Power Struggles with Children's Homework

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Our daughter's school sent home a list of math and reading skills to practice during the next few weeks so they don't have to review so much when school resumes. (She'll be in fourth grade.) We want to cooperate, but it's turning into a power struggle to get our daughter to sit down and do drills when her friends are outside having fun. If we push it, we worry that we'll turn her off to learning. What are your thoughts?

Even though you have a list of skills to help your daughter practice, I assume that doesn't mean that you have to do "drills" or worksheets. So how about trying a fresh approach, looking for ways to incorporate those skills into fun summertime activities? To make learning both fun and productive, try following these principles:

Seize the learning opportunities in everyday activities,

Take your cues from your child, building on what she likes to do,

Emphasize discovery, not drudgery,

Become your child's partner in learning,

The particular activities you do with your daughter will depend on the specific skills on the list from her school. But here are a few activities that should help you get started.

Cook together, letting your daughter read the recipe and measure ingredients. This combines both reading and math skills. To make the task more challenging, have her double the recipe!

When you go grocery shopping, give your daughter a special assignment, such as choosing three snacks that add up to less than $5--or finding the best value on cereal or frozen pizza.

Let her invite her friends over and set up a treasure hunt, with written clues leading the way to a special prize.

Plan an outing to your local art museum. Stop first in the gift shop to buy postcards of works of art in the museum's collection, then have your child find the painting to match the postcard. Read about the artist and talk about it together.

Play board games that involve spelling, adding or problem-solving.

Make a craft project together, encouraging your daughter to read the directions and follow them carefully.

In the car, have your daughter follow along on a map and direct you to your destination.

Work together to make a photo journal of favorite activities you and your family have done this summer. Let your daughter write the captions--great practice on writing and spelling.

Think together about questions you've always wanted to ask, then search for answers on the Internet. Follow your daughter's natural interests and curiosity, and join her in using reading skills to learn about new and exciting topics.

And, of course, read, read, read--together, for fun. Lie on a blanket in the shade and take turns reading pages in a good mystery; go to the library to find the latest book by your child's favorite author; read the funnies in the morning paper together; or turn a familiar story into a screenplay and use your video camera to make a movie.

No doubt you and your daughter can come up with many more creative ideas on your own. The challenge is to help your daughter see the many ways her newly developing academic skills can open the door to fun and adventure. Ultimately, that's a more effective way to practice skills than worksheets and drills--and a wonderful way to keep her love of learning alive.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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