Fifth Grade Frustrations

img_4017My fifth-grader is having a school meltdown. I’m reminded of those toddler tantantrums of yesteryear that I thought were behind me.

“I can’t take it anymore. I hate school. I want to be home schooled,” She wails and rants.

I watch her scribble her homework out and then accuse me of  “not caring.” Tears roll down her cheeks as she tells me “I don’t get it” and “I don’t understand.”  The reality is I DO care and I DO get it. Learning life lessons is hard. Watching her learn them is painful,  but I know that I can’t and probably shouldn’t protect her from them.  Not everything comes easily.  Instructions aren’t always clear. Distractions make it hard to concentrate. Deadlines are stressful. Sometimes, you have to do things you don’t always like to do.  Not everyone is “nice,” including teachers.

As I retreat into my mind, I get quiet and thoughtful trying to figure out a way to help her deal with her emotions when she’s frustrated. I try to put myself in her place. What was fifth grade like when I was a kid? It’s a foggy haze that I vaguely remember. Was fifth grade this traumatic for my older daughter? I can’t remember. For my youngest though the struggle is very real. The part that breaks my heart most  is when I hear the words “I can’t” come out of her mouth.  Because, I know she most definitely CAN.

“What are you going to do?” she pleads with me.

“What do want me to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G!!! I need help!” she shrieks.

“What do you need help with?” I try to stay calm.

“I don’t know!” she screams.

I get down on her level and read through the math problems. Patiently, I try to explain the word problem to her. She tells me I am wrong and refuses to listen to me. (I am reminded of the scene in Airplane where the woman is hysterical (you know the woman with eggs coming out of her mouth) and a line of people are waiting to ‘help’ her get a grip.)  My daughter won’t be reasoned with. I want her to calm down and listen to me, but instead she screams at me, breaks her pencil and storms out of the room. I’m frustrated and she’s frustrated.  I’m at a loss on how to make homework time go smoother. Should I punish her?  Reason with her?  Ignore her?

She is very conscientious and is far from lazy. She gets down on herself when she gets a “B” and is afraid of being let behind. I’ve told her time after time I am proud of her for the effort she puts forth. She doesn’t need to strive for perfection.  She responds well to positive reinforcement. Last year she thrived trying to get the most “Dojo points.”  She’d get excited to do extra math problems to earn “dojos.” It got to the point where I’d ask her if it was “real” homework or just extra credit for dojo.  She’d get that look on her face and I’d know it was for dojo. Even though her motivation was to earn dojo’s, she was learning and excelling in her classes along the way. She loved to go to school and she loved to learn.

This year the paradigm has shifted. Instead of being rewarded for positive behaviors, the students (at least from her perspective) are punished for negative behaviors. She is fearful of doing wrong and getting “yelled” at. This is probably the most frustrating part for me as a parent. Failure is part of the learning process. Failure leads to growth. I want her to be encouraged to fail and try again. I dont’ want her to be afraid to fail.  I want her to be afraid to stop trying.  I want her to thrive. I don’t want her love for learning to be squashed by fear.  I also know that you don’t get a gold star for everything positive you do either. It’s a fine line.

Eventually she calms down enough to finish her homework and apologizes to me for taking her frustrations out on me. I give her a hug and accept her apology. I tell her I care and encourage her to focus on what she does like about school instead. If only we could skip over that hard part inbetween and get to the hugs quicker. I guess that can be said about most difficulties in life.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll be glad when fifth grade is over!

Does any one have any helpful tips for getting through homework?  Is fifth grade harder or is it just me?

Mathematical Genius (Not!)

a-to-z-letters-mThe thought of quadratic equations, cosines, square roots, exponents, proofs and all that other numeric nonsense makes me queasy.  So does fifth grade math homework. I can’t remember how to find the common denominator let alone the median or the mean. If it weren’t for Google and a sister who does have a mathematical mind (she majored in accounting – the very thought of which gives me chills) my daughter would flounder with her math homework alone. Luckily her teacher also has a policy that if my daughter tries to do the homework and her parents aren’t able to help out (and my sister isn’t home!) all I have to do is sign next to the problem and all is good. I have to admit I’ve had to sign off a few times.

To be fair, I don’t think it’s all my fault. I mean the directions on those worksheets are pretty vague and I really think they’re changing the math rules on me somehow as I don’t remember solving problems the same way when I was a kid and definitely not in fifth grade. I shudder at the thought of high school math homework! If I had my way they’d ban math from schools along with physical education (but that’s another blog post).

OK, banning math may be going a little too far. After all certain mathematical knowledge is quite useful. So I propose that schools stop teaching all that high brow math (unless the kid wants to be a mathematician someday) that I have NEVER used since I learned it in high school and college and then promptly forgot as soon as I took the final exam and instead focus on real-life math. 

Here’s an English major’s idea of a good, real-life math curriculum.

  • Basic Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division – These are the foundations of math and I concede that we must know them inside and out.
  • Percents – We also need to know how to figure out how much money you need if the cute shoes you want to buy are regularly $79.00 and are on sale for 20% off. To make it more complex, throw in figuring sales tax at 7.5%. Another good one is how to figure out the tip when you go out to eat or get your nails done. I use this math all the time!
  • Basic Measurements – Accurate measurements are important so that when you order new carpet for the bedroom, there’s enough to cover the entire floor! It’s also important if you want to rearrange your furniture. You want to know the couch is going to fit on the opposite wall without blocking the door before you move it there!
  • Time, Distance and Estimates –  When my alarm clock rings, I need to know that  if my office is 30 miles away from home and I drive an average of 60 miles per hour will I make it for an 8:00 AM meeting if I leave  at 7:40 AM? Not when two trains going opposite directions are going to meet! Come on, that extra ten minutes of sleep is essential.
  • Fractions and Decimals – While not my favorite mathematical concepts, I’ve found knowing about fractions to be very helpful especially when my recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup of flour and I can only find my 1/4 measuring cup.
  • Money Matters – I wish I’d learned more about interest rates on loans and credit cards, how to budget and how to save and invest when I was in school instead of how to balance an equation. You could even include how to balance your check book for extra credit! My financial status today would be much better if I had.

I’m sure other math concepts are important and essential to our everyday life as well, but my word-based mind is starting to get weary thinking about all this numeric junk. If you can think of anymore, please share them in the comments below!