Nothing Better To Do

Christine Wellfare steps back and lets her children learn on their own.

I first learned about plagiarism in Year 3. My homework task was to write a poem about an Australian animal. It’s funny, but 26 years later I can still remember the poem (“The ringtail possum is shy and meek. Through the trees I see him peek…”) – that’s what being reprimanded for cheating can do for you.

My teacher, Mrs Abrahams, called me to her desk and questioned me on my work. “Did you write this?”, “Is this original?”, “Do you know what the word plagiarism means?” I didn’t, but I soon found out, and to this day I have never plagiarised again.

My mother always supported me in my schoolwork. She listened to me read and made me learn my times tables by rote. I still remember sitting in the kitchen with the times-tables chart staring back at me waiting to be remembered. I did what I had to do and completed my work, motivated by my mother’s encouragement and the bitter lesson of having been caught out and brought to account.

Now I am a military spouse with five children and extracurricular activities and homework left, right and centre. Perhaps it’s because I am home full-time and a trained teacher, but I question my children not long after they enter the house about their homework. I often find myself saying, “If I were you I would do it this way,” or, “If I were you I wouldn’t do it like that”. But my children are not me; they need my guidance and support, not my opinion, to help them learn.

I spoon vegetable mash into the baby’s mouth then turn the tap on for my two-year-old to wash her hands, while my six year old follows me reading his home reader and the eight-year-old reads to our now-literate dog. I walk past my 10 year old’s room and instead of diligently working on the assignment due the next day – the one she’s had six weeks to complete – I find her reading the Harry Potter series for the tenth time. There is nothing wrong with reading, or Harry Potter, or both together; it shows my daughter is an extremely bright and capable child. But what about those other qualities I hold in high regard and try to instil in my children: dedication to schoolwork, initiative, commitment (and not just to Harry Potter), conscientiousness and being just that little bit interested in academic endeavours.

So I am doing what any sensible parent would do, which is not staying up until 10pm typing the assignment for her. I am letting my daughter hand in her unfinished, unedited and unacceptable piece of work so she can learn a similar lesson to the one I learned all those years ago. Sometimes the best thing a parent can do is nothing.