If someone had asked me, so, Joe, getting kids to do their homework is pretty easy, right? I would have said, sure, you bet, easy-peasy
Here’s how I imagined it.
Me: Time for homework!
Keen boy: Superwonderfulfantastic!
Me: Ok, you have your books?
KB: You bet I do.
Me: Ok, you have at it and I’ll be here reading a book while you learn.
KB: I love learning.
Me: We all do. Hey, before you start, can you get me a beer?
KB: In a frosted mug?
Me: Why not?
Of course, it didn’t quite go that way.
It happened quite by accident. It wasn’t like the youngest, age 7, told me he had homework, but I found it in his workbook. I guess he hoped with his mom taking his older brother skiing, homeword did not apply.
But there were 3 assignments. 3!
1) Read 15 minutes – ok, totally doable.
2) Practice subtraction – What? How? What constitutes ‘practice’, one question, twenty, a thousand?
3) Study an animal – What animal? Study? How?
Naturally, being new to this, I asked the youngest. Naturally, being 7, he first tried to say he didn’t have homework. Then he tried to say he’d done it. Kind of. Sort of. Then, when faced with the workbook clearly prescribing homework, he promised to do it after playing on the computer. Or after the world ends. Or something like that.
“Nope,” I said. “We do it now.”
Finally, cornered, he asked if he could wear his hockey goalie gear while he did homework. Apparently, it would help him think.
Hmmm. Why not? I mean, I write better when I’m in my underwear. And drunk.
So I said, “Sure.”
But what did we have to do?
Foolishly, I asked if there was a book. You know, maybe a book about Rhinos?
“A book?” He asked it like I used a word from the 1st century. A word like dial-up.
“Yes, a book. You know, made of paper.Lots of words inside. The thing you usually hit your brother with.”
“Oh. A book. No.”
So, while he put on his pads and chest protector, I interrogated him about his homework, “So, like, uhm, do you have to do a 400 page thesis on the destruction of the rhinoceros’s natural habitat due to geothermal fluctuations ?”
“Or do you have to do a crayon drawing of a what a rhinoceros crossed with a shark would look like?”
“I don’t think so.”
But, after a barrage of questions, I finally got the idea that he had to learn a few facts about Rhinos. I left the whole subtraction thing for later.
So I suggested we do what I would do when it comes to research. Go online.
Perhaps not surprisingly, he did not know how to spell rhinoceros. Perhaps, surprisingly, neither did I. Luckily though, google is google-smart and realised what I was trying to look for – Videos about Rhinoceroses attacking each other, attacking elephants, attacking tour buses and, I’m sure if we looked hard enough, there would be one of them attacking a crocodile or playing hockey or skydiving!
But despite how entertaining those videos were, after watching 5 of them, it began to dawn on me that this was not actually educational.
So I typed in ‘Rhinos for kids’ and wham-bang-bingo-wow, a whole host of sites popped up, all filled with amazing Rhinoceros facts. Now, sure he could impress his teacher the next day by telling who had won, the elephant or the rhino, but isn’t it better to know where the darn things come from? How much they can weigh? And that a white rhino is, in fact, grey?
Not to mention the fact that there are terrible people who kill them only for their horns!
He read out all the facts and I wrote them down the ones he thought were cool. In hindsight I have no idea why I didn’t get him to write them down, but whatever, it got done. A whole white page of paper was filled with “Well, actually, did you know…?” facts.
Then we moved on to subtraction, and what should I find, but a website that has math questions for all ages and grades. Just fill in the answers and see if they’re right.
The youngest, being who he is, immediately went to grade 11. (This is the same kid who thinks he can out muscle a hockey ball from me.) Anyway, we both stared at the first question, a complex array of sines and cosines and satanic looking symbols (I think I recognized pi).
We both blinked at the screen in complete and utter confusion.
“Maybe we should try grade 2,” I suggested, as much for my benefit as his. I mean, hey, I wasn’t that keen on trig when I had to do it and most of what I learned died when I watched Home Alone 3 and it killed over a billion brain cells..
Thankfully the grade 2 site I could manage. Am I smarter than a 5th grader? Prob not, but I got the 2nd graders beat. Thank God.
The site turned out to be fantastic and we whizzed through all the questions, the youngest getting better and better. We even tried some complex grade 3 math, which I am pleased to say, I largely understood. He did not.
However, we finished so quickly that we still had time play a little hockey, then with one of us sweating and exhausted, we read a story about kids trapped in a minecraft world before he quietly (much to my surprise) went to sleep.
I have to confess that I felt spectacularly pleased with myself. I’d discovered the hidden homework assignment, I’d gotten him to sit and learn something (retain it, who knows?) and I’d even managed to get him interested in trying something even harder.
Is that so wrong?