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Singing the homework blues

Are you familiar with the old song: Homework! Oh, homework! I hate you. You stink! I wish I could wash you away in the sink . . .?

Somehow I can imagine my own kids turning to me and saying, “Dad, if you hate homework so much, stop assigning it!” Seriously, though, I remember my kids singing this little ditty when they were in school. Homework is probably nobody’s favorite. Nonetheless, homework is a reality for many families.

I asked a pair of veteran teachers for their advice on how parents can best assist their children with the homework challenge. Here are some tips.

  1. Establish a positive attitude about the value of school and homework. Create a family routine and an expectation that this is important and needs to be done to be prepared for the next day. Nothing is more anxiety-creating than not being prepared and wondering how teachers and classmates will react.
  2. Pray with your children about school and school work. God cares about it all. As anxiety and depression rates for children have increased to astounding rates, reinforcing that they have an almighty, loving heavenly Father is ultra-important. He cares . . . even about short quizzes or big tests.
  3. Find a comfortable, inviting place for children to do homework where parents can oversee progress. Kids’ rooms today offer many distractions that can get in the way of the efficient use of homework time.
  4. Understand teacher expectations and communicate with your child’s teacher(s). Take advantage of home visits or entrance conferences to talk about homework expectations. Teachers will be happy to share strategies they prefer or tools that can be used at home. Today’s digital age gives parents and students amazing tools—e-mail, websites, online videos. Many curriculums include online videos and tips. This can help alleviate arguments about how to do tasks like multiplication and division correctly.
  5. Don’t give up on the old tried-and-true methods. They have worked for generations and will continue to work. Strategies like making notecards, using flash cards for math facts, practicing spelling words, quizzing students on their reading assignment, listening to memory work—these all still are great ways to help your students to find success. Help your child to find ways that complement their learning style.
  6. For upper-grade students, consider becoming a kind of “accountability partner.” At this level, sometimes the subject matter is getting difficult for parents . . . even well-educated ones. The homework belongs to the students. In a time when digital contacts are growing, having parents help face-to-face needs to be encouraged. Parents can be a big help by encouraging the student to transition into a self-advocate role.
  7. Realize the change that has taken place. Teachers and parents are not so much the purveyors of knowledge but guides to unlocking and applying it. The information is more accessible than ever; parents can inspire their children’s curiosity on topics they aren’t naturally curious about.

Maybe it’s time for a new tune: Homework! Oh, homework! You can be a pain. But at least you’re a way to exercise my brain!

Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves as communications director at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton.

Tips for setting achievable resolutions

It’s a running joke every January at the fitness club I attend. One of the “regulars” looks around the packed club and grouses, “Why are there so many people here?” Someone else inevitably replies, “Just wait until February.”  

It’s so true. If you search online for the “top 10 broken New Year’s resolutions,” losing weight and getting fit is number one. Another online statistic reports that about only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them. Ouch. I’m no scientist, but attempting something repeatedly with such low probability of success seems a little futile. 

So why do we even bother to make New Year’s resolutions? Maybe it’s human nature to want a fresh start in a new year. Maybe it’s in response to eating way too many Christmas cookies and not wanting to buy bigger pants. Whatever it is, it’s also a part of human nature to try—and sometimes fail—at making lasting, positive changes in our lives. 

So should we even try? And should we encourage our children to set New Year’s resolutions? I think that everyone needs some achievable, tangible goals, even if they aren’t written in red pen on January 1 on our calendars. But here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Resolutions should be realistic, measurable, and tackled in manageable chunks. Instead of vowing, “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year!” perhaps start with: “I am going to commit to walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week.” And who doesn’t want to commit to spending more time in God’s Word? So, if “I am going to read through my entire Bible this year” seems too daunting, try: “I am going to find a manageable Bible reading plan and read my Bible for 10 minutes each day.”
  • Accountability can help us make positive changes in our lives. There are times my husband has had to pull me, groaning and griping, off the couch to get me to exercise. There are times I’ve done the same for him. Families are great accountability groups. Parents, try sitting down with your kids and asking them for three realistic, measurable goals for the new year. Ask: What steps do you need to take to achieve these? How can I help you stick to these goals? Then parents, you do the same. Set goals for yourselves, share them with your kids, and ask them to keep you accountable. Pray as a family for God to bless your efforts and give you strength to achieve your goals. And don’t forget to celebrate every little victory along the way.
  • Ask God’s forgiveness—and forgive yourself—when you stumble. We’re human. We fail every day. What a comfort it is having a loving God who forgives our failures through the blood of his Son, Jesus!

And ultimately, remember that even the best resolutions can fail. We can plan and plan and try and try, but some things are beyond our control. Stuff happens. Remember, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the  LORD  establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Some things we want just aren’t in God’s plan for our lives, and that’s okay. Knowing that our loving God already has the entirety of our lives mapped out in his perfect plan is a huge comfort to us—and to our kids.