Our kids’ days are changing, and after a couple of back-to-school nights, I’m excited for my kids. Old school rigidity is out the window, paving the way for new school trends.
Recently, my husband and I attended our daughter’s back-to-school night, where we saw just how much things are changing. From eight years ago when my son started kindergarten, to now, my daughter’s fifth-grade year, policies have been revamped, curriculum changed, and procedures completely overhauled.
I remember our first back-to-school night. The big takeaway for me was that my kids would be buried in homework until they finished their school careers. The district policy was to assign 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night.
For kindergarten, 5-10 minutes a night didn’t seem like much, but I looked ahead to fifth or sixth grade, and realized it was just a matter of a few years before we’d be spending an hour a night on homework. Little did I know, it would only be a matter of a few months before I sat with my son for well over an hour for many nights of the week, trying to get him just to do the darned work.
A particular mandatory project sticks out in my memory. He had to write from 1-100 on a piece of paper, that’s it. It was a district requirement, required for him to move on.
I coached, demanded, begged and threatened as he laboriously wrote one number at a time, throwing colossal fits between each effort. He rolled under the table, screaming and crying. I considered doing the same. The exercise was pure torture — for both of us.
What did we learn?
Not how to write to 100. That was just busy work — he knew perfectly well how to do it, he just didn’t want to. We did, however, catch a glimpse of the nightly battles to come. We learned to dread the next assignment. We learned that learning was going to be a struggle — a hardship on our relationship — the worst part of our day, a burden on our family.
It was a harsh introduction to his school career.
Homework continued to weigh us down for the next seven years. The assignments nearly always took us an extra half hour or more worth of spinning our wheels. Or extra work, because the task was too big for the allotted time.
“Study spelling 5 minutes a night. The test is on Friday.” Yet at the end of the prescribed studying, he still couldn’t spell those words to save his life. So we’d keep going.
I remember a fourth-grade project that was overdue. “Where is it?” I asked my son. He dropped to the floor in our family room, reaching far under the sofa to retrieve it. He’d hidden it, hoping it would just go away.
Multiple studies have shown that our situation is not unusual. Homework for younger grades is shown to have no positive academic benefit, and many negative effects on students’ attitudes on learning. Do you hear that? This nightly struggle was all for nothing.
Evidence clearly shows that those homework hours would be better spent enjoying each other. Relaxing. Taking a family walk. Strengthening family relationships, and encouraging positive attitudes toward learning.
This year, my heart skipped a beat when our principal announced that regular homework had been eliminated schoolwide for kindergarten through fifth grade. She will benefit this year, and luckily, her teachers last year employed this same philosophy. But for my son? It came eight years too late.
I pulled up my calculator and added up the amount of time I estimate we’ve spent struggling over homework. Between both kids, I’d say we’ve spent about 30 days straight, with no sleeping, arguing about writing from 1 to 100, spelling words and math problems. I stared at that number. Sometimes, it’s better not to do the math.
I called my mom to tell her the news. To vent my frustrations built up over the last few years — and to lament that all this struggle I thought was helping them probably was not doing any good.
She pointed something out to me. We never had homework in grade school. This progressive, a-ha moment that young kids need time to be kids? Well, it’s not new school at all. It’s actually just going back to old school wisdom.
Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell.