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From the Desk of Dr. Charles Murphy: February 11, 2011

A few weeks ago I stopped by my sister’s house and saw my niece trying to complete her homework assignments in their family room. Caitlin was wearing her IPod and swaying back and forth listening to her favorite tunes while writing down some thoughts in a notebook. Funny enough, my nephew was playing videogames directly across from her. This is why I said, “trying.” My sister grumbled about how she despises homework and how she often needs to torment her daughter to complete her assignments. Surprisingly, my Ivy League educated sister carried over very few, if any, of the simple lessons from our own childhood into her household. In truth, my mother was able to have four children sit around the table of our small eat-in kitchen in Massapequa Park with little fanfare.

Clearly, parents have many struggles with their children – their clothes… keeping their rooms cleaned… where they are going…. With that said, many parents would place the “homework wars” at the top of their list of most stressful conflicts they have with their children. In fact, there are a number of school districts in Northern California that have basically banned homework because of the issues it creates in the home. Of course, Island Trees is not considering the elimination of homework, but we can suggest things to help make it easier on families. I know it’s #1 on my sister’s list, but from what I saw it’s doubtful it will move from that top spot without a few changes on her part.

Mom’s rules were simple, not a lot of scientific research behind them (or choice for that matter) – basic “Mothering 101.”

Just two simple schoolwork rules:

Consistent Time

My mother set aside a regular time for homework. It was always after dinner and extended to 8 p.m. during our elementary years. The television was off limits until 8 p.m. and if we finished early we could read – books or magazines. During this time, we did not have any distractions – no radio, no phone or playtime (all of this was to be done before dinner). Later on into high school, the television viewing time was pushed back until 9 p.m., but by then our routine was well established and most of us had developed a sense of self-discipline, so if our assignments and/or studying required additional time, we stuck with our studies. No flexibility with the rule – very consistent.

Consistent Place

In our early years, all of our homework and studying was done at the kitchen table. In fact, we did not have one desk in the entire house and still were able to finish all assignments and successfully prepare for our tests. We had a 9’ x 11’ kitchen that did not contain anything to distract other than faux-brick wallpaper and four copper Jell-O molds hanging on the wall. As a result, it made our textbooks the most interesting things in the room. Maybe this is why it was the perfect place. This rule did not change until we got a bit older when we needed more room to accommodate our growing bodies and schoolwork; at that time, two of us moved out onto the dining room table. We were, however, permitted to read in the family room. Little change for a time period that lasted over two decades.

Although later we liked to joke about the military-like environment, it really was not anything terrible since this was all we knew and we knew little else. In actuality, the simple rules created a consistent and conducive learning environment for our schoolwork and developed our sound work habits for life - it came down to clear expectations, consistency, and a mother being a mother. This is what most children need in their lives.