Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In Praise of Homework

On a regular basis, I come face to face with articles telling me that homework is not helping my children. These pieces are laced with strong feelings about the value of childhood and playtime and the complaint from parents that they don't want to spend their after school time 'fighting' with their kiddos to complete the assignments that have been sent home in their backpacks.
I have many friends who feel inclined to take the homework packet and chuck it directly from the take-home folder into the recycling bin. I hear these stories and then proceed to keep my mouth zipped tightly shut. I am not looking to start a fight, but I can't help but vehemently disagree with the 'anti-homework' movement. In my experience, some children may actually need homework to thrive.

I concede that homework may not be for every child, but it is certainly a necessity for at least one of my children. Now at the age of 9, my oldest and I have had years of negotiating after-school routines. I have found that our happiest days incorporate a very rigorous homework schedule; just the opposite of what is advocated by the 'no-homework' movement. Although there are probably some kids who would use their after school time to play outside, create artistic masterpieces, or challenge themselves with advanced reading and writing, my kid is not one of those. My child would choose instead to spend any and all extra unstructured free-time playing video games and lounging on the couch until dinner or even bedtime. And I am certain that he isn't the only one. Giving him the freedom to 'just be a child' is not helping fact, I am pretty sure that left unchecked it will cause more harm than good in the long term.

Homework serves many purposes in our household aside from the skills that they are intended to strengthen. First and foremost, homework gives me insight into what my children are learning at school. By sitting with my kids or at least being present while they are completing their take-home assignments I can see where they are struggling and where they are excelling. When I know where the point of struggle comes from, it allows me to step in and 'guide' them through the learning process to help ease the stress and frustration that comes along with a difficult task. I don't give my children the answers, I just help them to think about their assignments in a different way and offer alternative suggestions on how to achieve success. This has helped my reluctant learner to become more confident and engaged academically and has helped my younger learner to feel comfortable sharing learning suggestions with others in her class that may also be struggling with the same concepts. When I know where they are excelling, it allows me to offer my kids greater opportunities for learning that keep them challenged and engaged. This helps to eliminate the boredom that comes along with mastery. It gives us the opportunity to discuss, together, the 'bigger picture' of the target subject (beyond just grade-level) and for the kids to choose for themselves how they would like to progress. For my oldest, it usually means  learning math concepts that involve algebra, geometry and basic calculus since grade-level math (adding, subtracting, and multiplication) is no longer interesting. Without the homework, I would not know where their individual skill levels fall in relation to what is happening in class. I actually give my kids additional homework to help them explore subjects that they are passionate about...and they like it.

For me as a parent, homework is also the tool that I  use to keep my children engaged in learning even when school is over for the day. That is a pretty important skill to master; as important as unstructured play. I have seen very clearly that our society puts a weak (at best) emphasis on life long learning. Since I am in disagreement with this as well, it is natural that I find myself opposed to the 'no homework' mindset. Moreover, I feel that free time should be a chance to learn about all of the things that interest you but that you didn't have the ability to study during the hours of the day that were set aside for structured, goal-oriented learning. Homework sets a precedent that just because the school day is done, it doesn't mean that learning should stop. This is a skill that I wish more adults possessed as well.

Homework offers some structure and routine to after school free-time. I find it interesting that so many people argue for a lack of structure in free-time for elementary aged children when it is so obvious how important structure and routine are for pre-schoolers and toddlers. Elementary aged kiddos still thrive on routine. They like consistency. For us, homework lessens the anxiety that comes along with too much free choice. Trust me, that sounds ridiculous, even to me....but I still believe it to be true. The school days that do not involve homework evoke a different 'feel' and often, my children are more likely to mill about fighting with each other; uncertain of what their role is in this unstructured time. Because homework is such a part of our daily ritual, my kids will now assign themselves their own version of 'homework' if none has been assigned to them. They find it comforting. Homework is used as a transition time between 'school time' and 'home time'.

Elementary school homework is the 'soft' transition into accountability. If you think it is hard to get your kiddos to do their assignments now, just wait until middle school or high school when after-school work begins to take an hour or more to complete rather than 10 minutes. I don't believe that you are doing your children any favors by delaying this inevitability. Again, homework establishes the routine that will become a common, unavoidable theme later in life.

 Lastly, I believe that homework sets a precedence for responsibility. As a parent, if you are taking your child's homework and throwing it away, it is telling your child that it is okay to give the finger to work that you don't agree with. Honestly, there are many times that I would like to do the same thing with my work. However, if I started to chuck every work assignment that I didn't agree with or thought was boring, I would eventually be fired. The homework that your child is bringing home in elementary school is the easiest that it will ever be in their entire life and it is your chance as a parent to start instilling a sense of responsibility for completing the task (however mundane) that is assigned to them.

Obviously, I am expecting a lot of mixed feedback regarding my own personal opinion on the subject. I am not saying that homework is right for every family, but I am tired of hearing that is wrong as well. Ultimately, parents are as responsible as schools in the education of their children and it will be up to each family to decide what the important things in life are. In our family, we place a high value education. Homework helps us to strengthen our familial bonds around this fundamental core value. Please stop telling me that I am harming my children by asking them to be active, life-long learners.

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