Homework. It’s a word most adults understand and accept, and one most children come to loathe. What exactly is homework? It is the work one does at home. More specifically, it’s the work the school chooses for the child to do at home. Why would school feel entitled to a child’s time outside of the school day? Surely the school can do its job of educating a child by keeping the child at school for six or more hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year? How dare a school think that what it deems important for the child’s after-school hours could be more important than how the family wants to spend its time together or even more important than how the child herself chooses to spend her time? After all, time is the only real commodity the child has, it’s her only valuable item, and it’s a finite item. There’s a limited supply of it for each person. So how has it come that in our culture we control so much of the child’s assets – his time and his schedule?
We’ve fallen in love with information. We’ve given it a value, we’ve assigned dollar signs to it, we reward it, we respect it, we sacrifice for it. We’ve even found ways to make it grow faster than ever before. We’ve been able to make it accessible to some and not to others. We’ve found ways to store it. We’ve made so much of it that no one can hold all of it. We’ve given it an air of mystery, and yet we trust it completely. We are living in the information age and one thing we want to give to our children is this valuable information. How can we give this to them? While a few of us think we can do this ourselves, most of us turn to the halls of education. It is here that we believe information dwells. But since there’s so much of it and so little time, we must not only use the school day to give this information to our children, we must also trade their after-school hours for this stuff. By doing this, we are assuring that our child will amount to something in this world because she will have acquired a lot of this information.
But folks, there are lots of kinds of knowledge, and so much of it isn’t in books or on disks, or even written down. It’s knowledge of the kind we have in our own beings; it’s our own sense of what’s true and real and valuable. All we have to do to access this kind of knowledge is to trust ourselves as human beings. When we do this, we free ourselves and our children to be more than just bearers or receivers of information. Then we can transform our concept and practice of “homework” into something of value for our children and even for ourselves.
Let’s look at how we can maximize the value of “homework” by making it something pleasant we do with our children, beginning with toddlers. I suggest that our school-related homework as parents of toddlers is to introduce books to our children, but not just any books. The books we use must be chosen with the toddler in mind. What is the toddler doing at this time of his life? He’s acquiring language, learning the names of things and the efficiency of words. So when we choose books for our toddlers, they should be simple books with pictures of real things that can be identified by the pictures and may even include a simple story line that can be read or told to the child, page by page. The work of the home is to introduce good books to the toddler so that the toddler’s interest is held by the book. The continued presence of the adult is vital. While the toddler may look at the books on his own, the real value of the book is experienced when the parent takes the child on his lap and lovingly wanders through the book with the child, using oral language all the time. This can be done for a few minutes several times a day with emphasis on looking at books just before getting ready for naps or bed time.
When the child becomes a preschooler, as parents our homework remains to foster the love of books. Only now the amount of time at a sitting increases to 15 or 20 minutes and the work is played out in the same way. The child sits comfortably on the adult’s lap or somehow is physically touching the adult to make that sensorial contact, and the adult now reads the story to the child. The books we offer to our children must meet very rigid standards to be acceptable for this homework. They must be beautiful, their pictures must be works of art, they must lure the child inward to their pages, and they must have a story that not only is interesting and will captivate the child, but that is written so a child can understand it without being demeaned by it. Care must be given in handling the books and the books must have a home where they stand safely and to where they are always returned. Books need loving treatment.
There’s a job we’re all doing for which none of us were trained. Not only are we unskilled, perhaps even inept, but many of us are content to fly by the seat of our pants as we work at this job and to be satisfied with whatever casual on-the-job training that happens to us. We may even accept advice or believe information from others who were likewise untrained. To make this scenario even worse, this job which we are content to do on the wing and without professional training is probably the most important job we’re ever going to have in our whole lifetimes. We wouldn’t let this happen to us in our regular job. Not only do we train for our professions, but we train for years to gain these understandings and skills. We even continue to train once we have the job by going to seminars or to special meetings. Sometimes experts are brought to our places of employment to further train us. And sometimes, we even quit or change these jobs for other ones we like better. Eventually we even retire from these types of jobs all together. Yet these jobs, as important as they are, mainly give us only tangible rewards. But for the job about which I’m talking you can never be fired and you can never retire from it. Furthermore, you have the potential to receive the greatest gifts life can offer from this occupation. What in the world is this job and how did this all happen to all of us?
Well, fellow parents, this job is called PARENTING, and most of us were tricked into it by Mother Nature herself. She used several techniques to achieve her aim of populating the earth with human beings. One way she enticed us into parenthood was by making the act of reproduction so attractive that few of us could resist it. She added another card to the game by making human babies so cute that some of us, primarily the females of our species, actually longed to do whatever was necessary to get one of them. Then, of course, some of us were doubly tricked because we became parents “by accident!” What we were doing had nothing to do with applying for the job.
While some of you may have had to “work” a little or a lot harder than others at becoming parents, probably most of us made the mistaken assumption that because almost everyone got this job of PARENTING without any apparent qualifications, indeed the job didn’t require any training. In fact, the job requires not only training of a lifetime, but patience unending, love the depth of oceans, kindness that knows no bounds, and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of the child. Suddenly this job that we all happened upon can be recognized for what it is, our opportunity to be more than we thought we could be. For what better thing can happen to a person than to be loved, really loved, by a child.
Hopefully this newsletter has caused you to think in new ways about your job and will serve as encouragement for you to commit to participating in our parent education programs. We are in the process of creating a parenting program which will offer classes for all of you. We look forward to working with you next year, with as many of you as will take these words seriously and enroll in the Center’s parenting program. Your children deserve your best job, and so do you!
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher