The Right Choice for the First Grader with Homework

Lily has officially been a first grader for a week, and she is exhausted. Exhausted to the point of after-school sobbing, exhausted to the point of incoherence. This afternoon I was on the phone, making plans with a neighbor for her little girl to come over and play with my youngest three while her older kids went to soccer practice, when I was interrupted by a wail of misery from Lily, who was emptying her lunch box.
“AHHHHH! NOooo! Ohh NOOOooo!”
I assured my neighbor that everything was fine and hung up pleased with my plan and turned the surprisingly still sobbing Lily.
Lily took cereal and milk for snack and evidently left the remnants in an insecure container. It’s a new lunch box; I could understand the crisis. I’ll clean it, I told her. Don’t worry!
Then I told her my plan. If she did her homework quickly, I said, her friend would come over!
I expected great joy, but Lily, who’s always known herself better than most kids, sobbed harder. “But I’m SO TIRED!”

I called the neighbor and cancelled. We’ve been going so hard, all summer long, and the kids have always been so up and ready for the next thing, that Lily took me by surprise with what proved to be the beginning of an afternoon of solid crank. I cuddled, I sat, I provided a tasty snack, but eventually the inevitable happened, and Lily ended up sobbing in her room (she called me a “poopyhead).”

Which was perhaps the best thing for her. When released, she was wiped and repentant and sat on the couch for a while.

“Why don’t you get your homework folder,” I suggested, “and I’ll help you with anything you need, and we’ll make the biscuits for dinner together?”

“Just us?”

“Just us.”

And we did.

FIrst grade is clearly exhausting. As for the homework—it has to be said that Lily longed for homework, and this homework is very clearly just a placeholder for real homework later in life. We’ve bought into this school, a slightly old-fashioned one that believes in making the tests and drills and classic learning fun, rather than replacing them with new methods that may be more entertaining, but proved, at least in the case of our oldest, not to be as effective, and so while I find first grade homework ridiculous, I’ve decided to buy into the philosophy behind it. A child, the thinking goes, who learns to sit down every night and prepare for school the next day in first grade will be a child who can do the same more easily, even once the work gets harder. We see the truth of it in our fourth grader, applying himself right now to slightly more serious homework (largely devoted, this year, to organizing oneself and planning ahead).

So my attitude towards the homework (which took the form of a color the shapes page and six very simple math problems) is as follows: she needs to sit down and do it, but that’s all. I’ll explain, if she needs it, but I’m not going to correct it, or insist that we go over it, or worry about it in any way. It’s important to do it, but at this stage, her teacher should see exactly how she does it, not how she does it with my help.

And my attitude toward the exhaustion, now past, is even simpler: thank goodness I took a firm stance on after school activities! Lily has a piano lesson, which I consider a part of a basic education, and that’s it. I called today to enroll her in a Saturday morning gymnastics class, and they said it was full. Isn’t there anything else that would work for you, they asked. Nope. I knew they had after school offerings for her age group, and we weren’t doing it. No Saturday class meant no gymnastics this fall. I also turned down a friend who thought she could join them for swim team (three afternoons a week!) or soccer (only one weekday plus Saturday!) and even myself was tempted by a clay art class…but no. No, no and no. And I’m so proud of myself now.

They found room for her in the Saturday morning class anyway. Sometimes, if you hold out for what’s best, good things happen.

One Response to “The Right Choice for the First Grader with Homework”

  1. meg says:

    I went through the exact same thing with my daughter last year when she started first grade. After a few months, I learned that having a snack ready in the car, and some time to just be quiet by herself was all we needed to prevent the daily meltdowns.