It seemed simple enough, my daughter had to write an English reading response (i.e. book report) about a book she read. She is only in first grade, so how difficult can her homework be? And yet I managed to turn something simple into an emotional ordeal. Still struggling to spell words to her own satisfaction, she asked me for help with this weekly exercise. Rather than asking me how to spell every other word, she dictated the response to me and I wrote it out for her so she could copy it down. In about five minutes we had generated a paragraph with 100 or so words. I figured she would need 10 or 15 minutes to write it out.
However, before she even started to write, the complaints and excuses began..
“I’m hungry. I need a drink. I have to go to the toilet. I’m tired. My hand is tired. I can’t find a pencil. I cannot find the book. I want to play. I need an eraser.”
The former educator that I am, I could not for the life of me figure out why it was so difficult for her to complete this exercise.
“I can’t find where I am in the writing. It is too long. I want to finish it at school. Why do I have to do it?”
The whole thing spiraled downhill from there into an emotional quagmire. Where did I go wrong as a parent? I was convinced this was somehow my doing, but I could not see the point where I could pivot the situation around, relieve the pressure, and help her complete her homework.
I’d like to say that the first week we encountered this problem, I helped my daughter facilitate a solution, but instead I think I became a roadblock to her success with each passing week. Finally, in a moment of blindingly obvious inspiration, I took my tightly written paragraph and typed it out on the computer and printed it with a large font to make it more legible and easy to follow. I brought it to my daughter and asked if this would help and she immediately inquired how I had done it. Whereas before she thought the printer was an elaborate place to house paper and print activities, she now realized it was a powerful writing tool as well. Armed with the new easy to read version of her dictation, she quickly finished her homework and asked if we could print it out next week too.
Sometimes it is difficult for a child to express the real cause of their frustration. In this case, my writing was too hard to follow and this magnified all the other angst she felt about doing homework. This made it hard for me to spot the real problem – me. Hopefully, the next time we hit such a roadblock I’ll spot her clue the first time. I’m feeling confident since we both seem to understand where our communication over the situation broke down. She assured me that next time she will try to focus on the real problem to make it easier on me. And she promised to use a bigger font.
Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks (Flickr)