Garrett started school August 6, but until last week, he hadn’t really brought home any homework. I kept asking him, “still no homework?” In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so anxious for the grind to start; his first real assignment ended in tears–his, not mine. I handled it the best I could, trying to sooth his ragged emotions, but there is a reason I’m not a school teacher people! I would suck at it. Plus, there’s the whole not really liking other people’s kids thing, but that’s a story for another day.
Then yesterday, I read a thought-provoking article by Wall Street Journal columnist Katy McLaughlin, “Pencils Down: Stop the Homework Insanity.” Click through and read it if you have any time at all, but the gist is that homework causes lots of stress. Stress on parents, marriage, kids, and family life in general. It made me realize a lot of my worry about Garrett’s homework is just that, my silly worry. I’m a rule follower, and blowing stuff off, whether justified or not, makes me nervous. Have I mentioned my first-born takes after me? In the case of Garrett’s schoolwork, I think my biggest concern is how it will seem if he’s showing up with unfinished work. Do we look like lazy parents who don’t have it together? Will he be the only kid in the class not turning in his papers? Because the truth of it is, Garrett is smart. He’ll do just fine whether he misses one silly math sheet or not. It’s not worth the stress, tears, and added pressure.
In addition to the stress-factor McLaughlin writes about, she also emphasizes the impact homework time has on other activities, particularly sports or other non-scheduled, active play. Says McLaughlin, whose kids are avid soccer players, “I know much criticism is reserved for parents who encourage sports at the expense of academics. But my boys, who are 4 and 6, are so energetic they itch for a vigorous game nearly every day; it seems to calm them and allow them to focus later. Both kids can name a dozen countries, recognize their flags, know what language is spoken there, and find them on a map—all due to their love of different teams and players. Why is that memorization—inspired by their own interest—less valuable than the rote memorization required for most homework sheets?”
For my family, in the throes of soccer and fall baseball, I certainly understand the author’s argument. My boys too, are high-energy, and need some sort of intense activity on a daily basis or those around them will surely suffer. Frankly, all kids need activity, whether they’re high-energy or not. We are in the midst of an obesity crisis in this country, physical education in the schools has dwindled to once a week in many places, and kids are addicted to video games, iPhones, and television. Add an hour or two of homework a night, and when does the hour or more of recommended physical activity fit in?
Does that mean I’m boycotting homework entirely? Nope, my rule-following self couldn’t stand that, nor I think, could Garrett’s. But it does mean I’m not going to put so much stock in getting every little worksheet done. I’ll keep a close eye on the work that comes home, maintain an open line of communication with his teacher, and we’ll continue to incorporate age-appropriate learning experiences into everyday life. I’ll also work to keep that worried, pressing tone out of my voice when talking about homework. And I’ll remember (as should you), that physical activity makes the time kids do spend on schoolwork more effective by easing stress, burning excess energy, improving concentration (often foggy from a lack of healthy food and too much sugar), and improving brain and body health overall.
Tonight’s agenda: soccer practice, family dinner, showers (boys stink!), and if there is time, a spelling worksheet.
Do your kids have a lot of homework? Does it make you mad? Do you feel equipped to help them or does it just add to your stress level? I mean, why is it assumed that parents can handle helping with homework? You do have to get a degree to be a teacher so obviously there are special skills you need to effectively teach! I’d love to hear from some teachers out there.