I can’t begin to tell you just how happy I am that Thanksgiving week is finally here! Not because there is eggnog and sweet potato pie to be had (although yesss to that, too!) But even more exciting than that, what I’m over the moon about is having several sweet days over which my household will joyfully be freed from the nasty, evil, needy clutches…of homework.
More yesss. And high-fives all around!
Hectic weeks like the ones I’ve had for the entire last month and a half remind me only too well just why it is that I’m so not a fan of my grade school kids having homework. Not that a reminder was needed. Even when life isn’t so crazy (which is…never), I’m still not a homework fan. I didn’t like it when I was a student. And as a parent, my feelings remain unchanged.
To be clear: of course I am a strong proponent of education. I want my kids to be solid students and avid lifelong learners just because. But it’s all the extra stuff, all the seeming “busy work”, that I worry can actually quell the natural curiosity and desire to seek knowledge on one’s own.
I also truly love, appreciate, and have a ton of respect for teachers. Really. But that being said, I still think they should be made aware that homework kills trees. And that assigning it in the early grades is just plain annoying. At least it is at my kids’ school, anyway. Every Monday they are sent home with a packet of worksheets that are to be completed and turned in Friday morning. It comes with a “suggested” breakdown of which assignments should be completed on a specific weeknight. We are told that it should not take the students any more than 20 minutes to complete. In addition, each child is to read at least 20 minutes per day. My kids enjoy reading and don’t necessarily consider that part as “homework” but technically, since it’s assigned reading, that does turn it into more like 40 minutes of homework per day. And truthfully, sometimes those worksheets can take a bit more than 20 minutes. So now we’re talking about close to an hour of assigned work. On top of that, there are many times the homework calls for the parent to actively help and engage with the assignment. Daily. And here is where my resentment begins to broil.
After school and work is quite the chaotic time in our household (isn’t it for everyone?) I sympathize with my kids after being restrained to a desk all day, particularly my middle child, who struggles tremendously with focus and hyperactivity. He does so well with trying to keep it in control all day in school that it’s no wonder he is climbing the ceiling and bouncing off the walls when he gets home. He needs that release. And I want him to have that downtime. He deserves that time to run around outside or have free, unstructured playtime with his toys. He’s still six. But rarely is there ever time for any of this. I don’t know too many families with one or more parents working outside the home where everyone is all home by 5 pm with the lay of the evening wide open before them. We often don’t even all get home until 6:00 or 6:30 pm. Getting dinner on is always a challenge; even when it’s planned ahead and partly prepared, everything just takes that much longer with three young kids in the house, especially when one of said children is a clingy, whiny toddler who, after a long day at daycare, wants nothing less than every drop of your undivided attention. Every. Drop.
It’s during this meal preparation/cleaning house/bouncing 40 lb baby on hip-time that the kids will start their homework (instead of having the downtime I truly think they deserve instead). So now its 6:30 or even 7p before dinner is served. We do manage to sit down together as a family for dinner and this is the 30-45 minutes in which the household finally starts to breathe and calm down. But when dinner is complete, I’m right to helping with homework, timing and recording them on how long it takes to read multiple passages, facilitating spelling tests, reviewing and signing forms. And I’m doing this times two. And rushing because they have an 8pm bedtime! For which the preparation of should really begin even several minutes before. So yes, I resent the fact that the basically one and only hour and a half each weeknight that we have to spend time together as a family is eaten into by homework. I would much rather spend that time taking an evening stroll outside, actually getting down on the floor and actively playing with my kids and their toys, or (finally) having our (should be weekly) Family Game Night (which has had to be cancelled way more times than I can count because all too often there just hasn’t been enough time to play).
And all it takes is one off-day to throw everything even more out of whack. One late gymnastics practice, traffic on the commute home, having to make a grocery store-run midweek, taking a sick child to after hours clinic; just one curveball can mess up that day’s “suggested homework” leaving little choice other than to push it to the following day. But in doing that, that so-called “only 20 minutes of homework” (which, remember, is really 40+) now has the potential to be over 80-90 minutes of homework!
What I recall of elementary school is that we had some homework every now and again but it was nothing like what the kids have now. And because it was only given every so often, we typically would be excited over having assignments like the Big Kids and would actually be eager to do it! I also remember having the weekend to complete it because that’s always when I would work on it. My weekday afternoons were instead spent outside playing, just as they should have been. There were no daily packs of worksheets and there was never anything my parents even had to review or sign, let alone actually sit down and help with!
And to clarify even further, it’s not that I have a problem with sitting with my kids and helping them with homework. I am actually very interested in seeing what they are learning so I can follow along, review, and think of ways to further enrich at home though trips and activities and the like. But overall I do feel that homework should be for the student to complete independently. Instances of needing help from a parent should be few and far between, and should mainly consist of only needing to clarify directions for the child! If active participation is required then a parent should have the flexibility to set aside time on whichever day works best for them to work on that one task, not daily tasks! I get that they were probably trying to be mindful of not assigning homework over the weekend, but honestly, for our family, anyway, that would actually be the better time to do it. It would be so much easier to spend an hour completing homework on a late morning Saturday or Sunday when the kids are refreshed and alert rather than when we are all under the stress and time constraints of the harried workday weeknight. I imagine we can’t be the only family that this would work better for.
The truth is, though, that really we could work on it over the weekend and turn it in the following Monday, or even better, turn it in never. The teachers do set clear expectations to the children that the homework is to be completed, but technically, the current school policy does not mandate it (at least from grades K-2). Which is why normally I wouldn’t lose any sleep over any of this; if they do it they do it, if they don’t, they don’t (and figure of speech only here, please believe I still get all my sleep!) But of course my kids, even when they are ridiculously overtired, antsy, whining and complaining, still want nothing less than to please their teachers and wouldn’t dream of disappointing them by not turning in their work. So every night it gets done, whether Mommy wants to or not.
Out of respect for their hard-working teachers, and because I also want them to be honorable and responsible students and humans, I’ve not disclosed to the kids that even if they were never to turn in a single sheet, it would not have any effect whatsoever on their classroom performance or grade level promotion. But inwardly, I do moan and groan over why we even have to bother with it at all. Not to say that the work itself isn’t important; I’m sure it’s all relevant. But still, I don’t think these worksheets are really going to be the thing that gets my kids ahead in life, or that makes them any smarter, either. For this age group, six hours of school instruction seems plenty. Once they are home, it just seems to me that playtime and family time should be their one and only focus and concern.
Middle school is typically when homework begins to be counted as part of a student’s grade and this I can live with. At this stage, the need to have homework makes a lot more sense. I understand needing to read textbook passages at home to be ready to discuss in class the next day and that doing a few math problems at night will provide the extra practice some students may need. But crazily enough, it seems this is the point that the workload outside of school actually seems to lighten! My niece, an honors high school student, confirms she doesn’t typically have much homework, perhaps some every few days and only as needed, and that’s just the way I remember it being, too. Homework certainly has its place, but that just doesn’t mean that is has to be every. single. day. just because. Maybe then some students (and parents) wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed and resentful about it.
Because as I’m writing this, I think it’s becoming more clear to me just why this all bugs me so in the first place. Maybe I’m not so much bothered that homework takes too much time of the day; maybe it’s more that I’m wistful there simply isn’t more time in the day. I’ve always been acutely aware of the passage of time, but lately I’ve been feeling it even more keenly. With my youngest growing in leaps and bounds and knowing that that he is our last one…I’m distinctly starting to experience hard a deep and overwhelming urge from the very depths of my soul for time to just please slow down. In a matter of only a few short years, I will no longer have a house filled with tiny children. And while I’m open to embrace their new stages in growing up, my heart is still already aching over what I know is soon to pass. More so than ever, I just want to spend as much time as is humanly possible with them. I want to hug them, kiss them, play with them, love them, squeeze them, embrace them, literally inhale them, every single second of every single day that I am with them, with nothing else, not even homework, to stand in our way! All day, every day! And all while they still want me to. For I know there will soon come a day when they will not be as interested…even when there’s no homework to be done.