Lessons from the third grade | PostIndependent.com
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Lessons from the third grade

Charla Belinski
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One day last week the school bus beat me home by five minutes, and when I walked in the door my house was already in full after-school swing. Backpacks littered the front entryway, a trail of shoes were strewn from one end of the house to the next, and my two sons were rifling through the pantry in search of the perfect pick-me-up. After hellos and hugs and how-was-your-days, I asked, “Where’s Anna?””Over here,” she said happily from the living room.Hunched over a notebook and paper was my third-grader, settled into the middle of the couch cushions with her knees pulled in to use as a table top. “What are you working on?” I asked, genuinely curious what she was so engrossed in so soon after getting home from school.”Homework!” she chirped happily.”But you finished all your homework this week.””I know, but Mom, I forgot to turn it in this morning, so Mr. White told me I have to bring it in tomorrow, but I also have to do extra homework tonight, and it is so fun.”Now wait just a minute here. Extra homework? Fun? Just what exactly is going on? “Mom, it’s so awesome,” my 11-year-old piped up. “I’m helping her.””Yep. He’s helping me,” my daughter echoed proudly. “I have to write for at least 30 minutes,” she said, sounding suddenly very mature, “and it has to be an excuse note for turning in my homework late. And,” she paused for effect, “I can totally make it up!” At which point she erupted into giggles and set back to work.Genius.I don’t know why it is we parents so often think in order to get kids to learn a lesson it has to be painful. We inflict both emotional and physical pain in our effort to make sure kids “get it.” What kids “get” is angry. Our threats and punitive actions often do nothing more than give them a good reason to be mad at us. Oh, they’ll likely correct their bad behavior, but they’ll do it because someone intimidated them, not because they knew it was the right thing to do. In my daughter’s case, she’d worked hard all week on her homework, knowing it was all due on Thursday. When she showed up at school that morning, it had to be heartbreaking to watch all the other children turn in their work, knowing hers was polished and perfect … and forgotten. Many teachers – some of my own included – would have used it as an opportunity to shame, ridicule or even tease the student in order to “teach them a lesson.” Some might have done as my daughter’s teacher did but assigned some mundane extra homework as punishment or made them stay after school to clean the desks. Others might have been afraid of coming across heavy-handed and simply said, “Well, just turn it in to me tomorrow.”Yeah. That’d teach ’em.Instead, my daughter will most likely remember her homework in the weeks to come. Not because her teacher threatened her with some painful and unreasonable consequence, however. In fact, quite the opposite. He continued to instill in her a joy of learning while making sure she knew his expectations for turning work in on time. Maybe that’s a lesson we can all learn. That and the art of writing a really good excuse note. Charla Belinski teaches the positive parenting course Redirecting Children’s Behavior and writes about family life. Her columns appear every other Sunday in the Post Independent. Contact her at belinskis@comcast.net.


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