The Kindergarten curriculum in Ontario supports the belief that playing is a child's work. All the planning I do is focussed on play-based learning, where the children freely explore open-ended activities that will help scaffold future learning. We've all seen this in action in observing our own children's play at home. Children learn through real life experiences, helping with chores, visiting friends and neighbours, and interacting with their siblings in imaginative play.
Play is a vital part of a child's development and sense of self, of finding their place in the world, and especially of learning.
And so, every evening, I struggle when Jude gets home from school. I empty out his backpack, and see the words, "Math, Spelling, Reading" written in his agenda. He groans as I pull a math sheet out of the backpack. The loose guideline given to teachers in regards to how much homework a child should have is "ten minutes per grade". So, grade one students should have work that takes ten minutes.
This is the guideline.I've always been a bit of a rebel when it comes to sending home work from school. Even before I had children of my own, I felt that I was somehow invading the child's home life with "leftovers" from school. I knew that as an adult, I just wanted to go home and be off at the end of the day, and had a strict: work at work, play at home policy for myself. I should clarify that I did send home work if a student had spent the school day goofing off; the deal in my classroom was that we should use the time at school for working and learning, so that when they got home they could do what they wanted to do.
Alfie Kohn states "I discovered that decades of investigation have failed to turn up any evidence that homework is beneficial for students in elementary school. Even if you regard standardized test results as a useful measure, homework (some versus none, or more versus less) isn’t even correlated with higher scores at these ages. The only effect that does show up is more negative attitudes on the part of students who get more assignments."
You can read more here.
I'm in the unique position of being a teacher, and parent of child in my school. I found myself arguing, fighting, bribing, and cajoling my child into completing work every night (that took at least 30 minutes); by the end of it, we were both cross and exhausted. In a typical school day, I have my son for about three hours. I began to resent the fact that we spent a sixth of that precious time struggling through more work.
Homework frustrations are compounded when your child has a learning difficulty. I dreaded this time together, which in turn broke my heart, and turned me into a task-master.
Alfie Kohn's article gave me the confidence to write a note to Jude's teacher (who is also my colleague, and wonderful teacher) today. I feel it is not in Jude's (or our family's) best interest to spend our time together fighting through homework. I agreed that we would continue to work on his spelling words, reading, and a science project on Dingoes, but that all else would have to wait.
We also practise piano and stepdancing in the evenings, and encourage the kids to run upstairs and play their sibling-imagination games. We often do puzzles, play board games, wrestle, cuddle up and read, and watch movies together.The other incident that inspired me to write was that Jude tearfully told us last night that he was held back from gym because he'd done some work "wrong". Granted, he had a supply teacher; we've already clearly expressed to his teacher that we don't want him missing gym or recess for any reason.
There is an art to expressing concerns to your child's teacher. Often, his/her actions are dictated by the powers that be; most schools have policies regarding homework and protocol in regards to work completion. I have been at the receiving end of parents who express their concerns by shouting at me, writing nasty notes, or emailing the principal without talking to me first. Here's a quick guide, off the top of my head, to dealing with concerns:
1. Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Breathe deeply, and keep calm. Shouting in his/her face isn't likely to be effective, as it will create a feeling of defensiveness which is never helpful.
2. Try to get a clear picture of what happened from your child, without judging the teacher or bad-mouthing him/her. One of the biggest struggles a teacher faces is being expected to manage a classroom of children whose parents have no respect for the teacher, and have expressed that to their children.
3. Avoid the "sneak attack" (waiting outside the classroom in the morning, or showing up unannounced through the day). Write a note or call the school expressing that you'd like to meet with the teacher, giving a brief synopsis of your concerns (e.g. "I have some concerns about the amount of homework Jude is receiving; could we meet to talk about what we can do together to support his learning?")
4. Be respectful of your child's teacher, as you would of any other professional. Yes, they are caring for your most precious person, and are paid by taxes that you pay. Your doctor also plays this role, but I imagine doctors receive less aggression than teachers do. This does not give you the right to shout at, insult, or attack them verbally. You'll get much further with honey than with vinegar, if you know what I mean.
You'll do more for your child's success at school by maintaining an open dialogue with their teacher than you will by creating a dynamic where the teacher feels that you're going to argue with every decision he/she makes.
By expressing your concerns and questions respectfully, you're modelling problem-solving and conflict-resolution for your child.
So. This morning I'm feeling a bit more peaceful, having expressed my concerns in a way that acknowledges my child's teacher's professional judgement, but also establishes my role as care-giver of my child. I want him to have time in the evenings to help with the wood, examine chicken bones from dinner with his magnifying glass, draw pictures, and just dream. Childhood is such a fleeting time; there is plenty of time to train children to be "good little workers".
In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out how we might fit in a year or two of homeschooling in the coming years.
This post was supposed to be about homework. It's evolved into something else. Most of my "rant" posts are like this; I don't write a draft, edit, the rewrite...it's all off the cuff.