A discussion on Twitter inspired me to put together some of my Favourite Links on this topic, one that really gets me going. But I thought I’d share our personal story too. Since I don’t have a classroom of my own (yet), I’m writing as a parent here.
I began to think about the value of homework when BB#1 started JK. His teacher occasionally sent home packets of worksheets, though she was always clear that these were optional, which I appreciated. For every kid like mine, who loves learning but resisted anything that smacked of being assigned, I know there are kids that actually love this kind of thing and probably completed every one of those sheets. For every parent like me, who thinks that all kinds of other learning takes place at home, I know there are parents who believe in early introduction and emphasis on academics, and expect teachers to assign homework.
My concerns about homework being assigned to four-year-olds prompted me to pick up The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, a writer I already respected for his parenting books. Reading Kohn not only confirmed my belief that homework at the primary level is really unnecessary (and potentially detrimental), he also chips away* at non-academic arguments for homework (e.g. teaching work habits). I won’t rehash his points here–if you are seriously interested in this topic, I suggest reading the book. I especially think educators should read it—it may prompt them to reconsider what kind of homework they are assigning and why.
Once BB#1 started Grade One, I was conflicted. He was now in French Immersion, and since my husband and I don’t speak or read French, it did seem to me that some homework wouldn’t be a bad idea so he could practice what he was learning at school. On the other hand, he was already in school more hours a day than he was at home (awake). The last thing he wanted to do was put in a second shift, and I couldn’t blame him. But nightly homework was given by his teacher, and so, having always been a good little student myself, I felt compelled to “make” him do it, despite my own reading and beliefs on the topic (and the fact that I seem to have turned out okay even though regular homework really didn’t start until I was in Grade Seven!)
It did not go well. What was supposed to take ten minutes would take closer to an hour, with BB#1 resisting and me getting increasingly frustrated that he wouldn’t just sit down and do it. Often we’d both be in tears. So we tried capping the time he spent on it—he’d work for twenty minutes and if it wasn’t complete, that was fine, we’d leave it (some practice was better than none, right, and perhaps the teacher would realize she was assigning too much). But this would result in twenty minutes of him not working, and nothing getting done. Or he’d be upset that his work was incomplete—he didn’t want to do it, but he also didn’t want to get in trouble for not doing it. Meanwhile, BB#2 would be interrupting, wanting his brother to play with him after being gone all day, and I’d be trying to make dinner at the same time… Ultimately, we were learning something, but it probably wasn’t what the teacher had in mind.
I decided that having my son hate school, and being French Immersion, in Grade One, was not worth all this stress. Six hours of school, five days a week, was more than enough. He was six years old—he needed down time, time to play with his brother, time to read in English (on top of the assigned homework he was of course expected to read in French and English each night), time to eat a meal, time to rest, time to watch TV or play video games (yes, I said it), time to have a bath, time to take part in other activities…
So instead of trying to “make” him do his homework, I just started leaving the work in his bag, untouched. I didn’t formally tell his teacher we were doing this, or why, and she didn’t ask. He continued to learn to speak, read and write in French—he may not have gotten straight As, but that is not our priority (and honestly I don’t believe the homework would have made any difference there). We just wanted him to have a positive attitude and LEARN: and he was. We were thrilled with his progress, and we weren’t spending every evening fighting over worksheets.
A funny thing happened when he started Grade Two. He started doing his homework, pretty much unprompted. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, he was older, more mature, and had more stamina. Second, he really, really liked his teacher, and I think it was important to him to meet her expectations. And third, he wasn’t getting as much homework! This attitude has continued into third grade (and I feel this year’s teacher is very reasonable in what she assigns—often it’s just unfinished work from the day. And reading. Reading I’m in agreement with, we just don’t log it.) Now, if I thought homework was still causing undue stress on my son or our family, I would have continued to opt out, perhaps on a more formal basis. But because he is taking more of a lead on this, for whatever reason, I feel I should support him.
But next year when BB#2 starts Grade One–a tough transition to full-day school in another language–I know one thing: I won’t be battling with him to do homework.
*sentence edited to remove the term “great job” in association with Alfie. Heh.