Every parent knows the super-fun weekday ritual/hell of dragging your kid inside, or off an electronic device, to get them to do homework. Except maybe the parents who are successful at implementing the “homework before play” rule, in which case, those parents are as amazing as they are rare.
For us normal parents, who prefer to spend time issuing empty-threats until there’s tears/homework is done (which ever comes first), I’ve found a hack you’re going to love. And it starts with the Holy Grail of parenting: not fighting with your child to turn off a screen.
Because the screen stays on.
Because the screen – whether it’s a phone, tablet or laptop, has useful functions other than just being a carrier of wi-fi-connected activities. Who knew?
A device can record video. More to the point, your child can record themselves – doing their homework.
The idea came to me when I watched my ten-year-old recording himself for his YouTube Channel – which he’s allowed to do, because he doesn’t use his name and has just one follower: me. (The poor love.)
My kid was narrating the outing we were on, and I noticed that he spoke so eloquently, so naturally – he was so comfortable navigating the screen and being on it. I realised I could use this to my advantage. So last week when he came home and insisted on his thirty minutes of screen-time to “veg out” before homework, I had a plan. When the thirty minutes was up, I didn’t take away his tablet. I didn’t start a fight about it.
I told him to record himself doing his homework. To keep using his device. He was in heaven – homework heaven.
He took a photo of his spelling words to do the “look, cover, write, check” system. He recorded himself sounding out the words, and reading. And doing violin practice. Then he watched himself doing it all.
LISTEN: We speak to a teenage boy about the difficulties of raising a son, and what to do when they start pulling away, on our podcast for imperfect parents.
This slow but constructive device-withdrawal process didn’t elicit the usual feigned outrage that comes from an immediate (after 700 warnings) removal. So we mercifully didn’t waste any time arguing about it.
At my son’s age, in the world he’s living in, it was good to find a way to incorporate his interests with something he’s quite frankly not interested in after 3pm on weeknights – his homework.
He could also see his mistakes, and see the gaps that he needed to work on, for himself – rather than being corrected by me. It took me as the teacher and parent out of the equation, and gave him some responsibility and independence – making the whole process less overwhelming for him.
I did some research into whether this is actually an education technique so I could congratulate myself, and I discovered that I wasn’t far off. Because using the device like this is essentially about presenting the information in a different way.
A guy called Nate Kornell, an associate professor at Williams College who researches how learning works, wrote in Psychology Today that when he’s trying to get his 13-year-old to learn, he tells her to “teach” instead – as if she’s presenting the information as a teacher.
There’s even a fancy-pants name for it, the Feynman Technique, named by Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, which basically states, “If you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply.” So letting kids pretend they’re teaching an audience is a great way to encourage them to simplify and understand their material.
And if they record themselves doing that, they’ll see how solid – or not – their knowledge is.
Thanks to countless hours that most of them have spent on YouTube, they already know how to talk to a general audience. They have seen kids their own age on channels like Evan Tube, explain how things work, talking about geography and history.
So take some of the stress out of homework and let the devices atone for the drama they would otherwise cause.