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Taming the Five Monsters of the Homework Wars

16 Oct

If you have school-age children, you know it’s not just Halloween goblins that go haunting this time of year. At kitchen tables and bedroom desks across the country, the Homework Apocalypse is going on like a B-grade horror movie. The bargaining, the crying, the never-ending whining.

And that’s just the parents.

homework wars

Otherwise lovable children can morph into monsters at homework time. Perhaps you’ve met some of them – the Time-Wasting Tornado, the Seat Shifter, The Perfection Piranha. Maybe you’re more familiar with the Defeated Dragon or the Great Pretender. All five homework monsters have appeared in our kitchen, gobbling up free time and turning evenings into a battleground.

But they’re not invincible. A few battle tactics can have you banishing the monsters and winning the homework wars.

The Time-Eating Tornado

The Time-Eating Tornado never met an excuse he couldn’t use to postpone the start of actually working on those assignments. Dull pencil, uncomfortable chair, hunger pains, unquenchable thirst… you name it, it can be used to stretch a 15-minute assignment into an hour.

But you can cut this homework monster off at the knees with a well-equipped homework bunker. Before school even gets started, set up a homework zone stocked with any supplies your child might need: pencils, sharpener, paper, pens. Sunday afternoons, take a few minutes to restock and make sure you are ready for the week ahead.

If you have a master procrastinator, you’ll need to move beyond the basics. At our house, it never fails that as soon as my son sits down, he will suddenly be hungry. It does not matter if he has just polished off a large pizza, a foot-long sandwich, and a side of beef! Homework elicits new pangs of starvation. So at our house, the homework zone is stocked with a healthy snack basket and has bottled water on hand.

The Seat Shifter

The Seat Shifter is a close cousin of the Time-Eating Tornado. She can’t get started because she can’t sit still long enough to pick up a pencil, and she’s got more wiggles than Shakira in the dance club remix of “Hips Don’t Lie.”

But you don’t need a seat belt or duct tape to get the wiggler under control and on task. Instead, think about ditching the chair altogether and have them do their homework sitting on a balance ball. A Mayo Clinic study in 2007 showed kids with attention-span challenges who used the balance balls had better focus and more productivity.

You can also create a “brain break” jar  for the homework zone. On popsicle sticks, write activities like “do 10 jumping jacks” or “dance party,” and when the Seat Shifter starts wiggling, have them draw a stick and get moving for a minute. It can also help to make sure homework time doesn’t start until after your child has had some time for active play.

The Perfection Piranha

High standards are important, but some children are so worried about getting their homework exactly right that they just don’t get going for fear of getting something wrong. Or, they constantly re-start projects that don’t meet their standards.

As a kindergartener, my daughter worked for hours one evening decorating a letter “M” that represented her first name. But after we’d glue-gunned, glittered and bedazzled every inch of the letter, she suddenly decided something was not quite right. Before I could grab it, the “M” was crumpled into a ball of defeat and tossed into the trash.

You can quiet the Perfection Piranha by setting limits on homework time when done means done. Make sure you are praising the work your child puts in, not just the grade he or she gets, and model gracious mistake-making so your child learns to deal with defeat.

The Defeated Dragon

For children who struggle in school, homework time can feel like an extended jail sentence. Before they ever pick up a pencil, they feel defeated. The homework looks too hard, too long, and too overwhelming.

To give the Defeated Dragon back his fire, divide and conquer. If your child is overwhelmed at the idea of a 30-question practice worksheet, don’t be afraid to get out your scissors and actually cut the worksheet into smaller sections, and give them to your child a few questions at a time. You can tape it back together before it’s turned in.

Celebrate these “mini-victories” with homework breaks, and applaud effort, not just right answers.

The Great Pretender

The Great Pretender can appear to be the model student. As soon as he or she gets home from school, they head right to their room and sit down at their desk with books and notebooks out, laptop fired up to tackle their latest assignment.

Three hours later, they have nothing to show for their hard work – unless you count five Facebook updates, three selfies posted to Instagram, 12 text messages to friends and a notebook full of anime sketches as academic progress.

To unmask the pretender, let them choose between two strategies. Either set up a homework zone where you can monitor their progress. Or, if you want to respect their choice to work alone in their room, set a kitchen timer with check-ins every 15-20 minutes so you can know they are mixing in a fair amount of work with the play.

Plan for Success

No matter which monster shows up at your house during homework time, a little preplanning, consistency with expectations, and a positive outlook can help you send them packing for good, and bring back a peaceful co-existence to homework time.

Fish Tales

18 Jul

Ever since he joined our family a couple of years ago, my son has been talking about fishing.

He knows a lot about fishing. He loves fishing. He’s been fishing a ton of times.

We are so not a fishing family. I love the outdoors, but  we are a look for shells, go for a hike, watch birds, look for wildlife and try to take pictures kind of family.

But this summer, I told the kids I would take them camping. And if my son the professional angler wanted to renew his love of fishing, he could get a pole and give it a try.

So, we went pole shopping. He grabbed one off the rack, sparkly and red and impressive.

“I need this one!”

It was $400. And didn’t even have a reel on it.

“Um, dude, this says it’s for marlin, shark and tuna.”

“That’s what I want to catch! Epic!”

Since we were in fact, going to a freshwater lake where he could fish off a pier, I explained the chances of catching sharks were fairly low. We settled on a rod and reel combo at about a tenth of the price of his dream rod. This one was sparkly blue, and the master angler was fine with it.

I, however, was having some doubts about his alleged fishing knowledge.

These doubts were compounded when we got to the lake.

The kid who “knew a lot about fishing” could not get the string out of the reel or a hook on the string. And had long since tossed his instruction manual.

Fortunately, a friendly grandpa was around to give us a fishing 101 clinic. He showed my son how to tie on a hook, how to work the reel, where to put on his bobber and weights.

Then, it was time for the worms. The professional angler opened the box.

“Uh, mom? Can you put them on my hook?”


“They’re too wiggly.”

Sometimes, when you’re a mom, you do things you never expected to do.

Like impaling giant worms onto a fishing hook. By the way, you can’t just get them on there once. You have to thread them on in a little worm ball of torture. I whispered silent apologies and tried to act like this was something I dealt with every day.

The master fisherman dropped the hook into the water with great excitement. And brought it up to check on it with great excitement. And repeated this process about a dozen times until I said “JUST LEAVE IT THERE!”

Then… a tug.

All of 3 inches long, but a fish! On his line!

“My first fish!” he  announced.

Great celebration ensued until it was time to let it go. The great fisherman was not interested in touching the fish to get it off the hook.

So, again, I pretended this was something I did every day. Grabbed the wriggling fish, got the hook out, slid it back into the lake. Tried not to think about the worm guts and fish blood on my hands.

“I love fishing,” announced my son. “Can you get another worm on there?”

Makin’ Bacon

13 Feb

Purple Pig

As requested, the completed purple flying pig.

She will be going to live, for a season, in a middle school choir room where she will serve as a mascot. Then, she will return to our house for the remainder of her years.

Long may she soar.

When Pigs Fly

12 Feb

She balances delicately, one foot not quite touching the ground, ready for takeoff.

Mother-daughter alchemy has spun balloons, toilet paper rolls, plaster strips and the end of a Sonic cup into something altogether unworldy.

A flying pig.

Tomorrow, we shall paint her purple with silver sparkly wings.

Thirteen is not easy. Not for you, not for me. Rough waters bubbling with independence and  new worries and hormones, oh my Lord, the hormones.

But perhaps, in the midst of everything, you will remember that this Saturday night, we giggled and told stories, and carefully wrapped plaster straps around balloons.

And together, created something impossibly wonderful.

Pretty In Pink

28 Jun

For the most part, I’ve gotten off pretty easy on the girlie-girl scale.

A Blue’s Clues obsession trumped any interest in the Disney princesses, followed by Scooby Doo in lieu of Bratz Dolls. Of course, at her first-grade party, she invited the whole class and ended up with enough Barbies to field a Dallas Cowboy’s Cheerleading Squad.

They mostly stayed stuffed in a drawer until a few years later, when a friend was spending the night. During an unsupervised time when I thought the girls were sleeping, the two of them gave all the Barbies insane asylum buzz cuts and colored their faces zombie green. Continue reading

A Cleanup in 3 Acts

18 Jun


Scene: The living room. Boy, 10-ish, being confronted about the state of his room.

Characters:  Messy Boy, Frustrated Mom

Mom: Your room is a disaster. Legos are all over the floor, and overflowing toxic waste fumes are coming from your closet which has apparently become the site of a laundry-hoarding cover-up of some kind.  Additionally, I see hidden behind your curtain a cup from Sonic with the top off, and I can see furry greenish-blue feathery fingers of mold creeping over the edge of the cup. They appear to be preparing to  get ready to grab and eat the dog.

Boy: And your point is?

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Rocket Recovery Mission

10 May

Late Mother’s Day afternoon, we headed back out on a top-priority recovery mission at the park — operation “find the rocket.”

The kid had sticks for pushing briars out of the way, my husband had scientifically watched the rocket video to pinpoint the most likely location, and I had my camera. Because although I did have serious doubts about finding the wayward rocket, I will go along with anything that gives me an excuse to tromp around the woods and look for pictures.

So, we headed off, into terrain that mostly looked like this.

Wildflowers and Cactus and Mesquite, Oh my!

Continue reading

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