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Your homework is interrupting my day

If you hang around with parents of young children long enough, you’re bound to hear complaints about homework. I’ve been hearing this kind of chatter well before I had a child who was in school and I think I’ve finally hit my threshold on it. (And so I shall inflict my rant upon my unsuspecting blog readers. Evil laugh.) 

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Here’s the scene: I’m at a playdate/get-together at a friend’s house. I don’t know any of the other parents besides the friend who invited me. The kids are playing in the basement. The parents are in the sitting room enjoying some wine. The topic of homework comes up. *Sigh* I try to engage in some daydreaming. But that doesn’t work. I’m forced to listen to the same ol’ moans about homework. However, one woman has taken her beliefs on homework way farther than I’ve heard before. Now I’m listening. This could get interesting.

Interesting woman: “Yes, I’ve had issues with Mrs. [teacher name] on the very same thing.”

Other woman: “It’s just so hard to get homework done. I don’t have much time with my son, so the last thing I want to do is spend time battling with him about homework.”

Me [inside voice]: Yeah, I could see how that wouldn’t be fun.

Interesting woman: “My children don’t do homework.”

Me [inside voice]: Huh. I must be really programmed because I never even thought that was an option. But, wow, that’s kinda rebellious I guess.

Interesting woman: “I’ve actually had screaming matches with Mrs. [teacher name] in the school hallway on this.”

Me [inside voice]: Okay, we’re moving past rebellious into some kinda other territory perhaps?

Interesting woman: “I told her that if she has a problem with our son not doing homework that she can arrange for a meeting with me and my husband and the principal.”

Me [inside voice]: Hmmm … I bet there’s more to this story. Some juicy bits.

Interesting woman: “The research shows that doing homework at a young age does not improve academic results and whatnot.”

Man: “Why do they give homework, anyway? It is because the teachers aren’t getting their job done during the day so they send it home?”

Me [inside voice]: Here we go. I knew it would eventually come to this: teacher-bashing. I’m going to fill up my wine glass now.

Man: “Like, why do they spend time colouring and whatnot. If they spent the time in school teaching, then we wouldn’t need homework.”

Other woman/Interesting woman/Man: [chuckles]

Me [inside voice]: Quick, get up and get another glass of wine before you blow your top!

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Wondering why I stayed quiet? Well, I have enough teachers in my family to know that I simply can’t respond in a nice, calm objective way when we stumble into the ol’ teacher-bashing territory. So I just try and keep my mouth shut (at least with people I don’t know!). 

Surely, though, I am not the only one who sees value in homework, am I? I mean, yes, it can be a pain if your child is whining about not wanting to do homework and you have to cajole them into it. It can also be a pain to teach your child to go to bed at an appropriate time at night, or to eat from all the nutritional groups, or even to say “please” and “thank you” — and call me old fashioned — but I think that all these things are a parent’s job.

So without consulting a single bit of research, here are three plain ol’ common sense reasons why I think parents should encourage their children to do homework.

1. Your attitude rubs off on your children
Sure, you might find that helping a young child do their homework is tedious or annoying or useless, but what are you teaching your child about homework in voicing this to them? You’re helping them develop a bad attitude towards homework. Eventually, in highschool and university, homework is not an option — your child will need to do it to succeed and pass their courses — but a negative attitude developed early in life will likely be hard to kick.

Tips from an amateur: I can get really frustrated helping my daughter to do homework. She can be a real perfectionist and decide to simply not do something instead of risking to get it wrong. To get through this while biting my tongue and trying to preserve my own attitude (and thus, hopefully, hers), I sometimes tag-team with my husband to get through a particularly tough teaching moment. Other alternatives are to (1) skip the difficult part and move onto the rest and get that done. Sometimes the success builds positive momentum and the hard part doesn’t seem as hard anymore; (2) when all else fails, stop working on it that night and decide to do it immediately after breakfast. After a fresh sleep and a full belly, your child might be more inspired to learn.

2. Homework teaches good study habits
Good study habits are essential for success in higher education. Starting to do homework young may not help a youngster’s grades, but surely it can help in the long-term development of good study habits. When I was young, I cannot recall ever having a bedroom that didn’t have a desk, a lamp and some basic supplies. My parents were both the first in their families to attend university, and neither grew up with these things in their rooms. Clearly, they thought that life might have been a littler easier if they had of had them though. My favourite desk was an old sewing desk of my mother’s that my father had painted a cheerful bright blue and added pretty glass knobs to the drawers. It was my space for learning.

Tips from an amateur: Despite the small size of our rooms, we managed to squeeze a desk into my daughter’s room. Right now though, while she still needs a lot of help getting through her homework, the desk in her room isn’t particularly helpful. Instead, I have a small “homework bin.” In it, are her own special school supplies that others in the family can’t pilfer — Pokemon pencils, a funky ruler, a children’s French dictionary. I pull this bin out and place it on the dining room table while dinner is cooking. She works there and calls out when she wants help. She works on homework at the same time each night, using the same familiar supplies (unless we hit a roadblock and then defer until after breakfast the next day, as explained above).

3. Homework forces me to get involved in my child’s learning
When your children are young, you have to sit down and guide them through it. This forces me as a parent to really get a feel for which areas my child is doing well in and which areas might need some extra help. It also allows me to better understand what is being taught during the day and the overall philosophy of the teacher. As a working parent who does not volunteer during the day at school, I see homework as a way to keep myself involved and in-the-loop with my child’s education.

Tips from an amateur: I engage with my daughter’s teacher though the homework. If there is something my daughter particularly enjoyed, my husband or I will let the teacher know by including a note. Same thing if something was particularly challenging or if there is a reason why a piece of homework did not get completed. It’s just a small interaction, but I like to think that it helps create a larger “teamwork” approach to helping our daughter learn.

Now, that’s just three reasons. Can you think of more? Or perhaps you’ve read the research and feel that there are indeed strong reasons not to do homework at a young age? Please share and tell!

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Comments

  1. I’m still looking for your blog about HALLMARK….it only hit me at the end of the blog that you were ranting about HOMEWORK – I misunderstood you on the phone! Wow, I was really pumped to hear you rant about card prices and sappy poetry….
    K

  2. I think there are fabulous teachers out there and there some craptastic teachers out there. Like Grade 3 teacher who didn’t know the French word for lemon, or 12-9, or who the prime minister was. There are also fabulous teacher who take our kids on a journey and truly make a difference in their lives. We’ve been lucky, that only one has tried to tell me how to raise my child — we are partners in this. (And I told her off and would do it again.)

    As for homework, I don’t think it does anything. He completes it to complete it and I’m totally ok with that. If it’s not done it’s his responsibility to face the consequences. (I’ll help with dictée.)

    I had a teacher tell me she doesn’t grade homework because she can’t tell who actually completed it. I figure the only projects that are truly educational and may or may not be worthwhile are things like science projects and book reports. The extras. But the rest, in my opinion could be done in class. I don’t come home and put in an extra hour a night. Why do we expect this from our children?

  3. Nat – I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one but I love that you shared your opinions with me. You raised some interesting points (as always).

    Two responses came to my mind: (1) I think there are a ton of things that just can’t be done in class. Like, should studying for a test be done in class? (2) And as for coming home and putting in an extra hour a night — well, I come home and put in much more than an extra hour every night … laundry, dishes, etc. These are my responsbilities. My child has no other responsibilities beside homework. She’s 7 and her homework only takes maybe 15 minutes at the very most from start to clean-up, so I think she’s spoiled in that that’s all that’s really asked of her! The Boy is older than Stella, but still not at an age where I’d really want to see a child having one hour or more of homework. I think that’s for highschool years, but the early years provide a time to prepare and develop the habits.

    Julie

  4. I could not agree more. I don’t want my six year old doing two hours of homework a night, but a reasonable about (say, 15-20 minutes at his age) is an absolute requirement as far as I am concerned, for all the reasons you listed.

    I actually started to give my kids homework last year — when they were in JK and SK respectively — because I felt they needed to work on some basic skills (writing, reading, math) that they were not getting enough exposure to at school. Boy, am I glad I did that. I find that Grade 1 is a big jump — they are expected to have full reading and writing skills just to “meet expectations.”

    Like you, I think of myself as part of my kids’ “teaching team” — that I should be just as involved in their education (at least while they are in grade school) as their own teacher. Teachers have a really, really hard job, and I think it’s unreasonable to ask them to devote hours of personal time to each of their dozens of students. Working on this kind of stuff at home is important.

    • Lynn – Yes, that’s probably the key point is how much homework is the “right” amount of homework. If I look at the homework and think, well that should take 10 minutes, fine. Even if it actually takes my child an hour, all that indicates to me is that she really, really needed help on that skill because we spent an hour, and not 10 minutes, so it’s a good thing we spent some time tackling it. Julie

  5. even though it’s a couple years before the jellybean is in school, i agree with your points. though perhaps i’m a little bias with the hubby being a teacher and all. i have to agree with nat about the amount of crappy teachers out there. when the hubby is struggling to get work and old crappy teachers who are retired and still allowed to supply teach (can anyone say double dipping?) it makes you question the integrity of the system a lot.

    wow, that was a bit of an aside wasn’t it?

    • Smothermother – I agree. The crappy teachers really bring down morale and the profession as a whole. I think what happens is that they started out as good teachers and slowly turned crappy over time. It is easy to get burnt out and jaded as a teacher over time, so it’s not that I really blame them. It’s certainly not a career for everyone. I really think there needs to be a way to provide these people with a second career – retraining programs, incentives to retire early, something!

  6. I agree with you Julie.

    Additionally, in certain areas, repetition is the best way to get it permanently stuck in your brain… spelling ‘beautiful’ (betty eats an ugly toad) for example, or times tables.

    Perhaps the people who dismiss homework as useless are lucky enough to have kids who easily grasp all the material. For me, having to sit with my mom or dad as I grappled with the impossibility of fractions got me through grade five. Teachers don’t always have the time to sit with someone for the 3 hours (ok ok, more like 5 or 6!)that it takes for them to get it.

    I agree with Lynn that even when there is no ‘formal’ homework, in the early years, the little bit of extra time we put in at home provides HUGE dividends.

    In my situation, my son is in SK and early french immersion. He comes home knowing ‘jaune’, but does not practice his English literacy at school. I know the studies all show that Immersion kids are equal to their peers in English at a certain distant time, but I have a real problem with all those years in between that they could be self-teaching through books that interest them… developing vocab, grammar, knowledge! So, we read at home. Self inflicted homework.

    • Brenda – bingo! perhaps it is those with kids who easily grasp the subjects for the first time as they are taught in class. Not all children are like this and a bit of reinforcement at home can’t hurt — more for those who need more, and less for those who need less. Julie

  7. Great topic! I actually think play time in the early grades is as good as homework time. By the time we have dinner made, kitchen cleared, homework done and baths finished, then there is not too much time left. We are all tired, so the TV or computer sometimes get over-used at that time of day. My daughters are in Grade 2 and SK, and my youngest tends to get ignored during homework time. I would much rather we do something as a family, especially in the spring when the weather starts to revive us all and we can spend more time outdoors.

    That being said, I don’t mind the dictee, reading, and math practicing we are doing, but some of the tasks just seem to be assigned for the sake of doing homework.

    • Hi Finola – welcome to my blog! thanks for visiting!

      I think it’s precisely things like dictee/spelling, reading and math practice that are a good reason to do a bit of homework each night. It reinforces the learning from the day, while also allowing to the parent to see progress/lack of progress in these areas.

      Again, I’m not advocating for huge loads of homework! We’re working parents and exhausted at the end of the day too … just 5 or 10 minutes of practice in one area every night or every second night.

      Julie

  8. I haven’t read all the comments, but I just have to say that I don’t think anyone but teachers can fully understand how exhausting and time consuming the job is. I opted for a career change 3 years ago and went into teaching. So I think, unless you’ve been on the other side, please don’t bash teachers.

    The reason why teachers give colouring pages? Because sometimes life happens, like your kids are up all night puking, and you just can’t stay up until morning planning out-of-this-world-fantastic lessons for the next day, so you hand out a colour page to buy yourself some time. Another reason? Because learning is tiring for kids, and sometimes they just need a break.

    Rant over. :)

    • Hi Vicky –

      I completely agree — Unless you actually see the countless hours and energy that teachers put into their jobs, you can’t really understand it. It is a job where you can burn out really easily. I really couldn’t do it myself. I admire teachers and think they play a huge role in my children’s lives.

      As for that colouring comment the man made … grrr … so stupid! If he finds it hard to get his son to do 10 minutes of focused time on school work, then why does he think a teacher can get a whole room of kids to focus on directed learning all day? Kids need a break to regain their attention span (just like adults!). THAT is what the colouring is for!

      Okay, my rant is over now too. :)

  9. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the rule of thumb with homework is 10 mins per grade.

  10. I am opposed to homework, especially for young kids in elementary school. I am opposed because I don’t like the idea of taking away from family time. I also do not believe that you need to ‘get in the habit’, so why take time away from free play and creativity unnecessarily. There is plenty of time for academics later on. I am also opposed because I don’t think that homework helps the kids who really need it.

    If you are someone who is actively engaged in your kids’ school, you will be that way with or without homework. You’ll attend parent-teacher conferences, chat with the teacher when you meet up, and keep on top of your kids’ progress. Your children are likely to be successful no matter what, and then homework really becomes only so much busywork. If, on the other hand, you are NOT this sort of person, or you child is legitimately struggling, homework isn’t going to help. It will be left undone, or further intervention and educational assistance will be required and the homework will only be frustrating.

    I haven’t sought out the detailed research, but from what I understand it backs up my view. I am not blaming teachers for assigning it – in fact, I have spoken with many teachers who feel pressured to assign it by parents. I would also not allow it to evolve to the level of a screaming fight. But I would request to be exempted if my 6-year-old was sent home from school with extra work.

    I relished the freedom I had in my childhood to live and play in an unstructured way. I wish the same thing for my children, and I see homework in the early grades as an obstacle. Kids are only young once, why are we constantly pressuring them to achieve and progress? And is that pressure actually even helpful? I don’t really think so.

    • Hi Amber – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

      If I understand what you are saying, it’s that parents who are engaged have children that are successful in school no matter what. I don’t believe that that’s the case in all circumstances.

      I also don’t see how asking a parent to sit down with their 6-year-old for 5 – 10 minutes of homework is going to interrupt with family time. In fact, I’d argue that it IS actually family time — you are sitting together and going through it together.

      And finally, one last thought: As a teacher, how would you feel if a parent asked for their child to be exempted from homework? I’d feel undermined, even disrespected.

      Just things to think and debate about … Julie

  11. Julie… I had no idea this is what lies waiting for me just a few short years from now. This is a great post, very well thought out and extremely informative!

    I’m going to once again put this at the back of my mind! Not sure I want to add this to the list of things I worry about!! But I will be back ot re-read later!

  12. I had one more thing to add, though it’s slightly off topic. My almost eight-year-old daughter recently joined the after school program in her school. It’s a great program and she is really happy there but the other day she came home with voluntary homework from this program. She was to collect information about the Olympics and bring it in. It was completely voluntary, but it seems all of the other kids were bringing in items and my daughter wanted to contribute too. I told her that I was opposed to it, but if she really wanted to do this, that yes we would help her AFTER she had completed all of her school homework and piano practicing. She was keen, so after all her other work, she then hopped onto the internet to do some more. I would have preferred to see her playing by that time, but I left the decision to her. I am considering contacting the after school program, but I also don’t want to be one of THOSE mothers. Sorry, this ended up being a lot longer than I intended!

  13. Wow, very interesting topic. I am a teacher in South Korea, and I know the schooling is quite different than North America, but I thought I would add my opinion.

    I teach 6 year olds (which is 5 american age) and we give them homework every Monday which they complete over the week and the weekend and hand-in the next Monday. It might take them 10-15 minutes or less each evening. This was not something the teachers decided to do, but the parents demanded.

    I do have personal opinions about children being so academic at such a young age, however this is the way in Korea. It is much more strict here and definitely more demanding than North America. I don’t want to get into that because that is a whole other topic.

    The positive thing I will say about the homework is that it gets the kids and their parents working together. Most of the time all the answers are right and I know that is because the child’s parents are working with them, but I think that is wonderful. Not only is the child practicing some skills (at a level they should be at), but the parent is also seeing where his/her child might need some extra help (whether it be math, spelling, etc.). I do see a difference in the children who’s parents are more involved in their schooling. It’s one thing for a teacher to tell the parent where the child’s level is at, but working together with your child you get too see how they are doing first-hand.

    And yes, coloring is sometimes a necessity! My last class of the day I want the children to get creative, using their hands and imaginations. That should also be a positive thing because it is a long day of school and sometimes the children just want to express themselves in a different way.

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