Homework. Does that word not make anyone’s eyes roll and a small groan involuntarily escape from your throat? Well, to be fair, I never had that reaction to homework. I was what is known in the trade as a girly swot when I was at school. I wasn’t the brightest, the fastest, the loudest (I know, hard to believe that one), the tallest, the smallest. I was just… there. But I did work hard, because I loved school, and loved homework. Or rather hated the idea of being crap, ergo I worked hard. Which by default probably made me the nerdiest. But me and my pencil case were quite happy in Nerdom, and we should probably leave them there, with their colour-coded exercise books and sticky-back plastic covered homework diary, as I am starting to sound like a right weirdo…
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, homework. Not that I think it is called homework anymore. Like most things in education since I was there with my neat little plaits and black patent shoes (I really need to stop mentioning my nerdy past) everything is now called something else. Like parents’ evenings. I don’t know what parents’ evenings ever did wrong, but they have been expelled from the educational lexicon and are now roaming the streets, probably gleefully Snapchatting pictures of themselves holding their ASBOs. These days, you attend a ‘consultation’, as if you are going to be fitted for a dental brace.
I believe homework is now called ‘parent-supported learning’, although this might just be for reception year children and as a hint to parents that their child’s education is not the sole responsibility of the teachers and would you please stop playing Candy Crush and get involved, and that means now please – don’t make me count to five, no put down that bloody phone and come here. After all, not even the nerdiest girl in Swottingham would spontaneously do her homework aged five. (well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t). And parent-supported learning, it turns out, when translated into Parentese means ‘parent-enforced-with-gritted-teeth learning’.
When E started to bring home books and word sheets to practise, I admit, I felt a frisson of excitement. The inner-nerd was roused from its long slumber and opened one eye, looking for a nice long list of spellings to practise. I was glad I was going to be an active part of my son’s learning. I have a love of reading that I found at an early age and I was keen for him to experience the wonder of being able to step through the cover of a book and be immersed into the landscape of someone else’s imagination. Okay, so Sid’s Nits was probably not the landscape that dreams are made of and where imaginations are ignited, but one digraph at a time. (Oh yeah. Get me with the Jolly Frigging Phonics Lingo. I am Phonics Mum. Hear me roar. That’s r-or-r).
And some days, when I mention that it’s time read his book, he smiles, and we sit down, and he reads the cover, and all is well with the world. Granted, I don’t find it the most relaxing of activities. Firstly, there is all that bloody fidgeting. Bloody hell, I never realised what a sodding fidget my son is. Before the first page has even been turned, he has slid off his seat, or turned his legs to the side, or started to sway back and forth, or sometimes all three. Then he stands up, and as he sounds out a word that he doesn’t know, he rocks back and forth sideways like a bear I once saw at London zoo whose long-term captivity in a place far away from home had sent him utterly doolally. And each time he leans to his left, he bumps me. But, he is reading, and that is the main thing, I think, as I grit my teeth and brace myself for another collision with the human metronome. I think about stapling his trousers to the chair, or sellotaping his cuffs to the table, and then I realise he has clambered onto my lap so that I am now attempting to read over his shoulder whilst my face undergoes the equivalent of a chemical peel courtesy of his brillo-pad-esque hair. But, on good, days, we get all the way through to the end and I am left with the knotty task of writing something intelligent, insightful and informative in his reading record, tiptoeing along that very fine line of not being too complimentary (because you can imagine the teacher reading it and sniggering at your inability to spot that you child is actually a total dunce at reading) and yet at the same time, not too damning, (because I have to read what I write to E and I don’t want him to know that I think he should really have grasped the difference between and b and a d by now). Somehow it feels inappropriate to do what I really want to do which is to give him a mark out of ten on his fidgeting innovation: ‘E has found he can fidget using only his tongue and eyebrows, which I was really rather impressed with’ so I finally write something both complimentary yet faintly damning to please everyone involved.
And then there’s the bad days, where it is a close run thing as to who hates doing the homework more. From the outset, I can tell it is not going to go well. First, there is the Swap Negotiation. ‘Can I do it later?’ ‘No’. ‘Can you read it to me?’ No. ‘Can I watch Scooby Doo instead?’. ‘Have a guess…’.
This is closely followed by the Begrudging Sit, where no attempt at all is made to look at the book, and then the Extreme Fidgeting kicks in, where I am lucky not to incur a flail injury, culminating in the ‘I have forgotten absolutely everything I have been taught about reading’ reading. I sit, chewing on the table edge, wondering if I should abandon the Homework Ship altogether. Forcing the issue is just going to give the whole homework thing added stress, but letting him off the hook… well, it’s too nice for my liking. So on we sail, zig zagging our way through the choppy Sea of Sulks, getting splashed in the face by tricky words that he refuses to remember even though they appear twenty eight times in the space of twelve pages and with both of starting to feel queasy.
But in the true spirit of the old adage that ‘grumpy children necessitate mothers’ inventions’, I have enough of the slowly deflating vessel that is the Homework dinghy and make up a word game, involving all the words he is struggling with, written on big bits of paper, laid on the floor in a circle with my son standing in the middle. It is at this juncture that I start to worry I have just created a very real manifestation of a reading nightmare for him, trapped by ten menacing, indecipherable words, but I am slightly high on marker pen fumes so I continue. I say the word, he has to jump onto it. Hey presto. It is the perfect Fidget Arse reading game. We play for ages, and he only slips over three times, bangs his head once and stubs his big toe on the dishwasher a few times. Now, I kind of like homework again. And it opens up a whole new opportunity of reading record comments for me: ‘E did great today, and once we had returned from A&E he still remembered the word ‘said’. Well done and don’t touch that bandage!’
SOUND THE BEGGING KLAXON! I am genuflecting as I type, which is not easy, I can tell you. I can barely see the screen and I think I have a piece of Star Wars Lego under my right kneecap. But I am in this position to ask, to beg, you to place a little vote for Mothering Frights on the MAD Parenting Blog Awards. Hop on over to www.the-mads.com once you have copied this address: www.motheringfrights.wordpress.com and it couldn’t be simpler. Well, not voting could be simpler, but that would mean I have fractured my knee cap for nothing, wouldn’t it?