The Paperchase

Living with a first year middle school student is like living with a newborn; all over again. Contrary to what the teachers and counselors tell you about this year being the year of independence, the year of the planner, the year of organization; the students seem to need you constantly.

When my kindergartner heard all this talk about his big brother going off to middle school, and all this, “you’re on your own kid stuff,” he said, “Will he still come home with us at night? Or will he be sleeping at middle school?”

No, he will be sleeping here, but very little. I would not say this is because the middle school students are “needy”; more that these same teachers are giving them more parent-child homework than they had in 3rd grade. As in, “quiz your kid on this”, “have your parents read this over with you and answer some questions.” It is nice, having this unexpected reunion with a child I had expected to be distant and disconnected from me; but it is an adjustment to not have that alone time” in the evening when all the kids are asleep. You know, to be able to get all that “grown-up” stuff done, and having that peace and quiet so you can think. Instead, the little ones are in bed, and here is your middle schooler, following you around as you mop the floor, asking you to quiz him on his Spanish vocabulary. Like I said. Having a middle school student is like having a newborn all over again.
Middle school is isolating. He does have his organized sports, with gruelling schedules; but when he is not at practice, his head is buried in a book. The volume of homework has left very little time for friends. The homework is not hard; there is just a lot of it; and we’re all unsure about how long it will take him to get it done, and we’re always surprised that is is longer than we anticipated.

I do think he’s having a blast at school. It’s not the dark gloomy


place I remember from my childhood. My son brings home funny stories about who got in trouble in class, and why, the class clown, and the stretchy erasers that drive the teachers crazy. Last week, their teachers took them on a two day camping trip. I kid you not — a camping trip; overnight, lots of fun and no homework.

I received an e-mail form one of his teachers, again reminding me to help quiz him on an upcoming test.


So, I looked at all this isolation that study brings, and then I remembered that TV show The Paperchase. Actually, I don’t really remember anything about the show, except they were friends, helping each other out, and the camaraderie they had built. And, I thought, maybe it’s time to teach them how to build a network of support, and find a way to stay connected to their friends, despite all the homework.


So, we had a study session for the big boys. A paperchase. We found some worksheets based on the test, and they took turns reading the questions, and doing them as a group. They worked pretty hard and intently, with mild interruptions from my two smallest boys who kept doing strip teases and costume changes, and yelled, “look at this thing I built”, while the big guys tried to work. After about an hour of work, they turned on the I-dog, ate brownies and fruit. There was even time for a light-saber fight in the backyard when they were done.


16 comments to “The Paperchase”
  1. Middle school is starting to scare me. My friend’s son is buried in homework too and the teachers here call often. Some of it seems good; most of it seems oppressive. And each teacher seems to give 20+ minutes of stuff to do every night. I don’t know what to make of it yet, but I don’t know if the busy work leaves time for family time, chores, rest.

  2. Very little time for that stuff. Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually homeschooling him at night — and that I should pull him out of school during the day so that I can homeschool him during the day, instead of at night!
    Wondering — seriously wondering, but not realistic. But, I do see the homeschool view very clearly right now.
    Struggling with how much time it all takes. Football will end soon — seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. The 4-5 teacher at my kids’ school is their grandmother – so I’m not that scared, really. I know that some of the new grade 4s are weepy and exhausted right now, shocked at the amount of work they’re suddenly supposed to do, but The Girl is a trooper.

  4. I’m sure that is a great comfort. I will say to those of you I am scaring, that my son seems to be handling it all just fine — he’s having a lot of fun at school. But, for me, it’s weird to watch him working so hard… all the time….And it’s all so new to him. Three months from now, I’m sure things will be different. I’m trying to find a way to find spaces for fun — and that’s quite a challenge.

  5. Our district is so so tough on the kids. I am scared to see what kind of homework, not to mention the quantity of homework, Ben will be bringing home when he hits sixth grade.

    In fourth he’s doing around one hour a night. And it involves me, heavily.

    I sort of thought that by 6th grade they’d be doing their homework without their parents. Sigh.

  6. I think the paperchase was a great idea. Work is so much easier in a group. Hopefully the work will ease up soon. I’m glad he seems to be enjoying school!

  7. By 8th grade, they seem to not have any homework but still follow you around after everyone else has gone to bed wanting to tell you about who got in trouble and who likes who at school. At least that’s what’s going on with my oldest.

  8. Our experience has been pretty positive. I think my daughters time in middle school is much more learning, much less rote than my own during the same period. And though I don’t really like the idea that they ask for the kid to involve the parents, its not a bad thing… but the way they do ‘parent teacher’ meetings totally stinks. So, overall — 8.7 out of 10.

  9. Re: The Paper Chase — do you remember the ‘shrouding’ episode from the series? I was delighted by that one. Not sure I’d want to see that in middle school, though!

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