Julie Lyles Carr: Homework Help

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Homework Help


I have a little secret.

Some of you tell me you could never, ever, like, never homeschool. You tell me you admire me, tell me I'm crazy, tell me you assume I have the patience of a saint (*snort* *tee-heheheheheh*).

You tell me you're just not cut out for the homeschool thing.

And then you sit at your kitchen table every night and see your kids through a slew of homework sent home by their teachers.

Here's the secret.

Sweet thing, you is homeschoolin'. You is.

You're just doing it at night, whereas we try to finish up during the day. We who sit at the kitchen table doing all manner of school work salute you.

I received a question from a sweet mama I know who has a big family mix of kids, step kids and foster kids. She's amazing and expecting a new baby soon and is beautifully navigating the big family waters. She's got her brood in public schools and had these questions for me:

Hey Julz,
So if you have any tips/suggestions on helping multiple kids with homework at the same time let me know. It's a bit of an extra challenge because the foster kids are all behind educationally, so it takes much longer than normal. The 14 year old just got moved to all special ed classes. Then Maia (her 6th child) , who has some dyslexia, was helping the 9 year old write a story for her homework! Hahaha! This has definitely presented some challenges I've not faced before. So any tips would help, or maybe I'm already doing all that's humanly possible. Hope you're having a great school year with your kiddos so far! Love you lots!!

We've got a wide range of learners at our house as well, the swift, the distracted, the early readers, the late bloomers.  It's something of a maddening blend, the ones who can zip through in the time I have allotted and those who stop and smell (or can't even seem to find) the scholastic roses. Here are a few things that have helped me from crying in my coffee and calling it a day...although that does sometimes happen....

1.  Gather up.

I generally only do this with my youngest four these days.  The older four are all in college or on auto-pilot.  But the four youngers (as I call them) still enjoy working together.  And I think the momentum of everyone working together is greater than the sum of its parts.  When one of the kids finishes before the others, they can read silently or color while the rest of us soldier on.  Solidarity, man.

2.  Get comfortable.

We often end up at the kitchen table because it's central and offers a flat-albeit-crumby work surface.  But I'm very open to sprawling on the couch with the kids or on the floor, in the playhouse out back or on the porch.  I find that change of scenery can help and I have a couple of challenged learners who do faaaarrrrrrr better being given the latitude to get comfy.  Although we as adults sometimes operate under the impression that children sitting still at tables with hineys in chairs is somehow more noble and educational, it's simply not the case.  Don't be afraid to move, get some fresh air, enjoy the day.  The greater comfort and fun that is brought to a learning environment, the better the mind can relax and receive.  I also allow for some light snacks and plenty of water as we work through our studies. Hydration is critical for optimum brain function and kids who have been in a traditional classroom all day with little opportunity for water breaks are likely dehydrated.

3.  Be present.

Yea, yea, yea, I will put this on a post-it note and remind myself to practice what I'm preaching...again.  But, boy, is this one true.  I'd like to get the kids started up and then retreat to the next 47 things on my list.  But the reality is that they want to see me watching, they need to know that I am all eyes and all ears for them.  I fall short on this one, trying to hammer out work emails and writing sessions as I huddle at the table with them.  But they can sniff it out every time and begin to dawdle and procrastinate.  When I turn on the sunshine of my full attention (even if I'm having to mentally grit my teeth to stay in the moment...particularly if fractions or story problems are involved), the work goes more smoothly.

4.  It's probably going to take longer than you think.

Sorry. It just is.  That's not much help when you've got a small slot of time to get the spelling list memorized and perfected before loading everyone in the van to get to the next soccer practice.  But if you go in assuming that it's going to take longer and by a gracious miracle it doesn't, then joy.  You set yourself up for frustration when you only leave 20 minutes for the kid you know takes 2 hours on math homework. And here's the thing....mastering an educational concept, a new math skill, a penmanship worksheet, those things aren't made more valuable if they can be done speedy quick.  More convenient, certainly.  But those skills have great value, and for some kids, the time investment is key.  I've also had kids who actually loved working to a countdown clock.  I would have them estimate how long they thought an assignment would take and then we would play 'Beat the Clock'.  For kiddos who can get the work done faster but tend to drag their feet, the magic of a clock game can work wonders.

5.  Divide and conquer.

I love that my friend has her daughter Maia helping, even though Maia herself deals with the challenge of dyslexia.  That's great!  Bruce Wilkerson writes in his book The Seven Laws of the Learner that the fastest way to master a concept is to teach it.  We had to work and work to help 4 of 8, our child who is hearing impaired, to read.  I was determined she would learn phonetically and we all had to pitch in, including 3 of 8, who is just 20 months older.  He was barely reading himself, but as he worked with his baby sister, his skill set skyrocketed.  I then used the same technique for 4 of 8~~I had her work with 5 and 6 of 8 and once again watched her reading skills improve incredibly.  So utilize other members of your homework team to help, even if their help is, ah, a bit challenged in and of itself.  It may just help you exponentially improve the investment on your homework time.

6.  Take a breather.

Particularly for kids who have learning challenges, this is key.  It's not convenient.  Not at all.  But I've learned through working with my kids with special needs that their brains get more fatigued more quickly.  (Here's a great article on mental fatigue that gives insight).  Children who have to work harder to understand, comprehend and master material are going to tire out more quickly.  Even though it can feel counterproductive, take a ten minute break every 30 minutes.  I know, I know...seems like you're rowing backwards sometimes.  But I'd rather get a great 30 minutes of learning in with a 10 minute break than a tortuous 40 to 45 minutes of mental fog.  Send the kids outside, get some sunshine, then get back to the table.

7.  Get creative.

1 and 3 of 8 learned spelling words while walking on the treadmill.  Yep.  When we got their bodies in motion, in a momentum,  they were able to better focus.  That's the beauty when you're working with your kids at home, whether that be on homeschool work or on homework~~you have the freedom to tailor the experience for them.  Riding a stationary bike, walking on the treadmill, balancing on a Bosu ball, curling up in a 'reading fort' large cardboard box, can all bring greater focus.  Don't be afraid to try out some things and see if there's a fit.

8.  Call in the pros.

Sometimes there are learning challenges that just require a pro.  If the fatigue of wrestling the homework monster is wearing away at your sanity and peace, consider bringing in a tutor to smooth the bumps.  We've had a blessed population of therapists through the years help our kids on a variety of issues.  It's such a delight to see a child respond well to someone who is fantastic at explaining and motivating. And don't forget to troll your network.  My amazing sister-neighbor running partner JT can often make a bit of headway with one of my scholars when we've gotten stuck.  Heck, she taught 7 and 8 of 8 to swim...and I wasn't sure that was possible.  I've fielded phone calls from one of my nieces who happens to experience math learning more like I did, which had huge doses of misery built into the process.  In a short phone call, I can explain something to her in a way that makes sense to her.  It doesn't seem to make sense to anyone else but the two of us.  But it gets her on down the road and keeps her father (my brother) from ripping out his graying hair.

9.  Keep it positive.

When the brain is stressed or fearful, it literally shuts down learning centers of the brain and focuses on base survival.  If the environment surrounding the homework table becomes charged with anxiety, frustration and negativity, the battle has been lost.  Keep things light, enjoy some laughter, celebrate the small successes.  Keep things in perspective...because, really, when was the last time you actually used inverse integers?

Happy homework, my friends.

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