Today’s guest blogger, the mother of a second grader, lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a masters degree in psychology and works full time doing psychometric testing of adults. She says that “these credentials did not prepare her for second grade homework.”
Why My Second Grader Won’t Be Doing Any More Projects
by Psych Mom
I think it bears emphasis that the frontal lobes don’t even start making a lot of connections until the second decade of a human being’s life. Our frontal lobes control planning functions, our ability to anticipate, organize, and to control our behaviour. One of a parent’s key roles in their child’s life is to be their frontal lobes for them, until such time as they have the capacity to think for themselves, quite literally. We don’t expect that our 5 year olds can make decisions about walking across the street on their own. We don’t send them into a toy store with a gift card and expect them to make rational choices. We download responsibility to them gradually over the 18 years we’re responsible for them.
But somehow, this idea as taken root, that, in school, children must be trained to do homework. There are always the little darlings who fit into whatever is demanded of them from day one. But by and large, homework is a chore for most families simply because the expectation of small kids to be organized and disciplined is age inappropriate. They can’t do it because their brains do not have the capacity to organize, order and plan…..on top of being tired from a full day of activity. It’s lunacy to expect this from them.
My daughter is 7, almost 8 and she’s doing well in school. Developmental leaps are so obvious in her because her skill acquisition comes overnight sometimes. Her handwriting sucked last year in Grade 1….the teacher commented continually…”we have to work on her handwriting..needs improvement in handwriting”. Well, within a month of starting Grade 2….”my, her handwriting has drastically improved”. And it’s always said with some amazement, like they weren’t expecting that. But it happens all the time. When the development has happened, when the maturity is there (and I don’t just mean social maturity), the skill emerges. You can’t force it and you can’t train it.
Do we put 7 year olds behind the wheel of a car, so they get “used” to driving? Do we get our 15 year olds to fill out our tax forms in the spring? Do we send newlyweds to tour nursing homes because you know, they will end up there someday. Better be ready. All this planning and preparation takes the joy out of life and is mostly just plain inappropriate…just like homework is for kids.
My daughter and I just submitted our first (and last) project today. The full page list of possible project options was unintelligible except to me ( so a parent was expected to be involved). My daughter had no interest in any of them except after I picked one and got her going (clearly my frontal lobe functions: planning and selection). She focussed on one aspect only of her diorama (organizing the whole diorama fell to my frontal lobes again). She called it a “dollarama”, which is the name of her favourite dollar store here in Halifax. The last time I did anything like this was when I was in Grade 4 (in the 60’s) and my mother did most of the work on that project too. All I remember about it was the feeling of being overwhelmed by it all, which is exactly what my daughter felt. She demonstrated being overwhelmed by refusing to do the project initally, and by focussing on one aspect only once she did do it. It involved tape….lots of tape. The whole experience left me cold. And, as I mentioned, that’s the last “project” we’re doing. There was no point to it and I yelled way too much.
For me, this homework issue solidifies around what a child’s brain is all about and what it needs in order to develop normally. It needs oxygen and food. It needs rest and lots of it. It needs novelty and lots of experience to lay down those pathways. It needs a structured, predictable environment so that anxiety doesn’t creep in and interfere with normal development. Kids need their childhoods desperately in this horribly stressful world we’ve created for them. Homework is not something they need to prepare for their future lives.