Is Homework Necessary?

 December first has come and gone.  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, and are anticipating the weeks of holiday bliss which are about to arrive.  But before the Mitton clan goes whole hog on Christmas, we have to get through the last few weeks of school.  Which, in our neck of the woods, means a whole whack of homework.  A topic that has led to a rather brooding debate amongst us… is homework really necessary?!  My first answer as mom, educator and lover of learning, says yes, yes, of course!  Homework is a must.  How can we continue learning if there is no homework, no testing, no study?  The rest of the clan disagrees.  It’s stressful, it’s useless, it’s too time consuming, it has no purpose.  These are the things I am hearing!  Even the hubby, who is thinking of branching out of his comfort zone and taking a course in the new year (to which I am very proud!) wants only to audit a course and not do the homework.  Awk!  No, no, no, I say!  How can you really learn if you have no concrete evidence… nothing to show at the end…no “mark” of your ability.  But — I am willing to be open minded — and so I muse:  Is homework really necessary?

  From what I have gathered, “homework” — the work sent home because either it is not completed in class, or is assigned to enhance the practice, preparation for, or extensions of, lessons done in class — is becoming a hot topic.  There seems to be a growing trend to eliminate it all together.  In Canada, “no homework policies” are being pushed by both parents and educators alike, labeling homework as stress inducing, and time-robbing.  A 2008 study done in Ontario, discovered that the dreaded homework hour can become the primary source of arguments in a household.  Not only in parent/child power struggles, but even among marriages as well.  (Which seems to be happening in my house, too…)  And so I muse again… Why?

Apparently the answer lies in the amount of time.  The “ideal” amount of homework, as laid out by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association in the US, suggests a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level.  Canadian educators pretty much follow this standard as well.  However, reports are coming in that students are doing much, much more than this.  On average, Ontario students are given 40 minutes of homework per night.  Add multiple subjects and this can get pretty stressful. Families argue that this cuts into family time, not to mention that if there is misunderstanding or learning struggles — that 40 minutes could drag on in to infinity….

So.  Let’s take a step back.  Let’s look at the big picture of why we educate in the first place.  If our Christian lifestyle impacts our understanding in this topic, then God should have something to say about it too.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs to “…get wisdom and understanding at all costs…” (Proverbs 4).  Could this mean giving up some favourite television show to study the multiplication table?  Or forcing our students off the devices to sit with pen and paper to make a “useless” title page?  Possibly.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect scholars over here… we have had our fair share of homework struggles… pulling our hair out to get that perfect paper machéd, 3-D model of some obscure parallelogram.  Or setting the timer for exactly 21 minutes of reading because that is the bare minimum required.   I have seen my teens burn the midnight oil on more than one occasion to complete that assignment simply because they procrastinated the rest of the week.  Homework can certainly be stress inducing.  And as parents, I think it is our job to shape, encourage and instruct our children… that yes, education is important.  And yes, this teacher’s expectations may be out of the ball park… so let’s deal with learning to have difficult conversations, let’s deal with how to interact with people who do not see our points of view, let’s be present in our education systems and seek wisdom.  Let’s make homework part of the bigger idea of “gathering wisdom.”

I’m not convinced there is an easy answer to the homework debate.  We are a full mix of people with many given gifts.  We have different goals and different learning styles.  Good grief… even within my own little clan, we cannot agree on this debate!  For now… I will encourage the completion of homework in our house, with the premise of gathering wisdom.  Skills like multiplication tables and correct spelling and grammar are necessary, yes, but so is good communication, and loving your neighbour, and standing up for what you believe.  Can homework achieve this?  Certainly not in 40 minutes a night.  It becomes a piece of a much, much broader idea, that I will continue to muse about often.

Let me know your thoughts… do you home school and avoid homework altogether?  Do you enforce homework time at your house?  Is it a struggle? Have helpful hints to share?  We’d love to hear from you!   Drop us a line!

Legacies

a guest post from Abbie B.

Super excited to be sharing from a friend today!  Abbie is much (much!) younger than I, and yet, I am slightly jealous of her adventures.  I asked her to share a bit of her story after seeing a photo from her Jamaican trip.  Ya’ll know I love a good photo — and this one struck something within me — there is compassion and hope embodied in it, and yet sorrow and despair.  So I knew there must be a story behind it.  I have asked Abbie to share the story.  Enjoy!

Growing up knowing that both my Nana and my Grandma were overseas missionary nurses had always been an inspiration, and created a question of whether or not that might be God’s calling on my own life. When I began my nursing journey, I had many people ask me if I was going to follow in my Grandma and Nana’s footsteps. I always replied:  “If that’s what God wants.” I never wanted to say “I don’t know”.

So, when the opportunity of doing an International placement in Jamaica came up, I jumped at the opportunity.  Being a hands on person, I knew that I needed to experience being an international nurse to know if that was where God was leading me.

I didn’t know what I was going to be walking into when I landed in Jamaica, I didn’t know how I would feel! There was a part of me that was scared to walk into a new culture that I’d never experienced, the other part of me was excited for the challenge that was waiting.  My time was split between an orphanage and a small primary school.  Both places were completely different.  Walking into the orphanage, my heart felt heavy,  it was so hard knowing that some of these children didn’t have a permanent place to call home and to feel safe. We spent a majority of our time with the babies. Some who were premature, some toddlers, some who were not able to walk because of varying mobility impairments.  It was so hard to see the needs of the children, whether it was just to hold premature babies or to take a toddler out of their crib and help them walk.  It was even harder when a new baby would come in and try to settle.  My heart broke at their cries for comfort and security.  Working at the orphanage really affirmed in me that my heart is for people who are displaced and broken. Really breaking my heart for what breaks God’s. Our days there were spent doing Head to Toe Assessments (checking all the major body’s systems to make sure that there isn’t anything abnormal), bathing, changing clothes and diapers, playing games, reading, feeding, giving medications when needed to the babies and toddlers, as well as teaching the care givers at the orphanage about the misconceptions of asthma or hygiene.  Which at times was difficult for me because I never wanted to feel like a “know it all”,  or that I was stepping on toes.  I really learned how to be collaborative with those around me.

Working at the primary school was a good break from the emotional roller coaster (not that I didn’t love the orphanage) because I got to use a different side of my brain and skills while at the school.  It was more of “health teaching” with the children there. We brought down nurse and doctor costumes and I got to explain what the different instruments were and played games with them.  It wasn’t a large school by any means, but it felt like a family there — which was such a different feel than the orphanage.  I took the teachers’ blood pressures daily,  to see patterns of increase and decrease, answered their questions about what diabetes, heart failure, asthma etc. all are, and how some can be avoided, and that some is just up to genetics. So many amazing conversations about what health is and what it means to people either physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  It amazes me how we can be from different parts of the world and find a common ground — and from there — relationships are built.

I loved my international placement,  and in a lot of ways I’m still decompressing and sorting through the lessons I learned.  The one thing that I will always hold with me is when I was leaving, the woman that we were staying with, said to me “You have a beautiful heart, don’t ever lose it.” God’s given me passions, He’s created a heart in me for people to feel safe and secure, to have a place where they feel like they belong.  By the end of my placement, I had a whole new appreciation for my grandma and Nana. Their faith, their consistency, and their commitment to serve God in the unknown. The whole time I was there I was asking God:  “Is this what you want me to do? Is this where you are leading me?” By the end I realized that being a long term missionary isn’t something that God is calling me to.   I think short term trips are still an open door that God isn’t going to be closing anytime soon.  I know that community is where God is calling me and I’ve really seen that in Toronto.  There are so many who are broken and displaced for varying reasons.  My heart breaks for them, and all I want to do is step beside them and walk with them through the hard times.  I’m excited to see where God leads me, as scary as that is,  I trust that He knows best and He will be faithful in giving me the strength to follow through.

Indeed He will, Abbie.  I wish you much joy in the adventure!  

Emily

I met a little girl named Emily today.  I really can’t tell you much about her, except that she wore a purple, fleece, zip up hoodie with unicorns on it, and was in the grade one/two split class I visited this morning.  I don’t know her last name, I don’t know who her parents are or where she lives.  I don’t know anything about her home life or what her reading level is.  In fact, I don’t even remember her answering questions on the carpet or visiting my center.  She wasn’t one of those keen to learn students with her hand up in the front row, who smiled pretty when she answered the right questions.  She wasn’t even one of those kids in the back row who wasn’t paying attention either.  She didn’t poke or giggle with her friends like a typical grade one elementary schooler.  She seemed to be “just Emily.”

Come to think of it, this little invisible girl only appeared on my radar after the class was over and I was busily packing up my equipment to head home.  The rest of the class was tired and hungry and eager to get on to the lunchroom.  They had obviously had a delightfully engaging morning — full of hands on science and learning, taught expertly by yours truly.  (Ahem! 🙂 ) They had even given up their class snack time to learn!  Emily, however, seemed to doddle about busily nibbling on a cucumber slice that her teacher had given her earlier from the class lunch bin.  Her mousy, long brown hair was disheveled slightly and wisps of it got in the way of her field of vision,  the way it does for a grade one girl who seems to be forging her own way in life.

microscope

She casually sauntered up to me, brushed aside her hair and inquired about my bins.  Where did all the things come from?  Where was I going now?  Did I live at the science centre?  I politely answered her curious questions and began to shoo her off to lunch with her friends.  Emily had other plans, though.   She picked up one of my microscopes and proceeded  to “help” clean up.  (ack! …slight panic… heavy, expensive equipment slung about by a seven-year-old is a disaster waiting to happen!  It’s one of those things they tell you about in classroom management courses!)  “Oh, no, no, my friend… thank you for your help… but off you go to lunch now…” As I gently removed the microscope from Emily’s grip, I hear an assistant say that Emily is not listening — again.

Suddenly, I feel the need to rethink my purposes.  It’s probably true.  Emily probably doesn’t listen much to instructions.  She probably doesn’t follow the rules easily.  Maybe she doesn’t sit and do all her homework and hang her coat on the hook.  She probably forgets to her to change her indoor shoes and tie back her untamed locks.  But at this very moment, Emily wants to help.  And so I let her.  I ask her to collect all my pencils and stack the pencil bins so they fit together.  I ask her to pile the books so I can pack them away.  We spend the next minute or so tidying up together.

I don’t remember the moment Emily decided to go off to lunch.  Suddenly she was invisible again… a purple unicorn hoodie blur in the mass of grade ones and twos filing out the door.  Dumbfounded for a moment, I was struck by the realization that we so often meet Emilys.  People seemingly invisible — but there.  The cashier at the grocery store.  The elderly man on the bus.  The teenager plugged in to headphones at the back of the class.  Do we take the time to simply engage them when the spark of opportunity arrives?  A smile as they open the door for us?  A thank you when they hand us our bags?Emily

Each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made.  A unique image crafted with personalities so complex and diverse.  None of us are the same.  And yet, we function somehow as a whole. We strive, like Emily, to do a little good now and then.  Even when it is hard to follow the rules.  My little moment with Emily taught me, that maybe, just maybe, the key to engagement is not always in grand productions full of magic and wonder.  It’s often not in the polished presentation with flash cards and perfectly laminated worksheets.  Perhaps it is simply taking the time to answer a few curious questions, and the chance to be polite to those invisible strangers as they reach out and stack a few pencil bins for us.

 

 

 

 

Back to School Blues

By the time this post comes out, many of you will have sent off your beloveds back to school.  Perhaps it is the first day of kindergarten for you.  Or perhaps you’ve moved them in to their first dorm room at college or university.  For many others of you, your kids are grown up and are sending off children of their own.  The first day of school, for me, evokes such happy memories… I loved (and still love!) school.  Shiny new shoes and backpacks, sharpened pencils all in a row… it’s a new beginning, a new chance to learn and grow and flourish.  I giggle as I think about this because my boys usually scuff up their new shoes a bit and grab whatever writing implement they see in the drawer for their first day.   No great anticipation there.  It’s nice to know that we are made so diversely, eh?

backtoschoolshoes

Photo by: Jiayan Chui

Okay… let’s pretend everyone is excited about learning and growing… and then go a little deeper.  For many of us, sending our kids off to school is a scary new chapter.  It means they have reached an age where independence is beginning… and their dependence on us, is diminishing.  When our first born was getting ready for school, we researched the options.  Should we use public education?  Private, montessori… homeschool?  Did you know there was even something called unschooling?   I have heard all the arguments against public education and the benefits of this or that.  Feel free to add your personal experiences to the comments… However, no matter what venue of education one chooses, there must always be a day when we must let them go.  For some it comes earlier than others.  But it always comes.

I am not sure why, but the story of the prodigal son has been popping up all over my journey this summer… I have heard it spoken on about seven times in various sermons and talks throughout the last few months.  Obviously God is asking me to look at it!  To be honest, it’s a mystery as to why this particular parable has been so popular, but I mention it because perhaps we are to look at it together.  To be linked coincidentally here on the internet through a story about letting our sons and daughters go.  Some of you I know personally.  Many of you are dear to my heart, and I know your children like my own.  Other readers are strangers to me.  Perhaps you have connected with mittonmusings for a completely different reason.  A fellow blogger looking for followers.  Yet, my hope and prayer is that God has connected you to this particular post because He wants you to learn, along with me, that it is okay to let those so near and dear to our hearts go on their own way.  I am sure that the father in the story of Luke 15 was a complete basket case on the day that his youngest set out for a foreign land with a stack of money in his back pocket.  I am sure his mother was even worse!  “Will he go to synagogue?”  “Will he drink too much and get caught up with the wrong crowd?” “Will he spend his money wisely and invest properly?” “Will he learn all the wrong philosophies and be exposed to false teachings?” “Will I have to pay half his student loans from our retirement fund?””Will he eat properly ?”  Yup, I am sure his Jewish bubbe had plenty to fear.

I have to be honest with you.  I shed very few tears when my children went off to school.  I proudly packed their bags and handed over the reigns to their teachers.  Was it easy?  No.  Our youngest son screamed, bawled and ran off down the hallway for the first two months years of kindergarten.  Our eldest daughter struggled to complete her first year and find her niche at University (away from home).  The other two have had ups and downs with teachers and peers.  We’ve had to juggle family activities with four kids in four different schools.  We’ve had to balance tolerance and diversity with our faith based values. Prov22 We’ve also learned to love and share with others who don’t always see the world the way we do.   Anxieties, competitions, goals and mighty accomplishments have been a part of our school careers.   I have quickly learned (and have instilled in our beloveds!) that teachers are just people too.  They have good days and bad days like the rest of us.  So if you are just starting your school life… please, please, please… be involved.  Go to school council meetings, go to the interviews, get to know the staff and your kids friends.  Be the house that invites them home for lunches and after school snacks.  Claim the promise in Proverbs 22:6.  You have trained and prepared them for this… now let them go.

I guess I have to caveat the “let them go” statement… with the fact that although the father in the story granted his son’s wishes and let him go off to a foreign land, he certainly didn’t forget him!  He kept a watchful eye on the road for his journey back.  He was there to celebrate his return… and to love him despite his failures.  Back to school is a mixed bundle of emotions:  we are proud and excited, and worried and anxious.  The great wide world is full of the allure of the grandiose and the independence our children crave.  And wise parents must trust that the Almighty has a plan for their children.  He knows them so much better than even we do.  So, there will be no back to school blues at our house.  No tears or anxious peeking through the classroom windows.  There will only be new shoes, and packed lunches, and bank loans for student expenses.  And a mom and dad keeping watchful eyes on some kids who were trained to the best of our abilities to return home.  The rest… is up to God.Back to School

 

 

 

 

DIY Teacher’s Gifts: A Lesson in Gratitude

DIYTeacherGift

Okay, confession time.  I am not good at being grateful.  Oh,  I have manners and know when to say please and thank you and I’m sorry (I’m Canadian afterall!) but I am not so good at being full of gratitude.  Recently, I was having a discussion with some friends about this topic of gratitude and it triggered a thought… are my children truly thankful for all they have?  Am I truly thankful for all I have?!  I live in a wonderful country where I am free to post my feelings and thoughts on a blog such as this.  I have food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head.  We have two cars and a place we can enjoy in the summer.  Our family is truly blessed.  In fact, I think we have way too much!  I have to start sorting and sharing as soon as the hamster wheel slows down.  Gratitude is tricky.  Are words enough?  Do we need to repay the kindness of a gift with another, reciprocal gift?  How do we be good examples to our children and show kindness and exude gratitude without being caught in the cycle of looking like we want something in return?  I don’t have the answer to this one.  Leave me a comment if you have some insight!

What I do know, is that we gotta start somewhere!  So, I decided that after my friendly discussion and sudden enlightenment about my lack of proper parenting, I knew that I had to tackle some thank you gifts!  The end of the school year is a great time to make some gratitude filled, easy to make, teacher thank you gifts!  These ones were pretty frugal too… an added bonus!  #gratitudeWe started out with some simple, dollar-store clay pots and leftover plastic buckets from spring planting… and then decorated away with paints and stickers and ribbons — stuff I had hanging around from other projects.  The paint didn’t stick to the green plastic, so we used some fun stickers and ABC’s for those.  The youngest and I had a nice bonding time doing some crafting… and it was a great opportunity for me to encourage her.  She didn’t think her bee looked quite right… so we added whimsical googly eyes … with such a cute result!

Next, we spooned in some dirt and simply added cuttings from some of my overgrown house plants!  This not only served our purpose, but gave us another opportunity to discuss sharing and being thankful for what we already have!  Succulents are perfect for this, as you don’t need much preparation ahead of time… simply snip and stick in some soil… this kalanchoe we had was spreading and already had tiny root shoots… so was easy to transplant.  We also separated some herbs and a lovely purple shamrock plant.  In the end, we had six quick and easy (and almost free!) gifts… enough for three elementary teachers and a few great sunday school helpers!  Some hand made cards topped off the lesson in gratitude (hand written by the kids, of course!) and volila!

TeachersRSpecial

Teachers are very special people… and I am forever telling our four beloveds that teachers play a huge part in their lives!  Trust me… it is really hard to impart information to a large group of young people from diverse backgrounds who often don’t want to be sitting in that desk in front of you.  Especially when they come with a set of parents watching your every move.  Be kind to teachers.  They are human too.  They need some love and thanks after a full year in the classroom!

I’m not sure that my gratitude level has jumped too many degrees up the scale from this project… but at least it gave me a chance to chat a bit with the youngest two — and share some love around.  Perhaps it’s a start.  Perhaps it will “grow” on us as we practice more…. Sorry… couldn’t resist… some teacher taught me about puns once… aren’t you grateful? 🙂

 

P.S.  Once you have said “thank you” to your beloved teachers and said good-bye for another school year… keep following mittonmusings.com!  Click the follow button on the side bar … I have some exciting changes coming this summer!  You won’t want to miss it!!

 

 

 

Science Fairs are Fabulous!

I have a fondness for fairs — especially a good science fair.  I loved them as a student, and I love them now!  There’s something about all that genius in one room that invigorates my senses! I’m not much of a physicist, so life science projects float my boat, but a good model is always an eye-catcher.  Even if it is made of cardboard toilet paper rolls and scotch tape.  Recently, two of the younger folks at our house participated in their respected school’s science fairs.  Here’s my little muse about the results.

science fairs are fabulous

Photo: Andrew Jay

I don’t know about yours, but my kids are kinda the last-minute-mom-it’s-due-tomorrow students.  Many a times I am running to the 24 hour Wal-Mart in search of bristle board! So, I have a book called “Help! My Science Project is Due Tomorrow” for just such an occasion.  It is great for some simple, yet thought-provoking projects for the kids.  This and Pinterest are my best friends.  The youngest, strong-willed one, decided she was doing a project on Chromatography.  She liked the fact that she could play with markers and colour.  Chromatography is “…the separation of parts of a mixture…” in its simplest terms, and this particular fun project is to see what colours are separated out of single coloured markers.  She decided to tackle her discoveries with a friend and the results were super!  The write up was complete; now to put together the display board.  Did I mention she was the strong-willed one?  Those glue stick wielding kids slapped those print outs on the board so fast they forgot to pay attention to the scientific order of such project. *sigh*  My “slightly-controlling-freak-out-science-fair-project-junkie-self” took over for just a moment but — I smiled — breathed — and suggested we carefully peel off the print outs and start again.  Maybe with some pretty coloured matting this time?! And a title!? Her grade level doesn’t move on at her school, but her and her partner proudly displayed their (slightly gluey) board in the gym and nobly collected their participation ribbons.

Her slightly quieter and more methodical older brother, proceeded to complete his project at a friend’s house with ne’er a notice to his science fair loving mom.  The nerve!  They completed a wonderful prototype model of a Concussion Measuring Helmet.  (Coming soon for a $499.99 price tag).  Did I mention he’s into sports?!  His school chose to organize their fair under the premise of “product pitches”.  Despite the fact that they had no parental influences,  I am pleased to say that the two sports buddies were asked to display their project at a local university’s “Innovation Science Fair for Young Inventors”.  My son pleaded with his mom not to go.  Ahem.

Our Entries

One of the super things I love about science — especially kids and students doing science — is it is just magical enough to ignite that love of learning.  Why are erupting volcanoes so popular at science fairs? Duh… it’s because volcanoes EXPLODE and you get to make a huge mess in your mom’s kitchen because it is “for school”.  It’s hands on and it’s investigative and bonus: it teaches you something!  What could be cooler than that?!  Another thing about the great discipline of science in our world is that it is so diverse.  We have life science, engineering, micro, macro, space, technology, math… and the list goes on.  Just about any topic you choose can somehow be related back to science.  One of the top projects at our school this year was about bananas.  Bananas! Did you know there are a variety of ways to store different types of bananas?! This is science fair at its greatest, my friends!

What should be your topic_

Besides the spark of ingenuity and diversity of the great competition, science fairs often spark connections.  Parents often work together with their children on projects.  As much as I have heard complaints of “that so and so parent did that child’s project” (which I certainly don’t condone!) it is usually a project that needs to be completed with some guidance and over time at home.  A perfect excuse to be involved in your child’s education! These connections sometimes put children on a career path that they may never have thought of before doing their research.  Could a visit from a real scientist encourage a child to become the next great surgeon or astronaut?  Could they be the one to embark on an epic journey or discover a new cure for the world at large? Absolutely.  Even if they are not the next Albert Einstein, some kids will become part of a great team of professionals and bring their expertise to their work.  I love how the Bible’s description of Ezra’s journey in Ezra chapter 8 includes “learned men“.  This was an epic journey to fulfill a religious duty, and yet Ezra brings learned men (I am sure a scientist or two!) to round out the collection of priests, musicians, scribes etc.  Even the Magi of the Christmas story were astronomers!  Despite our backgrounds and diverse beliefs, science often rounds out our discussions and strengthens our faith through discovery and collaboration.

Alas, maybe you are not like me.  Maybe you dread the science fair and all it brings.  No worries, my dearest reader, here are five fun resources to make connections with, to learn from, and to make your next science fair project the best one ever! (oh… but don’t forget to use pretty matting and put it in the right order!)

5sciresources

Photos: KMitton and vlad-tchompalov(unsplash)

  1.  Your local library or college/university fair.  These are great places to start.  Visit a competition and see what makes the grade and impresses the judges.  Find books — there are a tonne out there– that give you step by step instructions on completing a great project!
  2.   Television.  Call me old school, but I love Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Cable Channels like Discovery have shows like Myth Busters and Shark Week.  Our local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) have great shows that spark imagination in kids.  Talk and news specials too. Just remember to watch with your kids.  Make appropriate connections.
  3. Professionals.  Do you know a doctor, astronaut, engineer?  Take a kid to work day may be a great option.  Ask the teacher!  They know! Get those high schoolers ready for the real world and workplaces.  Participate in a live project!
  4. Charities.  I love Scientists in School.  Often they are the first exposure to a real scientist that kids have.  Their workshops provide lots of resources to ignite that creativity in the little ones! Edutopia also seems like a really great resource in collaboration with the George Lucas Educational Foundation… and who knows science better than the Star Wars guy?!
  5. The great internet!  I would have loved access to the internet back in the days when I had to create my projects.  Homeschooling moms, true scientists, educators and authors have lots to share on Pinterest and other places.  Don’t worry, your kids already have googled ” super gross experiments” and have their top 5 list for you.  Word to the wise though… filter filter filter!

 

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