Monday, September 28, 2015

are you smarter than a 5th grader?

Does anyone remember the show, "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader" that was on several years ago?   Actually, in pulling the link for this blog, I see that it's still on the air.   Maybe the reason I don't know it's still on the air is because we never seem to have a spare moment to do things like watch television.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blog post.

Words nearly escape me as I try to convey the feeling of supervising homework with fifth grade triplets.  Maybe it's a function of moving from one school district to what feels like a much more challenging new one; or maybe it's the academic jump from fourth to fifth grade.  Or maybe it's the transition from elementary school to intermediate school, with increased responsibility and workload.

All I know is that the amount of homework has gone up significantly this year, and my odds of winning BIG TIME have gone up should I ever be on a show about fifth grade curriculum, that is still apparently on the air.


To manage this considerable spike, I've made every attempt to pull what "tools" I can from my "toolbox" to help our children on the home front.  In my professional career which spans more than 20 years, I've directed global teams of people working on multi-million dollar projects with a common end point.  We've successfully navigated obstacles with efficiency and ease because of what I consider to be my outstanding ability to be patient, organized, and focused.

But all of those stellar people and project management skills that I so aptly possess in a professional setting, are gone with an audible - WHOOSH - the moment I try to help my 10-year old children with their homework.  The instantaneous feeling of being overwhelmed, outnumbered, and desperate surpasses even the days of my precious children's infancy.

(Insert a picture of me pulling my hair by its roots.)


The kids are trying to understand what they need to do, and we're trying to understand what they need to do.  We often resemble the blind leading the blind.   My theory that a child should only spend 10 minutes per grade on their homework, so in the case of our children = 50 minutes per night, is sufficient for their math and language arts.

But not also for their science and social studies. 

Tonight for example, we spent more than two hours on their social studies trying to access a website and complete two assignments, before we received an e-mail from their teacher saying in effect, "As a result of the numerous emails received tonight, I just wanted to clarify that all the children needed to do was log on and demonstrate that they could access the information."

Wha?! Who?? 

Most nights, we'll start working on home work by 5 PM, after the kids get off the bus at 4:15 ... and our homework marathon will span until 8 PM; sometimes it resumes at 6:30 in the morning before the kids leave for school at 7:45.  The roughly one hour of home work per night generally translates to one hour PER child, which means THREE HOURS for us.

It would be so much easier if I could just do their homework for them.  I'd get all three done in less than 30 minutes.  But NO.  Apparently, that's not OK and totally frowned upon, as evidenced by my children furiously erasing even the slightest marks that I make on their paper.

We need to teach them and teaching a fifth grader who is also your child, has to be the hardest thing in the world because as far as our children are considered, we just don't get it.   Yes Mom and Dad, we KNOW you went to school for more than 20 years each, but school has obviously CHANGED since you were a student.

And yet .... they still insist we help them!!


On those nights we have soccer, or try to do something crazy like make and eat dinner, we'll wrap up earlier and the kids will finish it, before bed time.  But when I say "finish it" they usually sit staring at their paper until Charlie and I will stand over their shoulder and work them through it.

I wonder, but am still not ready to let them completely sink (although it's coming soon), would they get anything done if we weren't there prodding them along?

Here's an excerpt from tonight, and yes - I honestly promise that all of these urgent questions came at me in the exact same moment and every one of them expected an immediate response:

"MOM!  How many times does seven go in to sixty three .... MOM! how do you spell "environment" ... MOM MOM MOM MOM what's my log-in password?"  

To the first child I handed an arabacus and said, "FIGURE IT OUT."  To the second I handed a dictionary and said, "STARTS WITH AN E". And to the third I said, "Your guess is as good as mine, ask your teacher tomorrow."

That was just one barrage of questions. More came and kept on coming.   Meanwhile, there's little Henry and I didn't even have the stamina to help him, so put his older sibling on the task.


For as much as I want to help our children succeed, three hours of homework a night for Charlie and I is NOT sustainable.  This is a loaded question, but doesn't it seem insane that 10-year olds are in school for nine hours a day and then spend another several hours at night doing MORE school work?

Where is the balance in life?!  

And more importantly, how do other people do this, especially those who have multiple after school events happening each week? Do you sleep??

And for other parents with similarly aged children, does it feel like 95% of the battle is getting them to take responsibility and sit down and DO the work?

At the risk of not working with our children to do their absolute best, I'm ready to set a timer and tell them they've got ONE HOUR to get their work done - on their own - and if they don't get it done, then oh well.  Pay better attention in class, and be more efficient at home.

If we have to repeat fifth grade so be it.   Although, it makes me wonder, is my temptation to keep helping them and sacrifice the rest of our lives, a function of my concern that they will not be successful in school and will fall behind, or am I worried that I'll be dubbed as a deadbeat parent who doesn't keep their child on the crest of the academic wave?

After some reflection on that thought, I know it's because I don't want them to fall behind and feel lost in school ... I've been there and it's awful.

Still. We've got to do something, and soon. 

Charlie and I are dying over here by decimals and fractions, which can be volumetrically measured in a graduated cylinder, and geographically positioned just west of the Prime Meridian and north of the equator.