What This Teacher Learned About Homework After Having Kids
February 21, 2017
I need to start off with an apology to the parents of my former students. I'm guessing my zeal for learning ruined more than one of your family nights. Please know I truly believed I was doing what was best when I packed your kid's backpack with extra spelling homework and math practice sheets. I thought it would be fun for you to cut out all those letters and make big words. Who wouldn't want to quiz their kids nightly on math facts? And everyone has time for 30 minutes of reading for the love of it. I pictured your family all gathered around cozy books, reading, chatting.
That in depth family history project I assigned? I thought for sure that would bring your family closer and give your offspring a chance to contact all those long lost relatives, or at least spend an hour on the phone with grandpa finding your roots.
Plus you'd get a chance to gather as a family to create that awesome tri-fold poster for family history day, which I planned smack dab in the middle of your work day, I know. But getting off work to participate in your child's education should be no problem right?
I felt like an accomplished educator as kids filled every box of their agendas with a night of learning fun each and every day.
I was so stupid.
As a parent of 5 kids homework is my nemesis. Not only does it cause wailing and gnashing of teeth most nights, but research shows that it has little to no impact on the learning of our elementary school kids, and very limited benefits after that. Harris Cooper, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Duke University and current guru in all things homework related says this, “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” Yup. you read that right. No benefit.
Add in the fact our kids are spending less and less time outside, and family time is being squeezed out by extracurriculars, and we are doing a disservice to our little people. I see kids tied in knots of stress over getting it all done.
An hour of gymnastics, and hour of homework, an hour for dinner and our kids are done for the night. It's all too much. Currently, the National Education Association recommends at most 10 minutes a night per grade level starting in first grade, so those fourth graders I was teaching should have spent no more than 40 minutes a night. Since I kicked their night off with 30 minutes of reading I'm pretty sure they went way over most nights.
I've done a complete 180 on my homework philosophy. I am now officially an educator that is a homework hater.
Don't get me wrong. As kids get older homework might have to be a thing. I still believe kids of all ages should read outside of school for pleasure and we need to find a way to encourage them to love this. It's just that now I believe it doesn't have to involve timers and reading logs. A quick practice of spelling words or math facts here and there may be a great idea. I can even get behind the occasional math worksheet if students really need a bit of extra practice, instead of sending them home every night like I did because "the math program insisted upon it." Overall, I think kids would learn so much more at night if they just had time to be kids.
If I had a time machine I would travel back and assign things like spending time doing something you love as a family instead of that family history project. Or I would make sure you take some time to be alone with your thoughts. Or go outside and lay in the grass and look at the sky. Or have a frog hunt. Or bake some brownies. Or do something nice for your siblings. Or...figure out how to spend your night and entertain yourself dear child.
That is a skill that kids these days actually need and have very little time to practice. Leaving that agenda as blank as possible would be my new goal. Because let's face it, a lot of the homework for our elementary kids involves parents. Just look at the at-home projects lining the first-grade hallway. I am not fooled people...that Pinterest worthy art project was not created by a 6-year-old.
I am lucky that my kids' teachers get this way more than I did. My littles don't spend their nights checking off the to-do list in the agenda. The assignments that are sent home are clearly meant to be done by kids and there is an understanding that if kids can't practice it on their own that they should cut and run after 10-20 minutes of effort. I am grateful that my kids don't have me as a teacher, we would be failing to live up to our job at home I have no doubt.
As I look around the world of education I see the pressure to have kids practice all the things at home, to make the "home-school connection", to prepare them for the future is there and it's time to cut everyone a break. We don't have to get our 2nd graders ready for high school level homework. They just need to be 2nd graders. Each assignment is not the enemy itself, but the piling on of well-intentioned assignment after assignment is back breaking for families and teachers.
No parent wants to spend the night with their child in tears over seven math problems, and no teacher wants to correct baskets of work the kids bring back to school the next day. I hate to admit this, but so much of what I had kids do was just checked off and recycled the next day. I didn't even look at it. It was not helpful to their learning, but instead a reflection of their family's ability to plow through and get my ridiculous list of demands accomplished.
So friends, can we all agree to take a breath? Less is more in homework land. If your kids have piles of it, it's OK to chat with the teacher and draw some boundaries. They may not realize what you are dealing with each night. The sweet parents of my former students may have wanted to do just that. But your night with your kids is your night and you should get a say in how you spend that time.
Once they are older and get grades for homework all bets are off, and you will have to suck it up. At this age, they can be more independent and sometimes their homework assignments are a result of them not finishing their work in school, (or is that just at my house?) Middle school and high school kids can start to learn things about organization and time management through a homework assignment here and there.
If it is too much we can advocate for change here as well. You might be surprised by how willing teachers are to work with parents so your night can stay intact. The awesome teachers I work with, and those my kids have, bend over backward to help my kids be successful when they are completely overwhelmed. It's important to remember we are all on the same team, and that everyone on the team could use a break once in awhile, teachers, parents and kids included.