A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Homework Blues: Motivating the Unmotivated Child

I've been having a tough time with the almost 9 year old with school stuff -- more so this year than in previous years. When she turned 1, I couldn't wait for her to get to school in the hope that things would become easier. Of course that was a myth. Somethings may change for the better but other things get harder... and depending on the child, it can get a lot harder before one sees a glimmer of hope.

I am wrestling with many issues because the world that I grew up in is a lot different from the one that she's in. While I would never suggest that I was a diligent child, I did usually get the job done. I grew up in Singapore where academic excellence was the holy grail for every single person and the ticket to vast employment opportunities in an extremely competitive environment. It is drummed into every child from the moment they are in kindergarten that academic achievement is EVERYTHING. Granted it's an extreme worldview and not one that I would recommend wholesale application of but in that kind of context, I did learn a thing or two about work habits and work ethics.
So the almost 9 year old is now in Grade 4 and I think she's really feeling the heat this year. Grade 4 is in many ways quite a jump from Grade 3 and for a child that wanders in a Dreamland 80% of the time, it is pure torture. So much so that she's been practising assignment avoidance to her own detriment, at home and in class. I don't expect homework time to be a barrel of laughs but neither the 2 hour root canal job it often turns out to be.
Yeah, it's pretty shocking. And it isn't just happening at home.

I had a long chat with the class teacher the day before the school holidays and it was like hearing reverberations from the other side of the mountain. While that was depressing on a certain level, I was also relieved that it wasn't me having unrealistic expectations.

I don't think she has ADD or ADHD or any other anagramic learning disorder but she has confessed to me that she's very easily distracted by objects around her (sharpener, eraser, little objects on her desk etc), the tiniest squeak or anything around her that's moving. So I've come up with a couple of things I'm hoping will work long term.

I've instituted a monetary reward system in place of pocket money. Initially, this was something I really didn't want to do for philosphical reasons but it's giving her some degree of motivation as I'm now able to get her to pick up after herself and help with vaccuuming. I have also used a kitchen timer in tandem with that strategy just so that she doesn't take one hour doing a 10 minute job. I'll probably end up giving her her own timer so I can keep mine in the kitchen.

I've been doing the rounds on Google just to get a few ideas. This, this and this looks immediately helpful. Apparently fish oil helps helps with brain functions as well.

But I need to change too. I've been really negative and I don't think that's helped.


  1. Hi Lilian, we went through something similar when our son was in Year 5. In our case though I felt it was the unrealistic expectations of the teacher (and as I am a trained teacher myself, I think my views are quite reasonable!). She had the kids doing a major project each week in addition to homework. Our son needed much help with these projects to the point where my husband and I would joke "what mark did we get for our homework today?!". After a few weeks we decided it was time our son "flew solo" and did his own project. Would you believe the teacher refused to mark it as she said (and I quote): "It wasn't up to his usual standard". So I went and had a chat to the teacher and told her that actually, THIS project was perhaps the most accurate representation of what our son could achieve ON HIS OWN. My hubby and I have already finished school and felt we didn't need to do homework any more!!!

    She soooooo didn't get it. When I asked why there had to be so much homework, and such a high level was expected (incidentally this was a private school), her comment was along the lines of "Well at least they will end up with good jobs"!!!! I ask you! All we wanted to do was get our little fella through Year 5 - Uni, careers etc were a loooooonnnggg way away!!!

    At the end of that term, we changed schools. Not totally because of this reason, but it sure had a lot to do with it.

    Good luck with motivating your daughter!!! I know how hard it can be!!!

  2. Appreciate your comments... Do you think private schools expect more from their pupils? I ask only because I used to tutor high school kids and the ones that went to private school read far more difficult books and were given more difficult assignments.

  3. I can only go by what we have experienced ... but yes, definitely, even in primary school.

  4. PS which is great if your child is academically inclined but a burden if they are not :-(


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