Lisa Takes A Break From Her Homeworknow

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This post comes to us from early childhood writer/speaker/wise woman Heather Shumaker, author of It’s OK Not to Share. Tomorrow her new book comes out: It’s OK to Go Up the Slide , which includes Free-Rangey chapters like Safety Second, It’s OK to Talk to Strangers, and Ban Elementary Homework. It even offers sample scripts and ideas for how to opt out of the homework-heavy culture,  along with her renegade views on technology, kindergarten, princesses and more. Her books, blog and podcast are at: www.heathershumaker.com.

What I appreciate so much about Heather is how she sees that the more we parents are expected and required to do for our kids, the less they see that we trust and believe in them. Resist that culture and everyone gets more freedom and respect. – L.

Sign your kid’s homework? Forget it! by Heather Shumaker

“You have to sign my spelling list.”

I looked at my first-grade son blankly. A parent signature for spelling words? I peered at the prominent blank line. This tiny act collided with everything I believed about supporting a child’s learning.

Before this, I’d never heard of parents signing anything except field trip permission slips and report cards. Welcome to the new world of jailer time for parents and kids.

Requiring a parent signature on homework papers – anything from reading logs, spelling, daily planners and online portals to music practice sheets – sends a clear message to kids: We don’t trust you. We don’t trust you really did the work. We don’t trust you care about your own learning. What’s more: Your parent is your Homework Patrol Cop.

The signature mindset sets up this relationship: “It’s my parents’ job to see I do my work.” You can see where this goes. The child slides into the role of Chief Grumbler, a kid who learns not to start assignments until she has been thoroughly nagged. The parent becomes the Homework Patrol Cop, and likely stays that way until the child is through high school.

This is a role I knew I never wanted to start. Our family supports learning but bans homework for kids in the elementary school years. When kids are old enough to get homework, they are old enough to handle it themselves and take charge of their learning.

If parent signatures bother you, try explaining your concerns to the teacher. This got our family out of signatures successfully for many years. “We’re involved. Trust us. We’ll read his daily planner. Signing it goes against the values of responsibility we’re trying to instill in our family.” Some teachers even stop insisting on signatures for the whole class when one family speaks up. If schools insist on a signature, suggest the right one. The child should be the one who signs her own reading log, not the adult.

Watch out, though. The punishment for a parent not signing papers might be that the child has to miss recess. Kids know enough to say “that’s not fair!” but it may take longer for adults to see the logic.

Whether it’s “sign here” lines or other issues like recess policies or homework in kindergarten (yes, and even homework given in Extended Day after-school care!), decide what kind of relationships you want. If you don’t want to become Homework Patrol Cop, don’t sign up for the job.

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What a crazy world that would tell kids they can only go one direction!

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How My School Helped Me Get Straight A’s, Lose Weight, and Forgive My Drug-Addict Birth Mom

Kim Wilborn, 13, is an eighth grader at Perspectives Middle Academy in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood in Chicago. She will enter Perspectives High School of Technology this fall. Full profile →

Perspectives Charter School isn’t just a school for me. It has given me the foundation to open up my heart. It turned me into a straight-A student, helped me forgive my drug addict birth mom, helped me live a healthier lifestyle and gave me a path to a brighter future.

Here’s how it happened.

I used to attend Langston Hughes Elementary School here in Chicago. In fourth grade, I ran with a bad crowd. Even though the school building was beautiful, it had a gate we would break to go outside and buy junk food. There were crack addicts nearby. When we were actually in school, we would yell and fight.

And I guess because my teachers thought that I was a bad kid, they didn’t pay attention to me. What they didn’t know was that I couldn’t accept learning my mother was a drug addict and was making bad choices in her life. It hurt me so much inside and I showed it by acting crazy.

My aunt, who is raising me, enrolled me into Perspectives Middle Academy for sixth grade to join my older brother and older sister so we could all go to the same school. I didn’t know multiplication or division. We always used calculators at Langston Hughes, but I never really understood how to think about math.

So when I came to Perspectives, I had so much to deal with.

And then I had an ethics class taught by Miss Plante, called A Disciplined Life. It changed me. We learned about how to improve our self-esteem, have good relationships, and take responsibility for ourselves.

But it wasn’t until we had a lesson on forgiveness and Nelson Mandela that I understood what I needed to do. Even though he was in prison for 27 years, Nelson Mandela forgave the people who put him in there. He had dinner with one of his prison guards. He had lunch with the man who wanted him to get the death penalty. He was not bitter.

I didn’t want to be, either.

A Disciplined Life opened me up, so I decided to talk about my birth mom. After I did, other kids came to me with their problems. We were so emotional, so real with each other. We cried. You don’t know what other people are going through.

Late one night, I chose to live out the lessons I learned from Nelson Mandela about forgiveness. I went to see my birth mom at a mental health facility. It was midnight, after visiting hours, but I knew I needed to see her.

At that point, I hadn’t seen her in five years. I told her, “Kim, I forgive you,” and I felt a heavy burden lifted off me.

Running With My Heart

I like how the school lets you focus on yourself, push yourself to do new things, and overcome challenges. My life has been filled with them, but I didn’t know I could get past them until Perspectives showed me how strong I really was.

I was almost 200 pounds when I arrived at Perspectives, and I was encouraged to join the track team. Miss Walsh, the coach, told me something I’ll never forget:

“You have to keep going. When your legs get tired, you have to start running with your heart.”

I’ve lost a lot of weight since then. I have the willpower to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

I now have a 4.0 GPA. At my old school, I never got homework. That all changed when I came to Perspectives. Because they knew I was so behind in math, they caught me up through a website called XtraMath. I got lots of individual attention, and my teachers always believed in me even when I didn’t. They never let me give up.

I get lots of homework now but it’s like when I started track: the more I’m used to it, the more I can do. My teachers always have high expectations of me.

There’s so much for me to look forward to in the future. I would like to attend college and then operate a safe house for runaway teens and own a fashion company.

I’m happy for myself. I don’t think I could have said that before I enrolled in Perspectives. Three years later, I’ve watched myself grow. And I will continue growing with my heart wide open.

Click Below to Watch Kim’s Story

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