It’s Sunday night and “Houston, we have a problem”. It’s not that the kid hasn’t done her homework; the problem is that the homework isn’t dry yet. This time round the homework was to celebrate the end of the Solar System topic that her class has been doing. The learning log challenge was to answer some questions about the planets, in whatever format you wanted. So the kid has spent the past two weeks working on a clay solar system and some planet fact cards to go with it. And herein lies our problem – she made the sun too late and too big, and the clay hasn’t dried yet. And until the clay dries a bit more, the paint that she’s put on the sun just won’t dry either. Every time we try to pick it up we get orange on our fingers.
“Why don’t you just take in the fact cards, and the planets that are already dry?” I suggest. “I’m sure that will do.”
“But that spoils the point,” the kid says. “The point is it’s the solar system and the solar system has to have the SUN.”
“Will Miss mind if it’s late?” I ask. I’m not too sure of the etiquette for delayed solar systems, and I don’t want her to get into trouble unnecessarily.
“Not if I explain the reason why,” she says. “Miss will understand. And you can help me take it in as soon as it’s dry.”
This morning the sun was finally dry enough to put in the box with the other planets, to take into school. The kid placed them carefully, lovingly in the box, in the right order. We added some fairy lights in a last minute dash of inspiration, to represent the stars. All the way into school she chatted about how Mercury was rolling out of position, how Mars didn’t move around because of the volcanoes she put on it, and how the Moon simply wouldn’t stay still. The box was really heavy so I had to carry it into school for her. As we arrived in the classroom, her teacher was talking to the class, so we snuck in at the back and I put the solar system down on a table.
“Ah!” her teacher said, smiling broadly and rushing over to look inside the box. “It’s the mysterious solar system at last! I’ve been so intrigued to see what that too wet sun was all about!”
I guess her teacher could have said that “there is no excuse for a late homework” and given my kid a detention. If she had, I would have insisted to the kid that she take it on the chin. (We had a chat about how she could have planned ahead a bit better; I think she learned that lesson without the need for a punishment of any kind.) Certainly it would be tricky in a large secondary school to be flexible about homework like this – to differentiate between all the reasons why homework might be late. But I wonder if we lose something along the way in our desire to be consistent and not to let the boundaries slip. Something to do with intrinsic motivation and the desire to take risks. The idea that mistakes are part of being human, and that forgiving people for their errors is not necessarily a bad thing.
“You won’t be able to do this when you go to secondary,” I said to the kid, before we set off this morning, to deliver the solar system. “You’ll get a detention if you don’t hand in your homework on time.”
“Detention? Urrgghh!” the kid said, scrunching up her nose and thinking for a moment. “Well then I’d better not do clay for homework when I go to secondary school.”