How to Have a MilFam Homework Happy Hour

How to deal with homework

Just when you were getting used to the kids being back in school. Just when you were reveling in the peace and quiet and the non-stickiness of your house. Just when you were feeling halfway human again, the homework starts.

I written before about how homework is unnecessary. That's not just my conclusion. Honest to God experts say it, too. But, alas, no one is listening to me or to those experts. And it looks like homework is here to stay.

There's some great advice on the web for how to help your child get homework done. Problem is, most of that advice -- really, all of it as far as I can tell -- assumes that you only have A child. As in ONE child.

Or maybe it assumes that if you have more than one child, someone else is entertaining the other children while you help the child who has the homework. You know, like the governess, or the au pair, or something. Like we all have Mary-freakin'-Poppins and her giant bag of tricks at our disposal.

Here's how the homework hour, or as I like to call it, "the worst hour of the day," looks in my house:

Me: "Do your spelling."

Oldest child: "Do I have to?"

(This is followed by approximately five minutes of me insisting and him protesting as we both get progressively frustrated. Finally, he relents and gets to work. Two whole minutes of productivity pass. I let my guard down and think that we're in the clear. Then ...)

Youngest child: "Look! I've got a Magz ball in my nose!"

Me: "What?! Take that out of your nose! Don't put it in your mouth! Ugh! That's gross! And dangerous! Get over here!"

Oldest child: "I can't focus!"

Middle child: "Why does he always get to focus? I never get to focus!"

Youngest child: "Can I have a popsicle?"

Middle child: "Why does she always get a popsicle? I never get a popsicle!"

Oldest child: "I want a popsicle, too!"

Me: (To youngest child) "Get off the counter! That's gross! And dangerous!"

Oldest child: "I can't concentrate with all this noise!"

Dog: "Woof! Woof! Woof!" (at nothing.)

And on, and on and on it goes. By the time the homework hour ends, I've earned and need every bit of the subsequent cocktail hour. 

The expert advice online usually suggests the following things for a happy homework hour (an alliterative oxymoron if ever there was one):

  1. Create a homework spot. Pick a specific time and place for homework that is as free as possible of clutter, pets and television. Keep distractions to a minimum.
  2. Don't let him or her procrastinate. Stay nearby so you can coach and offer support.
  3. Help the child learn to make and use checklists, crossing items off as they are completed.
  4. Schedule breaks. A five-minute break every 20 minutes can help your child recharge.
  5. Teach a better understanding of the passage of time: use an analog clock and timers.
  6. Pack it up. Check to see that the finished homework is packed in his or her book bag and that the bag is placed by the front door.

These are all great suggestions. Really. I highly recommend them. I try to follow them myself. Problem is, none of them helps with the additional challenges that arise during a typical afternoon scenario in my home. So here are my tips for making sure your kid gets the homework done before you lose your mind:

  1. If you have multiple school-aged children, have them all do their homework at the exact same time, but in different rooms. You make the rounds during this time, walking between the rooms, just like a prison guard.
  2. If you have a middle school or teenaged child and younger children, focus on the younger ones. The older one should be big enough not to need supervision. You're on hand to help only if he or she gets stumped.
  3. If you have a school-aged child, a new reader and a toddler or infant, get the school-aged child started on homework at the kitchen table and then take the younger children into a different room. Have the new reader practice by reading to baby while you sit nearby to help. Instruct the school-aged child to yell if he or she needs help.
  4. Buy a gaming device. Homework time for the oldest can be game time in a different room for the younger kids. Just be sure to the let the oldest have a little game time later -- that is unless you really like hearing the phrase, "It's not fair!"
  5. Start happy hour early. This is kids' homework we're talking about, not the LSAT. You don't need to be mentally sharp to help, but you do need nerves of steel.

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