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Kids Don't Need Homework in Kindergarten

Photograph by Getty Images

Just two short months ago I waxed poetic (sincerely) about what a joy it was to see my oldest son in kindergarten. And it was. But then the homework started. Suddenly, I am feeling a lot less warm and fuzzy about everything.

These days I have been a little shell shocked about how the reality of kindergarten is so different both from my memory of kindergarten and my idealization of kindergarten. Pardon me while I adjust my glasses and lean on my cane. But in my day, kindergarten was a three-hour daily event followed by enjoying a frozen John’s pizza in front of the TV with my best friend.

My son’s experience is vastly different. For starters, he leaves the house at 7:15 to get there in time to start at 8 a.m. He doesn’t finish until 3 o'clock. Seven hours is a long day for a five-year-old. And that seven hours is not spent in a play-based environment. Nope. Those kids need to prep for college and jobs and life!

On the one hand, I cringe. Can’t a kid just be a kid? On the other hand, I know that it’s a whole new world out there and things are changing — even in kindergarten. Am I doing my son any favors by ignoring those changes or railing against them or pulling him to homeschool? Believe me when I say I would be the world’s worst homeschooling parent. Trust me on this one. Not a good idea. Anyway, I feel too strongly about collective institutions and the like. Homeschooling is not an option that would work for our family. And, so, we will make it work in our local public school.

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That means finding a happy middle ground with kindergarten homework. We first learned that homework would be introduced during a week-long orientation we attended this summer with our boy. The teacher seemed sensitive to parent concerns and minimized it, assuring us that it would be a max of 15 minutes a day and all online.

Well, things change. Just days before the school year, we were informed that the kindergarten teacher had transferred and a new one had just been hired. This gal, sweet as pie, has different ideas about the value and place of kindergarten homework. She likes it. Loves it, truth be told. There are no fewer than 10 to 12 assignments a week.

My head spins trying to keep up with what we were not keeping up with.

While some parents wanted no homework, other parents were canvassing the teacher for more homework.

Like a good parent, an involved parent, a parent working hard not to explode with all the frustrations of a tired boy not interested in more work at the end of a very long day (play! He needs play!), I brought my concerns to the teacher. She was wonderful, reassuring and reasonable, explaining that all homework in kindergarten is to be considered optional.

Except still. There was that one comment at the end of our exchange about how whatever we were able to do at home would benefit our son in the long run. It felt like an underhanded way of suggesting that, if I loved my son, we would do the work — for him, for his future. So, once again, the doubt and frustration crept into my thoughts about kindergarten homework. Did I love my son enough to push him?

It turns out, on the continuum of parents in the room, my concerns fell somewhere in the middle. While some parents wanted no homework, other parents were canvassing the teacher for more homework. God bless the five-year-old who can tolerate two to three hours of homework a night, but that is not my child. Nope. Not even close.

In the end, kindergarten homework and I have agreed to peacefully co-exist. I can acknowledge that there are improvements in our child’s handwriting and math skills. It’s impressive, really, how quickly he has progressed since the beginning of the school year. Can I point to homework being the reason for those improvements? Nope, I can’t.

Part of that is figuring out what that looks like in the new situations school brings into our family.

On nice days, warm days, sunny days, homework will always take a back seat to playing with a five-year-old. The winters are cold here in Chicago, the daylight short. Perhaps January and February will lend themselves to worksheets and tracing assignments. But for now, a day picking leaves or watching the waves crash on shore are teaching my boy everything a five-year-old needs to learn.

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As his mother, I need to do what is best for my son. Part of that is figuring out what that looks like in the new situations school brings into our family. I have learned that absolutist thoughts, e.g., homework is the devil, do not help my boy. Like most things in life, moderation is key.

Using my boy as my guide, we will keep the door open to kindergarten homework. Well, maybe not open, but unlocked. We’ll work hard, but not to the exclusion of play and imagination. And we’ll never, ever let The Man get us down. (Ha! That last one was for humor’s sake. I think. Maybe. Possibly.)

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