Homework as Insight

Part 5 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #5 PROBLEM ~ Homework: keep your eyes on the prize.

Most articles about homework offer helpful tips such as:

  • Expect your child to spend some time in additional learning every evening
  • Be interested in your child’s learning, but not intrusive
  • Allow your child to enjoy the rewards/consequences of his or her own work (don’t do it for them!)

I want to add a new one:

  •  Notice when your child’s homework seems fun to him or her.

If we consider the real prize of homework to be the opportunity it offers to see your child engaged in the process of learning, then noticing when they are happy is important for 2 reasons.

  1. When your child is joyfully engrossed in something it means she is using her gifts. She has tapped into some quality she was born to express. Naming this with your child will go a long way toward helping her think about her life’s work.
  2. If you really unpack what is going on when your child is deeply engaged, you’ll get some simple, easy-to-apply tips for how to help her in other subjects that might not be as obviously engaging to her.

OK, let’s bring this to life. True story from my home.

One evening when our son Charlie was about 14, his history homework was to create a political cartoon highlighting a theme from the American Civil War. He was in heaven! He loved researching the key incidents in the war; he adored trying out quick cartoon likenesses for the main actors; he loved looking at old political cartoons to see how they tackled the issues and so on.  Perfect storm for Charlie.

To raise a concept my colleague from The Robert Street Clinic Kyle MacDonald introduced on Radio Live last Saturday  Charlie had fallen happily into a state of FLOW, the 3 conditions of which are:

  1. The activity needs a clear set of goals and progress (research themes, create cartoon)
  2. The task needs clear and immediate feedback (is this cartoon accurate and funny?)
  3. The task needs to be “just right” in terms of not too hard / not too easy (Charlie saw himself as good at both History and Art)

So, as Charlie’s parents we saved his art work, encouraged him to keep drawing, told the teachers how much he loved visual assignments, sought out additional art courses, rented historical movies and tried to make connections back to art and history in his other subjects.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about FLOW, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – the Hungarian psychologist  whose research into happiness and creativity inspired the term FLOW  – you might check out Kyles’ blog.

PS: Charlie went on to study History at Willamette University in the USA. As a sophomore he won a Carson Award to create a graphic novel and is currently working on several artistic commissions.

2 thoughts on “Homework as Insight

  1. Lisa Tener

    This is so inspiring Gemma. So many times we parents stress about homework. I am going to look for the fun in it. And I do remember a class project a couple weeks ago where my son had to draw a village with different buildings and aspects representing the parts of a cell (for science class). My 6-year-old liked the poster so much, he made a version of his own.

  2. gemmautting Post author

    Dear Lisa,
    Wonderful to hear from you – especially as you are somewhat focused on the next epic storm to hit the east coast! I love the idea of your son’s science class poster. Gosh – this could be a clue into so many fun aspects of his future self – right? Making distinctions, making connections, making the actual representations (the drawing) , good ole Biology…so much more. Yes, once we stop stressing about the obvious – like deadlines and grades – and simply watch our children encounter their world, the journey becomes so much more enlivening all around! I very much appreciate your support.


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