Help me help my kid with her homework.
November 6, 2016 7:19 PM   Subscribe

My 6 year old has started bringing home reading homework from her grade 1 class. She quickly gets frustrated with it and shuts down, which I in turn find very frustrating. It is complicated by the fact that she is in a french immersion school and while I speak decent french, it is definitely a second language for me. Give me ways to help her that she will respond to. Or give me some insight into her behaviour so that I can do better at keeping my cool about it.

Here are some of the things that I find hard to deal with:
- She will start sounding out a word then get stuck in the middle and just start staring at her pencil while repeating the first half of the word.
- She seems to forget things instantly. For example I will tell her what the letter combination "t-e-n" sounds like and then I'l ask her to read the word "tent" and she'll say something like "tolt."
- She sometimes just won't even try, sitting silently staring at the page.
- She whines, rolls her eyes, and sulks - although if it was just that it wouldn't be so bad.
We have had the same issue when I try to get her to read in english.

On my side, I try to encourage her efforts. I praise her when she tries. I tell her that when I was her age, I didn't know how to read and it was hard, but after a lot of practice it got easier. She will find it easier after she practices. Just try. Please. When we start I am super upbeat and encouraging, but as it drags on I find myself getting terse and impatient with her, which I know doesn't help.

Her reading has definitely improved since she started grade 1. I'm not worried about the pace she is learning at, or that she will struggle like this forever.

What are some things I should be doing differently so this can be a better experience for both of us? What are things I should know about what might be going on in her head so that I can be more patient and sympathetic?

As an aside, she gets easily frustrated with a few other things too. For example if she can't find a toy and I suggest she look in a few more places for it sometimes she will look but other times she will just flop on her bed and sulk instead. I don't know if it is fair to make a parallel between that and homework though.
posted by keeo to Education (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When my daughter does this (balk at easy homework), I tell her it's her choice to either do it,or not do it and tell the teacher she didn't feel like trying. So far she's always decided to not disappoint her teacher. YMMV.

As for what's going on in he head - I guess there are more interesting things at that age than homework?
posted by The Toad at 7:42 PM on November 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

When she reads at school, does she behave the same way for her teacher?

How long is the "homework"? Homework is now thought to be counterproductive before about the age of 10, and if it is assigned should be no more than about 10 minutes at this grade level. When we were having similar math homework struggles, we spoke to the teacher and got the okay to cut off after 10 minutes no matter how many of the problems we'd done. My kid's frustration level dropped precipitously when we got to stop after ten minutes before he was totally out of cope, and he gradually started working faster and being able to work longer, until it stopped being a problem on its own.

Would it be okay with the teacher if, for now, you traded off reading sentences to each other, or you just read TO her in French for a certain amount of time in the evening? You reading and her following along will ALSO help her learn at this stage.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:47 PM on November 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

After all day at grade 1, my son is TIRED! I know that when I try to get him to practice his reading when he doesn't have enough energy he will stare off into space, try and distract me by talking about other things, guess the words instead of trying to sound them out, etc. So, could it be just a matter of your child not having the energy to focus on this kind of stuff after a full day at school. Is it different on the weekends?

If it were me, I wouldn't push it. Doing a task that is frustrating and unproductive is worse than not doing the task at all (when it comes to grade 1 homework!). This random internet stranger gives you permission to not do the homework at all. Can you read books together that she enjoys, having you do the reading and asking her to read specific words? Can you get graphic novels that she'd enjoy? Are the books at too hard of a level and could you read something that is easier and helps her feel more success?
posted by rozee at 7:52 PM on November 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd also suggest that being tired might be part of it. You might try in the morning before school if that fits your schedule. We have switched to doing most of our homework then as our kids are just not up for it at the end of the day.
posted by procrastination at 7:55 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was told by reading specialists that it is OK to help them with a hard word - the pleasure of being able to focus on the story instead of getting stuck sounding words keeps them focused on the big picture (reading is fun!).

So, my advice is to when you see her engaged, let her sound it out but when you see her disconnect or stop trying, just give her the word so she can move on to the next one. Sometime if she loses momentum, it can help to back up and re-read from the beginning of the sentence (that helps build her sight vocabulary since she probably remember what she just said so she doesn't have to sound it all out again) and then when she gets to the new word, it may flow more easily. You can also do this for her at the end of a sentence. "Wow that's great. So "le chat mange le fromage!" I wonder what is going to happen next?"
posted by metahawk at 8:08 PM on November 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Would it help to check out some French cartoons? T'Choupi et Doudou was a favourite here. I'd also look for any shows she already likes that you can find translated to French.

Parlez-Moi was widely used in schools when I was little; it's slightly surreal, but if she digs it at all it's very useful stuff.

I suggest TV because broadening the deal from "read this" to "let's kick around and improve our French" could take some pressure off. (I personally think grade one is far too young for homework, and if she was willing to watch Parlez-Moi and talk to me in French for a bit, I would decide that our French lessons were done for the day and help her fill in the blanks in the written work...)

Also -- ask her. Discuss how this is the assignment, it's got to get done, and you're well aware that she isn't enjoying it, but, since it has to be done, what ideas does she have to make it more pleasant? EBay has, for example, a lot of freakin' adorable little Korean pen/pencil sets and other stationery what-not. Would a special French-homework-only stationery set incentivize anything? You're on the right track with "What are things I should know about what might be going on in her head so that I can be more patient and sympathetic?" -- ask!

My daughter has a weird thing where she loathes doing almost anything until she feels like an expert at it -- and then a switch flips and it's off to the races and she goes from 'behind grade level' to 'miles ahead' seemingly overnight. Maybe some talk about it being totally okay to make mistakes would help if she's bent that way; too-hard schoolwork can create a lot of anxiety and a poor self-image.

The 'sometimes easily frustrated when she can't find a toy' sounds totally normal. Sometimes it helps to use the same sort of checklist you did during infancy: is this tot adequately rested? Well fed? In need of a cuddle? Physically uncomfortable for some reason? Etc.

(My 9yo just walked in and I asked for insights. "She should be reminded that her Mum is there to help her and she can always count on that help. Also, there are a lot of resources out there, like dictionaries and books. Learning French is hard at first, but that's like everything. It's actually really easy and interesting once you start to get it. She should also be told that nothing bad will happen! It's not like the teacher is going to kill her or something, so she shouldn't stress out. It's a big help that her Mum is trying to tutor her -- she needs to recognise that that is a lot of help and she can totally get there with the help from her Mum.")
posted by kmennie at 8:54 PM on November 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I agree with most of the advice about this being normal and not forcing the practice for too long.

I also agree that it's better to just give her the word than to be frustrated for a long time. I don't have experience with French, but it sounds like she might be struggling with what I would always call "word attack" strategies when I was a reading teacher. So if you don't want to just give her the word, you could try prompting her with other strategies that fluent readers use when decoding and guessing new words. So starting with sounding out the beginning is good, but if that's not enough, you can ask her to find other sound chunks, or look at the word length and ending letter, or go back to the rest of the sentence and see if that context + the first sound is enough.
posted by sometamegazelle at 9:06 PM on November 6, 2016

Honestly? It sounds like homework is not working for her right now.

So give her permission not to do it for a while and see how it goes.

There is a lot of research that says homework has absolutely no benefit to students, especially in elementary school.

The fact that so many people here are willing to advise you to keep pushing your daughter to do something that is clearly harming her and you and your relationship is a statement about how dedicated we in America are to the myth that homework is beneficial.

Also, be aware that it's not until 4th grade that students in bilingual immersion are up to standard on either language - and from that point, these students tend to pull ahead of their classmates for the rest of their education.

Let her play instead of doing homework. Let her have some space. It doesn't have to be permanent, but right now, your daughter needs you to advocate for her because she doesn't have the words to do it for herself.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:51 PM on November 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

She's six.

A system that assigns school homework to six-year-olds is broken and wrong and crying out for major re-thinking.

She quickly gets frustrated with it and shuts down

I am completely, utterly baffled by the idea that this response might somehow be surprising.

She's six. She should not be doing homework after a long day at school. She should be playing outdoors until it's time to eat.

What are some things I should be doing differently so this can be a better experience for both of us?

Educate yourself about the uselessness and counter-productivity of assigning formal homework to small children, then become active within your school's decision-making apparatus to get that policy changed.
posted by flabdablet at 11:37 PM on November 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have three kids going through French immersion program. Life has gotten so much better since we stopped stressing about homework and just asked whether they had done it. If they say "yes," that's it and we don't discuss it any further. If they say "no," then we ask whether they want help, but that is up to them. Any note from school about homework not being done is noted, but not acted upon.

The oldest struggled with reading until one day when he suddenly could, the second grader is frustrated as he can't read English well (but does well in French), the youngest one just learned to read on his own in English, but not in French yet.
posted by zeikka at 12:18 AM on November 7, 2016

Thank you all. I'll try some french TV and activities with her and give it a break on the homework for a bit.

I used to watch Parlez-moi when I was in school. I don't know if it helped but I definitely remember it!
posted by keeo at 5:24 AM on November 7, 2016

Oh! We are going through almost identical stuff, except without the bilingual bit. It's developmentally normal. The first thing I'd say is talk to the teacher. My child's first grade teacher basically said "don't worry about it and do the bare minimum that he enjoys" when we told her that every 15 minute session was a 15 minute crying session. She also started sending home easier books; her goal is for them to have a little individualized reading time every day, not for them to struggle and fail and hate homework every day. Some other things that our child's teacher suggested:

-Parent reads the page, then child reads it. At this point, memorization is acceptable.
-Guessing the word based on the pictures. Sometimes he looks at a picture of a "house", sees the "h" and says "home". He took several clues and put them together. Again, from our teacher's perspective this is a totally reasonable point to be at.
-You don't need to correct everything, and it's okay to help them with a word rather than watch them struggle for 5 minutes. Sometimes after he reads something with a mistake, I reread it correctly and have him read it again.
-Try a different time of day, even if it's less convenient for you. Our kid is much more willing to engage right when he gets home, after having run off a bunch of energy at his after school program. After dinner, he's too tired. Before school, he's too wrapped up in all the transitions of getting dressed and ready for the day. It took us a week or so to figure this out because right after picking him up, *we* are in make-dinner mode.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:11 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently had a thread about similar issues and some of the advice there may help you.

I found that, at least for us, some relatively minor course corrections made a HUGE difference.

First and foremost, I realized that for me the whine-flop-I-don't-knooooowww was pushing a giant button that I hadn't been aware of. That behavior from him would instantly make me more reactive and make me push - yes you do know you just need to make an effort grrr, which made him even more sullen and stubborn and our mutual frustration level ramped up.

So I made a conscious effort to break that cycle. I talked to him and told him I knew that I had been doing some frustrating things lately and I would try to stop. I gave examples. I told him that in return, I wanted him to practice differentiating between "I don't know" and "I don't want to do this right now", because then it would be easier for me to give him the kind of help he needed. (We're playing the long game here but it really was helpful to talk about it.)

Then, I started taking him at face value when he said he didn't know something. You give the example above - you tell her a sound, she then immediately fails to read the word. But think for a second - has she ever rattled off a list of twelve MagiPokeSparkleFairyPonies that you promptly forgot because they didn't stick in your brain? Has she then ever been annoyed with you for not remembering that Princess PlushyPants carries a purple wand and Queen DoodleFish carries a red one? Even though she JUST TOLD YOU? So be sympathetic. I find myself frequently forgetting new second-language words - sometimes it really does take awhile for this stuff to stick in your brain, and then for it to be available for immediate recall when you need it. Now if I explain something and he immediately forgets it, instead of getting annoyed, I just explain it again.

Finally, someone in that other thread suggested that when their kid says something is too hard and they can't do it, they respond with "Oh yes, we should definitely give up, then." My kid LOVES humor and so we've had some funny runs of "I can't dooooo it!" "My goodness, we should stop right now and never do this again." "Huh?" "Yes, you should absolutely never learn to read, it's a terrible idea." "Nooo! We have to keep going! [collapses in giggles]" If you're good and dramatic with your part, and have a bit of a mischievous smile, you can lighten the mood quite nicely.

Since we broke the cycle, things have been rather more pleasant. I'm sure it will happen again at some point, but hopefully I'll be aware sooner of what's happening and can nip it in the bud.
posted by telepanda at 7:18 AM on November 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Oh, and tchemgrrl is right that timing is everything. We have a different best-time-of day. Our kid is a zombie when he gets home from school and isn't capable of much of anything til after dinner. After dinner and mom-getting-home, there's a wild adrenaline burst and he bounces off the ceiling for awhile, and then at 7 when his sister goes to bed is the best time for him to sit and focus on something for a bit.
posted by telepanda at 7:21 AM on November 7, 2016

My six year old also balks at homework--but only when we sit down to do it after the "homework window" has passed. He gets out of school at 2:30, and ideally he spends an hour and a half running off the energy in the park, and they come home around 4-4:30. If he sets right to doing homework at 4:30, he can do it with no problem and we can even throw some piano practice in with no tears. But if the doesn't start before 5:30-6, then we have the situation you describe, wherein he stares into space and digs his heels in and dawdles. Perhaps you could try to do homework in a different timeslot in the day.

Sometimes I also have him take a break to stand up, "get the wiggles out" by jumping around and acting silly, and then we can sit down and squeeze out another 5-10 minutes of homework.
posted by Liesl at 9:10 AM on November 7, 2016

This is super normal. My second grader actually has almost no homework this year which has been a blessing. She did not have a lot in kindergarten or first grade, but she did have some, and it was almost a daily battle to get her to do it.

I found a few things would help:
- She couldn't get it done right away when she got home from school. School is 6 hours of focusing, listening, sitting down and at home, she needs to unwind and relax before she could sit down and focus again. (this was v v helpful if unwinding, especially, was in the form of some kind of physical activity)
- Offer the choice of "Do you want to do this before, or after dinner?"
- Say, "Once you finish your homework, you can watch a half hour of TV"
- Tell her, "Look, I'm OK if you want to skip this. I won't be mad. But I'm not sure how your teacher is going to feel about it."
- Made my husband deal with it ;)

It is really, really hard for a little kid to sit down and focus on homework after a long school day. I'm not sure about your daughter's school, but I have found with my daughter's that it is so much more academic than when I was in k-2nd grade. It takes a lot of out of them and by the time they get home, they just want to relax - and who can blame them?

In addition, my daughter is a terrific reader and has always been above her grade level in reading. But until recently, she HATED it. She refused to read stuff out loud even though we knew she could. She was supposed to read 20 minutes every day in first grade, in addition to some worksheets, and neither my husband nor I were willing to fight and argue with her about reading. (We read to her instead). I didn't want her to hate reading. Now she really loves it and is reading stuff on her own, and I am glad I never forced her to do it. We didn't have to log it, but even if we did, I don't think I would have forced her to do it.
posted by sutel at 11:17 AM on November 7, 2016

« Older Where can I buy Forward Day by Day?   |   "Unadventurous" restaurants in the East Bay? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.