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November 26, 2008

The Third Grade Slump

5 Both of my daughters started kindergarten as enthusiastic learners. I remember both of their faces lighting up as they exclaimed "I have homework!" for the first time. Even after the newness wore off, they'd still want to show off their smarts as they moved into the first and second grades. Oh, sure, there was the morning madness of getting them up and dressed and all that fun stuff, but all in all they liked school. So when my oldest hit third grade, I was thrown completely off guard when all of a sudden, every mention of homework was met with tantrums. I really should've been better prepared this time with my youngest when she entered the third grade slump this year.

Sylvia, my oldest (now in 6th grade), would scream, throw fantastic tantrums, and in any way she could let the whole world know how much she hated homework. I'd offer assistance, but usually, she would scream at me, "NO! That's NOT the way the teacher did it!!!" Suddenly, instead of a nanny cam, I'd be wishing for a live stream video from her classroom, so I could use the same words, remind her of examples that took place in class. I'd take away privileges for not getting homework done.

The situation was made even more frustrating because sometimes, quite honestly, I found the homework stupid. One particular favorite was that each letter of each spelling word was to be written in a different color of crayon. That meant, with each letter, there was a choice to be made. Anyone who has spent time around 8-year-olds knows how long the task of decision-making can take them.

There seems to be a huge jump in expectations between 2nd graders and 3rd graders.  This  year, Riley has not just spelling words and math and reading every night, but vocabulary words along with Science on alternating nights.  Not to mention, the math has gone from simple addition and subtraction to geometry and multiplication. After spending her whole day at school, she's less than enthusiastic about doing the very same things again every night. And while I think the opportunity to review is helpful, it does get difficult for me to explain the value in doing it besides, "because you have to."

At our Back-to-School Night back when Sylvia was in 3rd grade, some parents started talking about the homework. We all felt a sense of relief that it was not just us, not just our children, but a majority of the families were having the same struggle every night. The teacher heard us, and lightened the load a little, but the homework challenges still weren't quieted for good.

Finally, I came upon the idea (I don't remember how) of using a timer. Sylvia was to do 15 minutes of homework, then she'd get a 5 or 10-minute break. The struggles didn't stop completely, of course, but it did help a great deal.

So now my youngest, Riley, has entered third grade this year. And while the teacher has lightened the homework load as well, we're still struggling. For one thing, she broke the timer. Many times, she knows the answer but there always seems to be "something shiny" to distract her. She wants to know what her sister's doing, what I'm making for dinner, what's going in her lunchbox, who called me, she needs to sharpen her pencil (they got an automatic pencil sharpener for their birthdays to cut down on that time-sucker)...Even with the tv off, and plenty of space and tools to get the homework done, it still doesn't get done. I say, "Riley, homework" an average of 47 times a night. And if I leave the room? Well, forget it.

I've taken away privileges, I've doled out consequences, I've sat down and talked, I've done what I can to make the homework interesting - we make our practice spelling tests into a Spelling Bee. She plays various characters who come up to spell the words. Her mistakes are few, and when she doesn't know, she works hard to get it ingrained in her head the right way. It's not that she's not even motivated to learn. She just hates homework. She'll check her answers with me, and still take forever to actually write it down. Once it took her twenty minutes to finish one word problem in Math - when we'd already gone over the answer!

Her teacher and I have emailed on occasion. We'll be talking at our parent-teacher conference in a week, but for now, we've decided the only answer left is to let her grades suffer. She has in the past enjoyed showing off her good report cards, so I'm hoping that a not-so-good one will have a motivating effect on her just to do it.(And there will be a new timer in her stocking this year.)

Basically what's keeping me sane now is seeing the difference in Sylvia from 3rd grade to her current 6th grade self. Now, I don't even have to remind her to do her homework. If it's not all done by the time we get home, she gets it out immediately and finishes usually before dinner is ready. She stays on task, and has routinely gotten good grades for the past two years. She'll ask me for help if she needs it, but most of the time, she just needs confirmation that she's on the right track.

I can only hope that, three years from now, I can say the same for her sister!

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