The Dreaded Math Packet

By: Mary Morris

So it is now almost mid-August and I am thinking my middle school student should be nearing completion of her required summer reading and math packet. As she was leisurely enjoying a snack last night, I start with my Marine checklist (yes, I am the daughter of a U.S. Marine –couldn’t you tell?) so I tend to make checklists, set expectations and then realize I am dealing with children and not soldiers, so I tone it down a bit, reel it in, take a deep breath and so on. (“Or not!” chimes in Eva as I read this aloud to her.) Actually, I am not that intense with my children but I was raised with an incredible amount of discipline and responsibility. And boy, those traits are not easily cast aside! Rigidity is not a parenting requirement – in fact, it is worth discarding while in labor. Just saying.

So my daughter has to read two books and write two book reports. She has already read and reported on one book and is currently reading the second book. Since she is an avid reader and writer, I knew this would be a piece of cake. The math packet contains 100 Calculatorproblems and since math and science are not high on her list of “fun” subjects, she procrastinates like most of us do. So I turned the discussion into a math problem:  “What percentage of the problems have you completed?”  She says, “I don’t know….chomp, chomp, eye roll, smirk…maybe a third?”  “A third, that’s good.  You have done about 30 problems?”  “Well, actually I have done more….maybe 70 or 80,” and without skipping a beat, she adds, “They are all wrong but they are done.” Big smile. We both laugh. And in my mind I am thinking: SAY WHAT? She is joking, right?

I used to think a major goal of parenting was essentially riding your children to excel in school, to desire A’s as much as you did. If they weren’t getting A’s in elementary school, what college would they ever be able to get into? If the concept of changing fractions into percentages was not mastered within the assigned time frame, how would my daughter hope to balance a checkbook or understand what a 30 percent off sale meant?? Okay, well, you get the idea.

Over the years, I have learned that teaching the concept that she is responsible for her own work has been far more beneficial to the learning experience. Once Eva took the ownership of her homework and studies, she took off and excelled almost effortlessly.  Now, that is not to say I don’t hear the laments of, “This is so dumb,” or “This mean teacher gave me this rotten grade.”  Yes, she gave you the bad grade because she doesn’t like you, right? And this doesn’t mean that I am hands-off when it comes to schoolwork.  Hardly. She just doesn’t know that I check assignments online, peek at rough drafts, and manage and closely observe from the sidelines.

Later last night, Eva went on to say something about how much stress there is in life and why ruin a good summer night talking about some dumb math packet (her phrase, not mine) and I started thinking that in the big scheme of things, she may be on to something here. Some days I can just sit back and learn from my children. Today is one of those days.

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