Written by Doctor G

4th Grader Drowns in Homework!

My daughter is starting 4th grade in a couple of weeks.  At our school, 4th grade is the year they really pile on the homework.  And I’ve heard from other parents that this year the teachers don’t remind all the time, they just give the homework and then expect it to be turned in without a lot of prompting.  My daughter is NOT organized.  She’s a dreamer and forgets stuff all the time.  What can we do to help her succeed this year?  I want to email her teachers and let them know that she needs extra help with this, and that they should be gentle with her.  Do you have any suggestions?

Marcie, in Provo, Utah

A: Fourth grade is often the year that kids are truly shocked by what is expected of them.  There is a very worthwhile discussion about how much homework is reasonable, and how you can start a conversation at your children’s school to look at the academic research that shows that homework in elementary school usually does not improve academic achievement.

In the meantime, there is homework.  Homework offers us as parents the opportunity to prepare our kids for all the times in life where they will be asked to do something hard.

Parenting this year is all about avoiding big bald patches where we have yanked out our hair.

Marcie, it sounds like you have a good understanding of your daughter’s challenges in this area.  Now you need to give her tools, skills and motivation.  These are the keys to helping our kids adapt the blueprint they were born with to the demands of real life.  These are the keys for her succeed in the long run.  This year is a great time to start.

Tools:  Your daughter needs a central clearinghouse for EVERYTHING that is expected of her at school.  Some kind of datebook or assignment notebook in which she writes down her homework, her projects, what day she has to bring her musical instrument for band, when she needs gym clothes, which days she has hot lunch, the days of her soccer practice or art class, birthdays, obscure holidays in small countries, really EVERYTHING she wants to remember.  She can use different colors, stickers, or a pencil for it all – it’s best if she picks out the actual supplies.  This needs to be with her all day at school and come home every night.

Skills:  The skills one needs for keeping track of all this stuff are complex.  Writing it all down and remembering to look at it each day.  If you are going to contact her teachers, I suggest asking them to remind her to use this new tool.  For home, she needs to build the habit of looking at this assignment calendar and making decisions based on what she has written down.  This is TOUGH!  It will take weeks or months for this to become usual for her.   And even then, she’ll forget sometimes.

Motivation:  With luck, your dreamer already wants to succeed in school.  If not, you have to be creative.  Figure out some things she would like about being more motivated.  Perhaps she wants to start a birthday club for herself and classmates where they decorate each others’ lockers for their birthdays.  Or maybe there is an after school activity she wants to join and you’ve said she needs to stay on top of her homework for a few weeks first to prove she can handle it all.

You could just give her negative consequences if she doesn’t stay organized, but we are all more motivated for long-term change by rewards than punishments.

The trick as parents is to remember that our kids are building lifelong skills.  It will take a while, they will make strides and then slide backwards sometimes.  We are working against their developmental stage at this age when we ask them to be organized and in charge.  Some of us, like Marcie, are teaching our kids to do things contrary to their nature.  This is bound to be a rocky road.  The reason to try is that our kids will have a rockier road ahead if we don’t.

How do you handle your children’s need for organization?

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7 thoughts on “4th Grader Drowns in Homework!”

  1. Love this. I have worked with teachers before making sure everything is written down. We have homework hour at our house, come home, get a snack and then its homework time. I also have to stay in touch with the teachers non-stop. This year will be interesting as I will have 2 in school so I will keep these things in mind. I like planners and stickers!

    1. Thanks, Danielle! Communication with teachers is key in the younger grades. In the older grades I think it is a big challenge for us as parents to hand over that communication to our kids in the end of elementary school so that they are responsible for their own work by middle school.

  2. I am not a good one for advice here – I did my homework on the way back from school, and if I did not finish, I completed it on the way to school the next day. Now look what has become of me…

    Yes parents – give guidance but let the kids grow up. They will make mistakes, including not fulfilling all there schooling responsibilities, but the most important thing is that they turn into good people.

    Of course, make sure that things do not get too far off hand. If your daughter is “not organized” do not expect school to get her organized. I do not think you can get her organized. Give her tools so that she can learn to get organized. Therefore, I agree with Dr. G on this.

  3. Dr. G: Outstanding advice–and you cover the water front including graceful suggestions that perhaps the school MIGHT listen if you spoke to them nicely with research backed requests and that going for internal motivation might have better outcomes than coercive ones.
    You’re good.
    Everyone Else: follow Dr. G.

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