During my interview with young Brazilian student Joao Felipe Galon Sa, he told me how he has improved in his studies since his arrival to Canada, two years ago, not speaking any English. “On the flight over, I was seated next to a Canadian who kept asking me ‘Do you want milk? Do you want milk?’ But I didn’t even know the meaning of the word milk,” he remembers.
When asked for tips on how to do better with homework, he gave me the same old song and dance: read books (even though he admitted not being a big reader himself), have a good dictionary on hand (which can be from your first language), count on friends, teachers and parents, if possible.
It was his last piece of advice that struck me the most. Joao turned to me and claimed, “I know you won’t believe it, but what really helped with my English was playing videogames.”
“Because everything is in English,” he justified with a teenage grin on his face.
So, following Joao’s advice, all you need to do to get your kids into their homework is to invest on the latest Playstation or X-Box game, right?
A 2005 study from Statistics Canada shows that homework is the most time-consuming unpaid activity for teenagers, next to school attendance. Students around the country spend an average of 9.2 hours per week doing homework (with 60 percent doing an average of 2.20 hours every day). It also concluded that the time spent on homework may vary by both sex and cultural background. While over seven in 10 boys with immigrant parents (both parents born outside Canada) spent an average of 2.37 hours per day doing homework, only five out of 10 boys with Canadian-born parents (at least one parent born in Canada) did the same. Among teens with Canadian-born parents, boys did significantly less homework (21 minutes per day) than girls. However, there were no significant difference among boys and girls with immigrant parents.
Joao lives in Toronto with his single mother, Teresa, a workaholic manicurist who doesn’t speak English. Teresa counts on friends with better English than her to help Joao overcome his learning difficulties. The extra help seems to work. “One day before school,” Joao remembers, “I wanted to give it up, thinking English was too difficult for me. But my brother and my mom’s friends encouraged me, saying that if they did it, I could do too.”
For Everalda Sidaravicius, Brazilian psychologist and counselor in psychotherapy in Canada, the lack of English among immigrant parents should not stop them from getting involved in their children’s education. “Parents can help in their own language on disciplines that use universal symbols, like math and science,” she says.
Sidaravicius suggests parents get engaged in their kid’s schooling, participate in school meetings, get to know their teachers, and following their children’s performance along the way. More important, she says, is that the parents serve as an example for their children. Let them see you reading, or trying to read in English. Make clear that they will succeed with their English studies and, the better they get, the easier their lives will be.
Joao learned the lesson quickly. Arriving in Canada a month after the beginning of classes, he started attending St. Luke Catholic School one week later. He was seated close to other Portuguese speakers in an attempt to make him more comfortable, but it was the mocking from the English-speaking students that pushed Joao to dominate the new language fast.
“Those boys laughing at me, telling me to learn English first and then talk to them…That served as a ‘fuel’ for my body. It made me want to learn more, more, more, until I get good enough and say: Now I’m speaking English, just like you.” Joao was supposed to attend grade 7, but due his age, he was put into grade 8. The same year, Joao had to attend summer school for lacking five points in history. However, the brave teen finished it as the best student in the course, proudly showing a 95 percent on his report card.
Now in grade 10, the teen has lots of friends and no longer gets upset when someone laughs at him.
“People are more mature in high school. They don’t laugh when you make mistakes. And, if they laugh, I laugh too.” In the future, Joao wants to become a pilot. Where? Here in Canada. “I love this country,” he justifies.
Continuing his self-education tactic, Joao keeps playing videogames, now not only a precious gadget to sharpen his English skills but also an excellent “flight simulator”. CNM
Tips To Help Your Children With Homework
- A routine is good. Make homework a habit. Work out a homework schedule and make sure children stick to it. It won’t be long before homework is complete without you getting involved.
- Practice makes perfect. Repetition reinforces learning. That’s why it’s helpful to have kids practice reading, writing and math with you every day. Ten to 15 minutes a day can work wonders, whether reading a favourite book together, or helping measure ingredients in the kitchen. It can also help you learn English.
- Check occasionally. When kids do their homework all alone, their concentration can often wander. Check in once in a while and see how it’s going. Ask if there are any questions. Sometimes kids just need to talk about a homework problem to figure out the answer.
- Make kids proud of their effort. Getting the answer right is important, but it’s only part of what homework is all about. Doing a thorough and neat job is important, too. Make it a habit to sit down and go over completed homework. Look at it together for thoroughness and overall quality of work. Always look for something positive.
- Know what’s going on at school. Unfortunately, kids don’t always tell parents everything. Make a point of staying in touch with teachers, especially if you have a question or concern. Let teachers know they can always call you if there is a problem.
For more tips and information on how to help your children with homework, go to www.ontario.ca/abc123.