Helping with Homework

      Homework. In many homes, this is a four letter word.  When kids start bringing home homework, many parents are flooded with the emotions and anxiety they experienced themselves as students.  Now kick that up a notch, because not only is your kid bringing home homework but it’s in a language you can’t read. Great….

     Ok, deep breaths.  One of the number one things parents considering immersion education for their child ask is, “How am I supposed to help my kid if I don’t speak the language?” As a non-Spanish speaking parent to a second grader in a full immersion program, I’m here to tell you, it’s not that bad. With a few hints and tips I’ve outlined below, I believe you will see that you already have the skills to help your child succeed.

      First off, leave your preconceived notions of homework at the door.  Recent research has shown homework isn’t as beneficial as once thought and your child’s school likely has a much different take on it than when we were students ourselves. As a student, I can remember having math pages with like 20 questions that were basically identical and thinking, “Why do I need to do all of these if you know I’ve got this?”  Or maybe it was the opposite, ”Great, 20 identical questions that I can’t do. You really need 20 problems to tell I’m struggling here?” Now the research is finding the same and questioning the true purpose of some homework projects. Depending on your child’s teacher or school’s homework policy, he/she may not have homework every night. My son is in 2nd grade and starting in kindergarten, he’s only ever had the obligation to read 20-30 minutes a night and a weekly math packet that we only spend like 10 minutes on each night; totally doable.  Obviously this will change as he ages but also will, fingers crossed, his maturity and responsibility level, allowing him to be more independent with the process and thus require less from me. 

     That being said, remember the amount of homework often isn’t the only thing that’s changed since most parents were in school.  Students are taught quite differently now, particularly in the area of math. So, not only is their worksheet in Spanish, the directions you can’t read are explaining how to solve the problems totally different than the way you learned.  The best way to help your child, is to help them the best way you know how. The brain is like a tool box. You’re not going to need the same tool for every problem, but you want lots of options for when different problems arise. In life, you don’t always need a hammer, but it’s good to have one at the ready.  It’s the same with the crazy different approaches to multiplication and division that so many parents are stressed about. “Why can’t we just do long division the way I learned how.” The answer is you can. Your child is just gathering the tools for their toolbox. 

    Remember when it comes to homework, you’re the parent, not the teacher.  Trust your parental instinct on what is best for your child. This is the same regardless of what language they are learning in.  Prior to having my 4 year old twins, I was a 4th grade teacher so I know this to be true. Most teachers don’t want your elementary student slaving over tear stained homework.  If a particular project or problem is causing World War 3 in your house, allow your child to walk away. Write a note to the teacher so they know you worked with your child and they tried the best they could but it just wasn’t happening.  This tells the teacher just want they’re looking to know, what kids get it and which kids need more help.

     My next piece of advice is to keep in mind we are all lifelong learners.  Kids brains are wired differently and that’s why learning a second language at this early age is so successful.  But just because you don’t know Spanish doesn’t mean you can’t learn. Yes, my kid’s brain is like a sponge where as mine often feels more like a sieve.  But if you approach your child’s learning as a chance for you to do this same, you’ll be surprised what you’ll pick up. I remember back to kindergarten, when my son was learning just the simple sounds of each vowel.  We worked with flash cards, in which not only would he tell me what sound each vowel made on each card I put before him, but also him holding up the cards quizzing me, giving me picture clues and little sound bites he had picked while learning at school. Not to pat myself on the back but I’m amazed what I, as the parent, have picked up just by having my kid practice reading Spanish with me each night.  Am I ready to go hang out with the locals at some quaint coffee shop in Spain, no. But I can hold my own as my son and I take turns each reading a page a loud from his latest beginner Spanish chapter books. Keep an open mind and a listening ear, and you’ll amaze yourself with just how much you’ll learn right along with your child. 

     Lastly, remember kids model what they see.  If we are excited about learning, they are more likely to be as well. It’s kind of like that first day of kindergarten, both my son and I were terrified.  But did he know that? No way! As far as he was concerned, it was darn near a national holiday, the family was so excited. He doesn’t need to know I went home and sobbed all day because I wasn’t ready for this major milestone as a mama. If we complain and drag our feet when it comes to homework, our kids will do the same.  I have found that while I may not be able to read Spanish, I enjoy reading myself and it helps for my son to see this love of literature. We will commonly snuggle up in my bed, him reading his Spanish books while I continue my latest novel. Homework isn’t a chore until we make it a chore. So let’s model the positive attitude we want in return and keep giving our little sponges everything they can soak up. 

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