Thursday, October 22, 2015

But it's optional...

Homework is a source of friction in many families, and we are not immune to this. Let’s just say that learning to be organized about the homework’s location and completion is a skill that takes time to master.

But one source of friction I hadn’t really anticipated is what to do about optional problems.

My oldest son’s teacher gives weekly homework assignments, and often they have optional harder math problems. In general, my kid likes a challenge. However, when he handed me the homework this morning to sign, I noticed that he’d done all the required problems and none of the optional ones. I asked him about it and, as he has done in the past, he acted like I just didn’t get it. “Mom,” he said. “They’re optional.”

Which is true. Optional does mean that you don’t have to do them. Of course, I was the kind of kid who would have done the extra problems. My husband claims he would have made up extra problems beyond the extra problems just to do them. So what do we do when our kid wants to do exactly what is required and nothing more?

On one level, I get it. Homework isn’t particularly fun, and the problems aren’t so challenging that he really has to struggle with them. He creates his own challenges in terms of dreaming up characters and then creating whole timelines for their lives and their extended families’ lives. Indeed, in his timelines, he’s writing about someone who lives from 1837-1904, and will tell me how old this person was when various life events occurred, which is basically what the extra problems are too (3 or 4 digit subtraction).

I also recognize that my husband and I might benefit from chilling out a bit on the “above and beyond” front. I explained this situation to a fellow parent at a birthday party and she pointed out that my son was already well-versed in the 80-20 rule.

That said, I also told my son that doing none of the extra problems sent a message that he was simply not interested in efforts to do more challenging things. Whereas doing at least a few of the problems would be a show of good faith. It’s more a social message than anything else. We compromised on him doing 5 of them quickly at the breakfast table this morning.

What would you do?


nicoleandmaggie said...

We just told him they're not optional for him and he accepted that and does them. Of course, we also have to sign off on kids not doing optional homework so it isn't quite the same situation. I think I may have explained to him that some parents don't think their kids should have homework and some parents think their kids should have homework and this whole optional business was an attempt to make both sets of parents happy. Since the optional stuff is more interesting, he should do it. If it were repetitive busy work we would have signed off on him not doing it. He gets enough of that on khan academy (which is also "optional" but he enjoys the ipad time so whatever).

Space Trucker said...

Maybe you could see if your son could do some of the more challenging original problems, instead of some of the less challenging problems?

Unknown said...

I suggest that he does them, and explain why it is a good idea, but I don't insist. I feel like he gets enough homework as it is and I have mixed feelings about it, as numerous studies have shown doubtful benefits of homework.

ARC said...

If the optional problems are easy for him, I assume the "regular" homework is even easier? Is it possible to get him harder work overall? I agree with the "social" show of effort, but I wonder if he just needs harder, more interesting problems?

lgm said...

No challenge sets were given out here, so we afterschooled. No point in wasting a child's time. There are a lot of enrichment units that can be done instead...we told the kid to use his hw time on those. He would just dash off the assigned hw, which we call test prep, and learn in peace.