Friday, April 14, 2000

I hate homework

My daughter is a champ about homework. She knows just what she has to do, gets it all out of her folder and sets herself up on the kitchen table and polishes it off with minimal supervision. No nagging needed. She may have a learning disability, but she loves the trappings of learning. She's proud to be a homework self-starter.

And so I have always been a little smug about homework. I'd listen to other mothers complain about hours-long screaming matches, endless monitoring of assignments and enforcing of homework time. Those moms hated homework, and wished the teachers would do the teaching on their time so that the family could just be a family during family time, and not a sweat shop. But I was happy to have my girl bring work home, so I could see what she was doing and how she was doing with it. Yep, we just love homework here.

That is, we did until my son hit first grade.

No one doubts this boy's ability to learn things, but his ability to put what he's learned down on paper is severely compromised. He has some good reasons for this--low muscle tone makes it hard to hold a pencil, delays in fine motor skills make it hard to move the pencil around. I liken it to being asked to do paperwork while running on a treadmill. After a while, the physical exertion may not seem worth the trouble.

But he also has some bad reasons for refusing to do homework: On a basic level, he just wants to do what he wants to do, and what he wants to do is not worksheets. He's dogged in the pursuit of his own desires, be they for lining up cars in rows or counting keys or jumping up and down or staring out the window keeping tabs on the neighbors. Spelling words? Math problems? Gee, mom, I'd love to help, but I'm busy here. Getting him to sit and write involves varying degrees of yelling, screaming, threatening, and bribing. Then, of course, when he does a quick and lousy job just so he can get up again, you have to erase and start the yelling all over again. Not a fun way to spend an evening.

Then the spirit of "How dare you give him this homework" come upon me. Why should a kid with such fine motor problems have to write his spelling words three times each? Shouldn't he be able to do it on the computer? Shouldn't he be able to just say them to me? Isn't the purpose of the assignment spelling, not penmanship? Then why do his papers come back marked "Write Neater!" if I yell a little less and let him write the way he writes, without constant do-overs. Does the teacher want to come to my house and yell at him so that our family relationships are not marred by constant conflict? Or are these writing-intensive assignments her little bit of revenge for having to spend the whole day with this busy little guy?

The most frustrating thing is that, really, he can do it. He'll struggle with the writing, but he knows the spelling, and could polish it off in a short span of time and be back to playing or whatever odd pasttime he fancies. Instead, he spends all his time and energy fighting, fighting, fighting. It's exhausting, and makes me see the point of all those moms who complain. At least I know, as I browbeat my child to make him do that work already, that I'm in good company.

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