Navigating a Brave New School World

A few minutes after we visited our oldest son’s kindergarten classroom and met his teacher this summer he asked me a question:

“Daddy, where were all the toys?”

I informed him, sadly that the days of playtime, making crafts and goofing off in preschool were over. He was sad. So was I.

Thus began our foray into the world of sight words, basic math and homework. Lots and lots of homework. This isn’t the kindergarten that I remember. Heck, this isn’t the kindergarten that any of us remember. There are expectations, tests and a sense that even at this young and impressionable there are gains to be measured and weighed. It’s slightly overwhelming on one hand and gratifying on the other.

My son informed us that if he fails to write his letters the way that he is instructed to, his teacher will crumple up his paper and toss it into the garbage. That seems a touch dramatic and heavy-handed but we’ve been impressed by his dedication to his writing and he’s already been congratulated on improving his handwriting and letter formation in just the first 6 weeks of school.

There is also a tremendous emphasis placed on reading comprehension where children don’t merely listen to a story. They point out the setting, characters, action and understand the theme. It’s heady stuff for a 5-year-old but I like the goal of helping our children see connections and use their brain to interpret and understand what’s going on beyond the words they hear.

Our biggest fear before school began was homework. Our son has not been a child who readily accedes to our demands or is in any rush to walk away from his toys or favorite tv show to do work. But again, we’ve been surprised. I’m not sure if it’s his desire to please us, his teacher or compete with his classmates, but our son has come home from school each Friday with a homework list for the following week that we have tackled within a day or two.

More than homework though, are the expectations placed on parents. It’s clearly not enough any more to simply drop your child off at school and expect the teachers to educate your child. That thinking is so 1970’s or 1980’s when I was in school. We are surrogate teachers at home. It’s expected that our child will complement his classwork with work at home, whether it be learning sight words, practicing basic skills on the computer or working on writing his name.

To meet those demands my wife and I started putting some strict guidelines in place in our home:

Homework gets done correctly. There are no cutting corners when it comes to homework. If something is not done to our liking, then he must do it again. This isn’t about being mean. This is about teaching our son to take the time to complete his work correctly so that he learns not to cut corners in the future. If he takes pride in his work, he’ll learn more, do better in school and feel better about his effort no matter the outcome.

We sit with him but don’t do the work for him. It can be painful to watch a 5-year-old try to write words or try to decipher a simple math question. But what good would we do him if we simply told him the answer? None, whatsoever. Our only option is to guide him, answer his questions and show him that we are invested in his education by being with him during his homework time.

Time to relax first. He can relax after school and have a snack but shortly after, the homework begins. We believe there is a period of time after school where our son needs to decompress. It’s a long day and he is still acclimating to kindergarten. We allow him to come home, relax, play with his little brother for a bit or watch a quick tv show. But after that, it’s time to work. And there’s no wavering.

Schedule the other stuff. We read to our children daily and ask follow up questions about the story, since that is the new normal. We pull out the ring of sight words each day or every other day and, it we’re busy, we’ll take them on car rides with us or to activities to work on them during downtime.

We make a big deal out of his accomplishments. We believe it’s important for our son to feel like his efforts are paying off. So, if he gets a positive word from his teacher or if we notice that he has stepped up his effort recently, we make a big deal out of his achievements. Conversely, if he’s not putting in the time and care that we expect, he has to step it up and we have no problem telling him so.


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About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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