MissM is a pretty independent child, but she's still 'learning' - isn't that what going to school and life is all about?

    DH is with her now, in the sitting room showing her how to use a dictionary so she can complete her science homework because she asked him to help her. According to MrsA he should have said no, and she would have handed in incomplete homework. Because he said sure honey, let's do it together ... and are working thru it together, she's learning how, so the next time she might be able to do it on her own.

    Parenting is an art, not a science, and if I may add, a whole lotta common sense and simple luck