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Procrastination & Homework do not mix

Last night at 8:30pm, my first-born (now an eleven-year old sixth grader) came into my room.  "Can you sign-off on my report?"

This was the report on Ancient Egypt that has been in process for months.  Originally due the Wednesday before winter break, their teacher delayed the due date to the Friday before winter break.  I suppose enough students were expressing concerns with the deadline, so he again delayed the due date to the Wednesday after winter break, then to the Friday after winter break, and then - finally - the final, drop-dead, absolute, no-more-delays deadline was the Monday after winter break, TODAY.  

"Sure," I said.  "Let me just skim it first."

The intro page had formatting issues (inconsistent font, weird paragraph breaks), the second page had two typos, the fourth page had incomplete sentences, and conclusion page did not make any conclusive statements.  What ensued was a tense two hour session of refining the entire paper, her dad taking the lead with this effort...  while I stewed.

I remember once, when I was in sixth grade, I told my parents at 9pm on a Sunday that my science project was due the next day.  In a tizzy, I made the solar system out of paper mache and attached it to cardboard, staying up until about 1am.  My dad came in at that time and said, "why don't you get some sleep?" and he went on to stay up hours later painting it for me.  I won 3rd place in the science fair that year.

I hate procrastination.  And, I hate my kids staying up late.  I am a huge sleep advocate and stress about their sleep consumption.  I was so, so, so upset last night.  Why did not we (the collective "we" including myself, my daughter and my husband) finalize this report weeks ago, even over winter break?  Procrastination is much too easy.  What is your approach to homework (long-term assignments especially) that won't leave the bulk of the work to the 11th hour?  Do you do progress check-ins?  Do you trust that the final product is "final", and skip the review all together?

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Maybe your kid should get the grade they earned without your help? I believe in natural consequences. If we always bail out our kids and do their work for them... how will they survive in the real world?

I might have helped you with your last minute science project by making sure you had all the materials you needed. I might have even made sure you were on the right track. I would not have done it for you.

Argh, this is such a hot topic for me. When my kid entered 1st grade he came home and said he was dumb because he couldn't keep up with the reading. He had a non academic kindergarten (which I'm still a huge fan of, but the transition was difficult. I cried for his lack of self esteem.

We jumped in and helped. Spelling words quizzing, hand holding, whatever it took to make him successful. Since he is a smart kid, he caught up and started excelling. He realized he wasn't dumb. I rejoiced that he was where he should be in his head and in school.

This year (2nd), we are trying to back off. Make it his responsibility as it SHOULD be. But kids need to be taught how to be successful, how to study. Yes, they need to figure out what system works for them, but why is it the schools job to show them different systems? I think that's our job. It's a balancing act of nurturing and getting ready for the future.

And as always, there is learning. Well, you screwed up that long term project. How can YOU do better on the next one? When do you want our help? When would you like us to review it?

I guess I have no answers. We are still in the way early phases. I sympathize with the situation of procrastination though and not wanting our children to fail. And feeling like WE failed them in not teaching them better methods of doing. One day at a time, I guess...

I don't think proofreading an assigment is in any way wrong. Kids need to learn the process of writing and so I have my children do a rough draft by hand so they don't rely on spell check etc. I mark it with proofreading marks and they look up the misspelled words and we talk about sentence fragments, transitions, etc or I ask questions to help them clarify their thinking. It's a process.
We have a calendar where we track everything and for larger projects we work on them a little every day. It is a discipline that now serves my high school aged child well. My husband and I will also try and include the topic in conversations and in our lives. A dinner table conversation can not only be instructive for them but allows us to gauge their understanding and enthusiasm and to signal that we find their projects important. This is especially true in our family where we don't want younger ones to feel what they are doing isn't as interesting as the older kids who are doing even larger projects. Whether the topic is a famous American, Northwest native art, or doing a science fair we try and make the topic a part of our lives during that period so that it isn't just a side thing but an opportunity for learning.

In the OP's case, I might get mad/be disappointed/be incredulous/whatever, but I absolutely would not have suggested either parent stay up late to help out, even if the child was upset at the news that it wasn't stellar work. Actually, even then, I would say, "yeah, I agree, it'd be neat to have this better, but, look, it's bedtime. Something to think about for next time." (TOTALLY different case if kid asks for help along the way.)And, yeah, I'd sign off, and maybe my pride would interfere and I'd write a note to the teacher saying I knew it wasn't the kid's usual level of work.

I must say, the teacher isn't doing a very good job at teaching about deadlines and work ethics, either. Sounds like this project was a lost cause all along. Reminds me of the many articles, diatribes, research about "this" generation not facing consequences, expecting rewards all the time, falling apart later when the "real world" hits and/or becoming unglued in college (and us older folks being dismayed at "challenges" presented by kids raised this way...)

My son is in 3rd grade and this year his teacher sends home a homework packet on Friday and he has to hand it + a writing journal entry in the following Friday. I am so glad his teacher does this because my husband and I both work full time so we don't get home and get a chance to get at homework until 5:30 or 6:00 with dinner and all. So my son does almost all of his homework on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, a little at a time and it's not overwhelming. During non-sports seasons he leaves a little more because he has more time during the week, but during sports seasons he does it all by Sunday night.

At first he fought us about it, but over time he's realized how nice it is to have it done early and not worry about it the rest of the week. It was also a great example we could point to when it came time for him to do a science project so he didn't leave everything until the last minute.

I know when he gets older his homework will take longer and he probably won't be able to do it all over the week-end, but I'm hoping at least he will take away the idea that getting it done earlier rather than later makes everyone's lives less stressful.

When my son was assigned his first research project last year, his teacher sent home a checklist breaking down the project into about a dozen steps. It was so helpful. My son and I went over it together and discussed whether he wanted to do one step a day (he had three weeks to do the project), a few steps once a week, or other variations. Then I had him check off each step as he completed it. And now that he's used the idea once, it's easy to suggest that he write up his own checklist for the next big project. He also gets weekly homework packets and has learned the value of doing a page or two each night instead of trying to do the whole packet the night before. Time management is a critical life skill, and that's what these assignments (to me) should really be about.

If my child asks for help along the way, I am more than happy to go over spelling, proofreading, etc. (In fact, after one such session for a major project, my son warmed my heart by saying, "It's great to have a mother who's a professional editor!" I don't think I've ever gotten professional recognition from him before.)

But if my kid has procrastinated until the eleventh hour, I will let him get the grade he's earned. I won't stay up late doing it for him. I would much rather that my kids learn that lesson now, in elementary and middle school, learn from their mistakes and shape up, than have to learn it in HS, where grades actually count.

That said, most of our teachers take the approach that Amy's did, breaking assignments into steps, so it's easy to check in along the way.

I have always struggled with undiagnosed (until about 10 years ago) ADD, which made it very hard for me to break things into segments and plan things. I had a hell of a time in school, hand-writing term papers the night before and cramming for tests/exams through the night, the night before. It led to so much anxiety, and to okay grades. I was lucky to have some residual intellegence to get me by. I got through 3 grades in elementary with never passing in homework, and it wasn't until 8th grade that I got a C in Math with an F in effort on my report card at the end of the year. I would like to say that was a turning point, but my behavior continued through grad school, and often is present in my paperwork to this day!

Due to this, I am very vigilant about my daughter (1st grade) being reminded to do her homework packet a little at a time, usually at her after school program, or after dinner. I get pretty freaked out if she still has more than 2 pages left to do on Thursday night, but I keep that to myself. It is so critical to me that she be given all the tools to be successful with her school work and I worry so much that as she gets older, I will lose touch with these things, and she will lag behind in her work. Now, I pretty much check over the work when she is done. If she asks for help, I encourage her to come up with the answers on her own. If I find mistakes, I point them out and leave it to her to correct it. And I make sure it gets to the teacher on Friday morning like it should. I really hope that 10th grade is as easy as 1st, but I highly doubt it!

My oldest is in 2nd grade, so we aren't at the complex assignment stage yet. I'm enjoying hearing how others handle it. Right now, his teacher has them complete a "planner" every day that identifies homework and due date. Then we look at it together to decide how to pace things. I think for the larger projects, I will probably take the approach mentioned above, with breaking it down into steps, checking in on steps as we go along. And then back out slowly. I wholeheartedly agree that kids need to be responsible for their own assignments, but only after we are certain they have learned the skills to do it.

And my first response to the evolving due date was that the assignment was never that important to the teacher in the first place. One extension, sure. But the teacher certainly conveyed quite a bit about the project by letting it go so many times.

I don't even remember having homework at 1st or 2nd grade... and now my kid goes to Montessori school which does not have it. It's been great, I cannot imagine having all these battles over assignments at home. Home is his own time, he does a TON of work and learning during school time.

I appreciate all of these comments. My daughter is also too young for too much in the way of big projects (7.5/2nd grade) but I can already sense my *own* anxiety building around stuff she needs to get done but isn't. I'm an absolute believer (in theory) in the logical consequences/positive discipline model of parenting, but as something of a perfectionist myself, I often find myself still (in reality) pushing, helping, intervening. Even this morning--my daughter has a very low-stakes piano recital before her peers today, and even though she'd said she wanted to practice before school, she was deeply immersed in the Sunday comics over breakfast. I thought that I should just let her make that choice not to practice, but then the other side of me took over and I insisted that she stop reading and get to the piano. Anyway, small thing, but I am grateful for all of your insights, and for the reminder about the benefits of less intervention. It's amazing how many times we have to re-learn the same lessons as parents...

I would add one thing to the "natural consequences" discussion. I think it's important to point out that some people learn more from failure and some learn more from success. So, some kids will learn from that C or lower grade, and some will simply be crushed by it, or not affected at all. This happens because of how we process the causes of the failure. If you have a failure, and you attribute it to causes outside yourself (which many of us are prone to do), then there is little chance you are going to change your behavior the next time around. Or, if you blame yourself, but feel powerless to change your behavior, you get the same thing -- no change in behavior next time.

So, ultimately, the important thing that we parents can do is talk to kids about what happened after the fact. Why did you get the A? What did you do to earn it? Why did you get the C? What did you do to earn it? Etc.

The learning about the process happens as much after as anything else.

I was just reading an article "Help with Homework, Hurt your child" http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/02/help-with-homework-hurt-your-child/ and it basically resonated with me.

Great article!

For first time parents, I found this as a page with great advice: http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/going-to-school/supporting-your-learner/homework-help/

I also work to find games that reinforce homework concepts, even if they are video games.

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