The True Lesson of Homework

The True Lesson of Homework

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

The True Lesson of Homework

He that will make a good use of any part of his life must allow a large part of it to recreation.

John Locke

She is a study in consternation. Hannah’s brow is furrowed; she is squinting and biting her lower lip, sure signs of anxiety in this granddaughter.

The woeful mood is due to a second-grade scourge known as “homework.”

Hannah has begged to play outside on this glorious day, but I am under strict orders from her mother that she must first attack her assignments. And as the babysitter-in-residence, I am pledged to follow instructions.

Never mind that I, a former teacher, have decidedly mixed feelings about the importance of missing a golden afternoon when the sun is winking off the back patio, the trees are dancing in a lovely breeze and nature herself is celebrating spring.

Hannah’s work sheets are spread out in front of her. It’s been a while since I’ve seen what second-grade homework looks like, so I sit near Hannah, careful not to disturb her, but fascinated by watching this child I love so much as she attacks word configurations on a printed page.

Her teacher wants Hannah to transpose some letters to make new words. Hannah is working on set number three—and has been at this for nearly twenty minutes. She had sailed through the first two sets—the easy ones, she’d assured me—but this third set was the killer.

So we sit together, a grandmother and a grandchild, and neither of us speaks. Once, Hannah throws down her pencil in frustration. Another time, I think I see the start of a tear in her chocolately brown eyes.

“Let’s take a break,” I attempt. I even offer to make her favorite apple/raisin treat, one that usually gets Hannah racing off to the kitchen with me. But this earnest child is resolute. “If I finish,” she reasons aloud, “I can go outside and play with Julia and Trevor.” And to make matters worse, we can hear their shouts and occasional laughter through the open window.

Minutes later, Hannah has symbolically climbed to the language arts mountaintop. The word work sheets are finished. Now only two pages of addition stand between Hannah and the great outdoors.

Once again, all goes swimmingly at the beginning of Hannah’s math homework. The computations come so easily that she’s lulled into eight-year-old cockiness. “These are SIMPLE!” she exults, almost offended, it would seem, at the lack of challenge.

But on the second math worksheet, toward the bottom of the page, Hannah collides with a tough set. And she has her comeuppance. No matter how she struggles, the instructions—and thus the solutions—elude her.

I feel a meltdown coming.

It’s nearly five in the evening. Hannah has been up since six-thirty in the morning. She’s put in a full day in school, including a play rehearsal that both delighted and drained her. Her little brother is on a play-date, and he doesn’t have homework because Zay is, after all, only in prekindergarten.

The injustice of it all finally gets those tears spilling. “I HATE homework,” Hannah sobs. And she means it.

This time, I ignore my pledges to her mother. I make an executive decision that my granddaughter and I are going outside to catch the last—and hopefully best—of this gift of a day.

For the next hour, I watch Hannah as she celebrates liberation. She runs and leaps and then climbs to the top of the jungle gym that is in the yard. I snap a photo of her as she performs feats of daring up there that still make me gasp.

Her cheeks are flushed, her hair is wild, and I wish that utter abandon and unbridled joy could last forever.

When my daughter comes home, Hannah is momentarily stricken. “I didn’t finish my math sheets,” she confesses at once.

I hold my breath. I watch my daughter as she looks at Hannah, at me, and at the day that is surrendering to dusk.

And Jill says the very thing I might have written in a script for her:

“You can finish your homework later,” my daughter tells hers. “Play some more!”

And on a glorious spring day, I silently bless my daughter for her wisdom.

Sally Friedman

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