Loving Homework: Making Things Good By Contrast

My son is now five, and in kindergarten. He doesn’t get proper “homework” each day, but he does have a little “home reading” workbook which he is supposed to do at home, at his own pace.

It consists of little lessons in phonics. We work through the phonics lesson and when I feel that he has mastered the particular sounds in this section, he takes the book to school and his teacher tests him on a few simple words. If he passes, he gets the next lesson.

So, it is low-pressure, go-at-your-own-pace homework, but it is still homework. My goal is make him enjoy it, because I want him to love reading the way that I love reading.

I made a mistake a couple of weeks ago, shortly after he brought home the first lesson. He and I had been playing on the computer before dinner. After dinner, he asked to go back to playing the game. I was paying attention to the baby at that moment so I replied absently, “no, honey, I don’t think so. We should do your reading.”


Immediately he responded with, “I don’t WANT to do my reading!”

What I really meant was “No, we don’t play on the computer this close to bed time,” which is our usual household rule. The reading thought was separate in my brain. But what I communicated to my son was: we COULD have played on the computer but HOMEWORK got in the way.

This is not how I want him to think about homework.

If you want to get your kid to do something, never contrast it with something they like better.

You can bet I won’t make that mistake again.

Fast forward two weeks – we have just finished dinner. We tell him, “time to clean up all the toys!” Then, I add, “unless you think we have time to do some of your reading first?”

Of course he decided that we DID have time for some reading, and he happily settled down on my lap and we went through several pages of reading before I sighed reluctantly and said, “well, I really love reading with you, but it’s time for us to clean up toys and go to bed.”

He begged for more reading time. Which he didn’t get. But the difference is clear.

When his reading was contrasted with something he hugely enjoys, like playing computer games with me, it seemed very unappealing. But when it was contrasted with a chore, like tidying his toys, it suddenly seemed very appealing indeed.

If you want to get your kid to do something, contrast it with something they like even less.

We use the same principle to get him to do those chores in the first place – while he doesn’t like tidying his toys, he REALLY dislikes going to bed. So he will clean up his toys, help fold clothes, help put laundry in the washing machine, all to stave off bed time.

Now I have him doing homework to stave off chores, then follow that with chores to stave off bedtime, and so he does each one more or less happily.

Much better!