Q: My fourth-grade son constantly asks intelligent, in-depth questions as he is doing his homework. How do I keep him on task without inhibiting his serious quest for deeper understanding? The problem is that he takes 2-3 hours to complete homework. I immensely like both my son's teachers, but it seems his homeroom teacher sends a lot of busywork home — repetitive, mindless things I don't feel he needs. Talking to her didn't seem to help.
A: Fourth-grade students don't usually spend 2-3 hours on homework. You might begin by asking some other parents in your son's class how much time their children typically spend. I'm guessing it will be less time. There are some repetitive "drill" type assignments that most children have to complete in primary grades; learning math facts and spelling words aren't necessarily the most exciting tasks. They can be foundational skills that can build confidence, or, if your son is already competent in these skills, they can be overkill. Either way, children may claim they are "boring".
If your son isn't already fast and competent at these skills, he needs practice, and you can describe them as valuable exercise for his brain, similar to football players doing boring pushups, which are important exercises for their bodies. Once you convince him of their value, you can use a timer and make a game out of the exercises, so he can learn to do them efficiently and well. Please don't sit by his side while he works, or he will slow down to enjoy your attention by distracting you with his in-depth and interesting questions. Ask him to save his good questions until after he's completed his work and plan some fun activity for when his work is done. That could help to motivate him to finish more quickly.
There are several other possible issues. If you've described the homework to your son as "busywork," and hopefully you haven't, he may assume he has your permission to avoid doing the work.
It is also possible that the work is far too easy for your son. You've indicated that you've talked to his teacher, and there hasn't been any change. She may not agree that he doesn't need the practice.
Requesting a school assessment of your son's skills may get the evidence you require to convince the teacher that he already knows the material. Sometimes the school psychologist or a special teacher can do this assessment, or you may need to request an evaluation by a private psychologist. In the process of having your son evaluated, it's possible you will discover he requires more challenging work and could use a grade or subject skip, or it's also possible that he is covering up an attention problem or learning disability and is having a serious struggle with his work. It's important to uncover the underlying issue for your son so this protracted homework doesn't turn into a long-term habit, procrastination or the beginnings of underachievement syndrome.
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Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.