When my older daughter was in kindergarten and first grade, she had the type and amount of homework you'd expect a kindergartner and first-grader to have: drawing, reading and math a few times a week, plus the occasional special project. It was never really tough stuff, although what emerged as painful was pinning her down when she was already tired after school to do work that was usually boring or redundant, and, often, seemingly pointless (I'm looking at you, Scholastic News booklet-thingys).
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Her next year, however, an announcement was made at back-to-school night. The second-grade teachers banded together and unofficially decided there's really no benefit to homework. They asked us to ensure our kids read a little every night, and occasionally they emailed a request to review basic math skills via flash cards.
If we talk about work-life balance for adults, how are we not having the same discussion for kids?
That's when a miraculous thing happened. After-school time became not a battle but a beautiful thing. (Full disclosure: The same witching, un-happy hour drama continued, but it wasn't related to spelling practice or reading logs.) There was no pestering, yelling, crying, threatening, door slamming or general misery (again, because of homework; it still existed because of other stuff, like being a kindergartner and first-grader ). She did her reading, she didn't roll her eyes at the sporadic math worksheet, and she ended the year more than ready for third grade, while our family managed to become just a little less tense in the process.
When I met her new teacher before school started last month, he made it known the third-grade teachers are on the same page as the second-grade teacher—as in, no homework. We all rejoiced.
It appears as if our school is perhaps a bit ahead of the curve, because other schools are making news just now for similarly doing away with work at home. One school, which is said to be under-performing, is doing away with homework entirely as an official policy, although they're also lengthening the school day. My kids' school regularly outperforms most others in the state, so that's not a concern. And since falling behind in testing and other standardized measures is off the table, our district is able to look at things like research and anecdotes that show there's really not much benefit to littler kids doing structured work outside of school hours.
Sure, while I like the idea of my kids getting accustomed to healthy study habits and being held accountable for turning in work neatly, accurately and on time, I also know from experience that there will be no lack of that as they get older. Schools and families should naturally and continually reinforce the learning that happens at each place, but doing it as a rule seems superfluous and annoying. Plus, the idea that a school can look beyond the campus to healthier family interactions seems revolutionary, if not something that should always have been happening. If we talk about work-life balance for adults, how are we not having the same discussion for kids?
The parent-child dynamic is no small thing, either. Working parents who come home after a long day could easily benefit without the added stress of furthering a lesson plan that began in the classroom. Likewise, teachers who have too much to deal with already during their working hours shouldn't have to give kids yet another lesson on matters that probably can and should start and end at home—at least in areas where most families are typically available to spend time with their kids at home.
Of course a "no homework" policy probably won't benefit kids who are struggling in some subjects, or for schools that need to up their game as a whole to protect funding and grants. But the long-held notion that homework is necessarily an integral part of early education seems to be emerging as antiquated—and rightly so.