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
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.
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.
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
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.)