Homework: A Parent’s Plea for Quality over Quantity

Note to my regular audience: This blog post is  meant to jump start a conversation about homework at my children’s elementary school, so it may or may not be of interest to you. That said, if you have experience as a parent and/or a teacher and can chime in with some homework wisdom, I hope you will. Note to Wolcott School community members: Whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve written here, please chime in with your own family’s homework experiences, either here or on our Facebook page. Please also share this with any other parents or teachers who might be interested in joining the conversation. The PTO Executive Board is considering a request from me and another parent to make homework a discussion topic at the November PTO meeting. 

*If you’re returning to this post after reading it previously, please note the update at the bottom. Thanks*

My first grader arrived home yesterday with his first weekly homework packet of the year—a folder that included a homework log, guidelines for different types of homework (reading, spelling, math, etc.), instructions on how to make my own set of flashcards for basic sight-reading words, and a variety of other pieces. It took me (a college-educated parent who communicates for a living) 15 minutes of reading and shuffling papers to begin to make sense of it. I’m not sure how a six-year-old can make sense of a homework packet like this one without a parent sitting by his side. Which is what I did later on, after dinner, when my son sat down to do his homework. When we sat down to do his homework. (And yet, teachers consistently say that homework is our kids’ responsibility, not ours as parents. Interesting. I’ll say more on that particular mixed message later.)

What I am sure of is that this amount and complexity of homework is not appropriate for a first grader.

I adore my children’s elementary school, enough that five years ago when we decided to buy a larger house, we waited until we found one that would allow us to stay in the same school district, despite living in a town where all the schools are excellent. I would characterize every single one of the teachers my children have had at this school as top-notch. When I tell people that our school doesn’t have any bad teachers, I mean it.

That said, I am increasingly fed up with the amount and type of homework my children bring home. National studies have shown that there is a widespread trend to send more and more homework home with younger and younger children, despite a dearth of research showing that more homework effectively supports learning. I have watched this trend close-up. My oldest child, now in seventh grade, certainly didn’t bring home a folder in first grade with a complex homework rubric requiring parental decoding.

I am fed up with my children’s homework, for several reasons.

1) I am fed up because every weekday afternoon and evening, I am faced with an impossible math problem. No, not one of the math problems my kids bring home on their many homework handouts, but the math problem in which I must try to squeeze a number of activities important for my family’s health and well-being into the very limited hours between the end of my children’s school day (around 4 p.m. by the time they get off the bus) and their bed time.

As I wrote here not long ago, my kids, like many American kids, are overscheduled to some extent. But, in contrast with a prevalent myth in the media, my children are not overscheduled because I am an anxious parent who overbooks their time with enrichment activities so that they will get merit scholarships to top colleges and get good jobs. Rather, my primary concern as a parent is to do the things that I know (and experts confirm) will contribute to my children’s long-term health, learning, and well-being.

I want my children to be physically active for their health as well as enjoyment. The CDC recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity. While my children get some physical activity at school during recess and physical education, when the weather allows, they often ride bikes or play in the yard after school.

I want my children to have abundant time for unstructured, non-adult-driven play. They spend a long day in school and need time to decompress and just have fun—and not just because they want to. Studies show that unstructured, child-driven play is vital for healthy brain development and long-term well-being. My kids love playing with dolls, playing “family” with neighbor friends, building with Legos and Magformers, and doing art projects.

We eat dinner as a family almost every night. Studies show that kids who connect regularly with parents over family meals gain many benefits, such as having less risk of drug abuse and lower incidence of depression. Plus, food prepared and eaten at home is almost always healthier than restaurant or fast food.

We encourage our kids to try out non-academic pursuits such as music and art, and one thing we love about our elementary school is that it emphasizes creative writing, visual arts, performance, and public speaking. Studies have shown that studying music can enhance children’s spatial/temporal skills, boost IQ, and help with language development, among other benefits. By their own choice, my children take piano lessons and participate in our church’s rigorous choral program. In fourth and fifth grades, every elementary student in town has the option of taking free school-based instrumental music lessons. Fifteen to thirty minutes of music practice a day is the norm in our household.

Elementary school-aged children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep to function at their best. I aim to get my kids in bed by around 8 p.m., so they can read for 15 to 30 minutes before getting a good night’s sleep.

Finding adequate time for homework among these important activities is a constant struggle. On a day in which no one in the family has any after-school activities or appointments, homework isn’t so hard to fit in. But such days are rare, especially given that when one child has some place to be, the others have to go along for the ride because they can’t stay home alone.

But I’m not arguing against homework primarily because it’s inconvenient and stressful. If I can’t stand inconvenience and stress, I shouldn’t have had three children, right? Right. I’m willing to do what’s necessary for my kids even when it’s inconvenient and stressful, when I understand and support the purpose of the activity. And I frequently don’t understand the purpose and value of my children’s homework.

2) I am fed up because most of my kids’ homework does not have a reasonable purpose or clear value.

Let’s start with the positive. Some of my children’s homework makes lots of sense to me.

It makes sense that kids should be required to read (or be read to) every night for an age-appropriate amount of time. I’m a writer married to a librarian; you don’t need to convince me that reading is good for kids. It’s good for their reading, writing, and vocabulary skills. Good for their imagination. Good for their lifelong well-being, as reading for pleasure is one thing they can do for the rest of their lives.

Likewise, it makes sense that kids should practice skills such as math facts and spelling words at home. For some types of learning, nothing beats sheer repetition. My daughter’s third grade teacher introduced us this year to a fabulous web site called XtraMath that quizzes kids on age-appropriate math facts in five-minute increments. I have signed all three of my kids up, because it’s a fun and easy way for them to do rote repetition of math facts. Likewise, I will gladly quiz my children on spelling words.

Finally, I see much value in occasional long-term projects, such as book reports or research reports on special topics. This sort of work requires children to practice time management; requires research, writing, and presentation skills; and often allows children to delve more deeply into topics of interest—which gets them excited about doing the work.

But the bulk of my kids’ homework (the most time-consuming part, especially because they find it boring—it is boring—and have to be cajoled into doing it) consists of photocopied worksheets in which they repeat activities from the school day. My kids do these worksheets (under duress), but they aren’t engaged. They are merely regurgitating what they have done in school. My children often do these worksheets at the kitchen table with their heads resting on their arms, scrawling in the answers. This doesn’t look like learning to me. Research on many questions around homework is unclear, in part because many questions haven’t been adequately studied. But there is no research clearly indicating that having kids repeat their school-day work at home will enhance their learning.

3) I am fed up because I hear mixed messages from teachers about homework.

At least half a dozen times in the seven years that I’ve had children at this school, I’ve heard a teacher say, “We/I don’t want to give your kids homework. We know it’s a burden on you and your child.”

But they assign homework anyway. Why? I’ve heard several answers.

“If we didn’t give homework, other parents would complain because they want their children to have it.” Teachers should be assigning homework based on whether or not it clearly supports learning, not to please parents (including me).

“We give homework in the younger grades because they will get it in the older grades.” Would we ever argue that, because kids will have to learn long division in the older grades, we should start teaching it in kindergarten and first grade? There is a huge developmental difference between a seven-year-old and an 11-year-old. It’s a difference I see every day in my own home, where I have a first grader, third grader, and seventh grader. My seventh grader has a lot of homework. She is also more mature, more capable of time management, better able to concentrate for long periods, and better able to read and understand directions on her own than her younger siblings are. Homework makes sense for her in a way that it simply doesn’t for my younger children. And even though she has far more homework than the younger kids, it causes relatively little stress for us or her. Because it’s developmentally appropriate. Because she doesn’t need us to decipher instructions or play along with make-work learning “games.” Her homework is her homework.

“Homework teaches skills such as self-discipline and time management.” Actually, no study has ever confirmed that homework teaches such “life skills.” And even if it does, any type of homework, including setting aside daily time to read, doing a research project, or practicing math facts, can theoretically teach these skills. Packets of time-consuming, repetitive worksheets aren’t necessary for teaching self-discipline and time management.

The biggest mixed message I hear from teachers? “Homework is for the kids. We don’t expect parents to do homework with their children.”

And then, kindergarteners and first graders bring home work with instructions they cannot read on their own. Students bring home photocopied sheets titled “Home-School Connection.” I’ve finally figured out that “home-school connection” is code for, “Here are some learning ‘games’ that we expect you to sit down and do with your child at 7 p.m., when both you and your child are wiped out, the dinner dishes need to be done, the dog needs to be walked, tomorrow’s lunches need to be made, Mom or Dad brought home an hour or two of work that didn’t get done at the office, and no one is in the mood to play games that, frankly, aren’t very much fun.” My third grader can’t just read for 30 minutes and have a parent sign off saying she did so. No, she has to fill out a detailed log, with the number of pages she read and a summary of what she read. I can’t imagine anything killing the pleasure of reading faster than someone asking me to keep statistics on what I read. To get her to fill in these details, I have to go up to her room when she’s done reading and coax (pester) her to fill out the log. What I’d like for her to do is what I do and what most passionate readers do—read until her eyelids get heavy, then set aside her book and turn out the lights, with visions of Hogwarts or ancient Greece or the thousands of species of reptiles accompanying her departure into dreamland.

 

I am a rule follower. I was a great student—the kind who always met and often exceeded expectations. (By the way, I didn’t have homework in elementary school beyond a few research projects, which I vividly remember, because I really learned something from doing them.) My husband and I are proud products of public schools. I am the daughter of a college professor. My husband’s late father told his wife as he was dying that the most important thing for her to do was to make sure their youngest child—my husband—finished college. We understand the value of our children’s education. We want to raise good learners and support the hard-working, compassionate, smart teachers they are fortunate to have.

But I am so fed up with my children’s homework that I’ve stopped following all the rules and don’t always support my children’s teachers when it comes to excessive and inappropriate homework assignments. I don’t pester my third grader to fill out the mind-numbing minutiae on her reading log. I just make sure she reads. Last year in second grade, when she was exhausted from struggling to get all of her worksheets finished by Friday and we learned that her teacher wasn’t formally tracking who does and who doesn’t do homework? We told our daughter to do as much as she could and not worry about finishing. I ignore the “Home-School Connection” (a.k.a., homework for parents) worksheets, because I already graduated from college. I don’t do homework.

I’m a rule follower. But I’m done following homework rules that don’t make sense, and that make the hard job of parents—to raise happy, healthy, children while supporting them in learning the essential skills that come from a quality education—harder than it needs to be.

I want parents and teachers at our beloved school to talk about how a vital “home-school connection” comprises much more than asking harried parents to play ridiculous learning games with exhausted children. I want to enthusiastically encourage my children to do their homework, because I truly see its value. I want to see parents and teachers agree on some basics of what constitutes quality homework, homework with a clear and reasonable purpose. I want to see homework assigned in quantities that are age-appropriate and that recognize children’s limited ability to sit and work after a long day at school, along with their very real needs for play, physical activity, family dinners, extracurricular activities that support non-academic interests, and a good night’s sleep.

A school in our town with very similar demographics to my kids’ school has in recent years instituted a “quality over quantity” homework policy. Kids are expected to read regularly, to practice math facts and spelling words, and occasionally work on a longer-term project. They don’t receive packets of photocopied worksheets. This makes sense to me. And if my kids’ homework makes sense, then I will be an enthusiastic partner in my children’s education, supporting their teachers in a truly beneficial home-school connection.

 

Update, Friday, October 12:

Our principal raised the topic of homework at last night’s PTO meeting. He said that, while my blog post has certainly got people talking, the issue of exploring effective homework practices and addressing parent concerns in this area has been on his agenda for a while. A parent-teacher-staff committee will explore the issue further, including doing research on best practices and a parent survey, and make some recommendations in a couple of months.

The biggest question that has come up (and, from what I gather, the thing that has upset teachers the most about this conversation), is this: If you as a parent are so frustrated with homework, why not just go to your child’s teacher and discuss it, rather than making a big stink about it?

It’s a good question, and I’d like to respond.

Let me say again: I think we have the best teachers in town. In previous years, when I have told a child’s teacher that she is struggling with homework, the teachers have been unfailingly compassionate. They usually suggest that we cap our child’s homework time at a certain interval (20 or 30 minutes) or write a note explaining why a child couldn’t finish a particular section. While I appreciate these gestures, this sort of individual conversation is inadequate for several reasons.

1. Talking to a teacher might help address an individual child’s concerns this year, but they don’t address many parents’ concern that homework has, over time, become more abundant, complex, and parent-driven.

2. Talking to a teacher might help my child, but it does nothing for the five or 10 or 15 kids who are struggling just as much, but whose parents won’t—for whatever reason—raise homework with the teacher. Many people have trouble communicating their thoughts and ideas clearly, especially when they are afraid those thoughts will be perceived as complaints. They don’t want to be “that mother” who is complaining. I had one parent say that, overwhelmed and confused by her child’s homework, she figured she must just not be as smart or educated as she thought she was. She assumed she was the problem, not her child’s homework. While everything in this blog post is my opinion, it reflects many conversations with many parents over many years. I decided I would use my platform and writing skills to communicate concerns that are widespread.

3. Most teachers, when told that a child is struggling with homework, will gladly offer suggestions for how that child’s homework can be altered. Two problems with this: First, if my child can opt out of parts of their homework, then does that mean homework is optional extra work rather than required? And if not, then why is my kid allowed to opt out of parts that are difficult?

4. Allowing my child to modify homework to suit her/his needs reinforces the “Special Little Snowflake” dynamic that many of us, including teachers, find problematic. I don’t want my child to get the message that, if something is hard, s/he can just quit. I don’t want my child to get the message that s/he is allowed to shirk the rules when s/he is struggling with homework. My kids might special little snowflakes with us, at home, but they shouldn’t be when they are at school.

5. Dealing with homework struggles on an individual basis might help me and my child this year, but next year we’re going to start all over with a new teacher. In my experience, certain types of homework and certain types of homework concerns pop up often enough, no matter the teacher, that we need to look at homework systemically, not individually.

I want my children to learn that when they get homework, they are expected to do it. I will unfailingly support teachers’ efforts to get my kids to do their homework—all of their homework—no matter how difficult, if the homework makes sense in terms of what my kids are doing and for how long. This conversation is intended to address those two factors in a way that will move us toward a homework policy that makes sense for teachers, kids, and families.

 

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • http://www.thelizlibrary.org/ liz

    Homework is so misguided, intrusive of parental time, and generally useless at accomplishing anything of benefit for elementary school children, that I have a web page on it (with research) at thelizlibrary.org at http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/021.htm.

  • http://postmodernmommy.wordpress.com pmm

    Having just received my 1st graders first full blown weekly homework packet, I cannot agree more. I’m rather appalled by his homework, actually. Like you, I do not have anything against homework, per se. With a degree in English, I fully support daily reading and am thrilled that my son happily reads a variety of books from home, school and our local library, which I encourage. Practicing facts and skills is fine. But I really think that 1st grade homework is a bit of overkill, emphasis on the “kill”–killing their interest.

    Right now, my son is excited about homework because it is new and different and he wants to please his teacher. But we were already both stressing out because there’s a PTO meeting on Thursday, so we basically have to get most everything done today and tomorrow. We were told that homework is merely ‘to get in the habit of having to do homework in later grades.’ Huh? I’m sorry, but I do not feel that is a good reason for giving this type and amount of homework. My kid is bright and loves school–I don’t want this type of homework to beat that out of him.

    p.s. I also LOVE our school and our teachers; as you point out, it is not about that. It is not about that at all.

  • AMV

    My son is in first grade at Wolcott and I was feeling very overwhelmed last night. We broke up the homework into smaller sections through out the evening. We will run into problems though when we have the occasional evening activity, or when he plays baseball in the spring.

  • Joslyn Austin

    Ellen, I couldnt agree more. With my husband working most days until 7 or later, this leaves me home with three kids….one a baby. I too like to let them stay after school and unwind on the playground. We dont end up leaving school until 4 or later. When we get home its a mad dash of feeding a baby, trying to prepare dinner, doing homework, eating dinner, taking showers, and preparing to do it all over again the next morning. It doesnt end up being quality anything! It is teaching our kids what stress is at way too early of an age.

  • Sara Mavredakis

    I am a Wolcott parent, as well as Sedgwick and Conard. I have a child in 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 11th and college. I have not experienced the issues you have mentioned. In fact last year when my little one was in 1st grade we had weekly spelling and occasional math, totally about 15 mins of homework a night and 15 mins of reading (which we do anyway) for a total of 30 mins, seemingly reasonable. The only time we had homework issues was with the teacher change midway through the year. When I was in elementary school I remember having at least an hour a night, not including reading, starting in about 3rd grade. Overall I think the homework policy in town is pretty typical of other school districts. I know it follows suit with both towns in which I taught.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      That’s interesting Sara. I would be fine with weekly spelling and occasional math (plus daily reading) for my 1st grader, but that’s definitely less than what he has. This post comes out of many conversations with many parents, including friends at Web Hill (the school I referenced as having a “quality over quantity” policy in recent years). Their policy makes a lot of sense to me–daily reading, occasional 5 minutes here and there to practice math facts or spelling, a project now and then.

  • Marie Glotzer

    I am so happy that this got forwarded to me. My son Paul is in 1st grade at Wolcott, as well. I spent a good 20 reading Paul’s homework guidelines. I was jaw drooped in shock as to what is expected of 6 yr old! He can handle the 15 minutes of reading because he does that on his own and enjoys it but all of these other sheets are just plain “silly”.

    Both my husband and I work full time. I am not home until after 6 on Mondays and Thursdays. I had trouble reading those instruction about Tic Tac Toe……and a ring of “sight” words and the instructions that came with them was not clear, at all. There is no way I am comfortable leaving this w his after school sitter. I’m frustrated because on top of me having to work my full-time job, my husband working his job, taking care of a house with a two-year-old and six-year-old, getting dinner made , making lunches and making sure everything’s prepared for the next day, I now have to sit down and do homework with my son on complicated worksheets that, in my opinion, do not seem to be helpful at all.

    Ellen, I completely understand your frustration and please let me know if there is a way I can help.

    Thank you,
    Marie Glotzer

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Marie, the PTO has heard my cry and they are looking at ways to invite more parent input on homework. Possibilities include: discussing it with the superintendent at the next Principal’s Coffee, discussing it at length at a future PTO meeting, and/or a parent survey or separate meeting JUST about homework. So read the PTO newsletters in the next few weeks because there should be opportunities for you to participate in a school-wide conversation. Please do. It’s so important that we hear from many parents, including those who have a more positive experience with homework. Though I must say I’m so glad that I’m not the only parent who had a hard time figuring out my 1st grader’s homework!!

  • Jen Schaefer

    Ellen, this is a post that you need to have published. Parents, Family Fun, wherever you’ll get a large audience. Learning does not have to be drudgery, and it’s a real shame that we’re making it so for many kids. It’s a national conversation that needs to happen.

  • Lauren Santos

    I agree, Ellen. Totally. To take this a step further, I have a daughter with Special Needs. I believe in inclusion and LOVE that she is a part of EVERYTHING that goes on in her classroom and school. She loves being a part of the group and loves watching the children. Her homework obviously needs to be adapted for her needs, which are nowhere near the rest of the class. As a third grader she is still working on letters and numbers. It’s great that her homework is adapted and the teachers are asking our input and ideas but really, she isn’t doing the homework because it’s MY homework. She needs a lot of extra practice to try to catch up since she is so far behind but after an intense, full day the last thing she wants to do is sit at our table and do homework. It’s a big battle, which makes me angry, and her even angrier. It’s not helping her to sit and do worksheets. What does work is finding meaningful, natural teachable moments. She responds so much better to those moments than worksheets.
    Last year the second graders did a Famous American project. Her teacher wanted to include her so “requested” that she do Dr. Seuss. There was a very specific questionnaire to answer and research to be found. I did the research, filled out the questionnaire, typed up the info., made the poster, searched for pictures from our trip to the museum, and bought a costume. My daughter’s contribution to “her” project?? She colored a Cat in the Hat picture, while fighting me the entire time. This was an effort to get her “involved” but I did all the work (while she was in school!). I really appreciate the teacher(s) wanting to include all children but not by having the parents do all the work. To some degree most parents are doing or helping their children with the homework and it really isn’t right or necessary. In my case, I literally did all the work so my daughter had a poster to show but she had no idea how it was done, who did it, etc.
    Reading is the most important skill our kids will learn and that’s what we should all be focusing on when it comes to school. Worksheets and busy work aren’t always the way to achieve it. That’s so much for getting the discussion going, Ellen!

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Good job on a tough subject, Ellen. My wife has had her teaching credential for 30 years and has taught at every level imagineable, from early Childhood education through elementary grades and on into High School at Juvenile Hall. We also placed our two kids in public schools, right on through college. Homework policies were the bane of that academic existence, whether in my wife’s professional role or in our roles as parents.

    A couple of thoughts came to mind about experiences people I know have had. One is a firend of ours who has a daughter in the charter high school in town. There is almost no nightly homework. School work is project based and the students work in teams. Plus there are very few projests so teh kids can spend the time necessary to do the work, learn the subject and put together a quality presentation.

    The other experience is from one of my own HS English teachers. She said that she had a one hour limit on how much homework her kids did each night. It didn’t matter if the teachers sent home more than that; once her kids had done an hour of solid work, she made them shut the books.

    And about those “Home-School Connection” sheets. Those always seemd to me to be written for families that had no clue how to help kids in school. That means they are probably more than worthless, since those of us who had a clue didn’t need them and those that didn’t have a clue (or didn’t care) probably wouldn’t use them.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Tim, I think your take on the “home-school” worksheets is right on the money. Thank you for saying that.

  • BTE

    THANK YOU, ELLEN! I have had concerns about homework since my oldest started at Wolcott. I thought I was alone, but so happy to discover that I’m not! I encourage everyone to read ‘The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children & What We Can Do About It’ by Bennett & Kalish and to see the ‘Race to Nowhere’ documentary (I think one of the authors of the book speaks in the film) (www.racetonowhere.com). Both the book(especially) & film seem to support alot of what you have talked about.

    Homework became such a battle between my oldest child & me that last year I gave it up entirely- it was truly damaging the quality of our relationship & it was not worth the amount of fighting & tears we were both experiencing. I am also a rule follower so it was a struggle for me to come to that point. Our compromise was for my spouse to take on the job for the year, but that was not always the ideal situation, considering work hours, activity schedules, etc… Plus my child was still left completing the tortuous, meaningless worksheets night after night.

    I am a certified teacher as well as a parent, and I have to say, I don’t want to give the meaningless worksheet packet any more than I want to get it. I would happily support a ‘No Homework’ policy or at least a homework policy that aims toward the goals you have outlined & gives me back any amount of the very little & precious time left in my kids’ childhood. One of my favorite lines from the Race to Nowhere is “I’m afraid our kids are going to sue us for stealing their childhood.”

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  • Beth

    Ellen, it only took you 15 minutes to figure out the homework instructions? I agree the amount of homework is ridiculous. I work full time, my husband is often away for work, and yes, as s college student myself, I have homework. I don’t get home until 5:30p and like most parents, make dinner, sort through the mail, sort through my child’s school folder, clean out the lunchbox, pick out clothes for the next day, and try to sit down to eat a family meal before 6:30. Now lets add crazy amounts of homework for our first grader. My child has begun to hate reading because it is forced. She gets frustrated and starts to whine and cry. My child is also very attached to me and wants to play with me. We have so little time together as it is and the last thing I want is to spend that time begging, pleading, bribing, and threatening to get the homework done.

    That being said, I agree that if the homework has value, then yes, bring it on. My child seems to like the flash card idea but hates the fluency work. Her words, not mine, “I can read it, why do I have keep reading what I know”. Good point. I believe fluency comes with learning the words, not repeating the same sentences over and over again.

    A point that I’d like to remind some parents that were at curriculum night (Ellen, our children are in class together) we can take the whole week to complete the work, including weekends, and do what works for our children. We have the option of writing down comments about our and our children’s experience with homework. My take is that the homework is a guideline. But, because I am a perfectionist, I feel the need to make sure all the work is done by Friday.

    I’ve rambled on enough for now but I definitely support this initiative and will do my best to help in any way I can; after working, making dinner, play time, extra curricular activities, and homework, hers and mine, lol.

    • http://postmodernmommy.wordpress.com pmm

      Beth–wow, your class gets to work on homework over the weekend? My son’s 1st grade homework has to be turned in on Fridays. The homework we got this Tuesday (for the short week) is due Friday morning in our class, so he only has 3 days to do it. Not that I want him to have homework on the weekend, but that is interesting…

      • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

        Yes, we were told the kids could have the weekend. But as another parent pointed out, that’s another mixed message we get from teachers. “Here’s a homework packet due on Friday. But if your child is struggling, take until Monday. Or write a note explaining why your child didn’t finish.” Which is it? Is the homework required or not? Is it due or not? I think teachers are as ambivalent about homework as parents are, and this is reflected in this kind of mixed message. I want to teach my kids a good work ethic and that, when their teacher says something has to be done, it has to be done. I feel like these “loosey goosey” rules just make it harder rather than easier. If the homework is too much for 1st graders to finish by Friday, then maybe it’s just too much.

        • http://postmodernmommy.wordpress.com pmm

          I completely agree about teaching a good work ethic. I am glad to hear that Dr. K is intending to form a committee to take a look at this. I look forward to hearing what they come up with; there has to be something better than this that is beneficial to our children, works for the teachers and supports the curriculum.

  • Taffy Wilcox

    I have read your blog and the comments with great interest. I am a grandmother of eleven kids and none of them live nearby, so I am not privy to the home – school connection. However, as a retired early childhood teacher, I am horrified at what is expected in kindergarten and first grade these days. What ever happened to “developmentally appropriate” ? I firmly believe the only appropriate homework for a first grader in the second month of school is to read or be read to. I also used to encourage parents of my students to give kids enough free time to “muck in the mud”. It seems to me that the issue is not how to fit all the homework in to an already business and hectic life, but to question whether or not it is even worthwhile. In my day and with my training worksheets were a “no, no”. Certainly, they are not very exciting or reflective of creative developmentally appropriate teaching.

  • Puja Kanwar

    Well, I read it with an open mind and totally understand her stance. But I think it’s just something new for us and our kids and though it might be overwhelming initially, I’m sure once the kids get used to the format, it’ll be less tiresome for everyone and the kids will maybe surprise us with doing it themselves. Also, I think most of the teachers did say to use your best judgement and do as much as you feel the kids can tackle.

  • Priscilla Hooper

    Way to go, Ellen! I often look back on my children’s first grade year as the most difficult one in school mostly because of the homework expectation. I can remember working with my kids for 45 minutes on their spelling words, math facts, on most nights, and on nights that I didn’t do it I felt bad about it. In my job, I talk to parents all the time about the guilt they feel for not doing more work with their kids at home. This is ridiculous! I agree with Taffy, we need to examine what is developmentally appropriate and teach our children to enjoy time at home, with family away from the pressures of school!

  • MS

    I believe the homework is a good thing. And that I agree that it’s the first week. You need some time to adjust to the format and I’m sure a routine will form. If not that’s when it should be brought to the schools attention. It’s not fair to out great teachers to talk about them In this public forum. I think it’s the first week of homework. Give it a chance. I understand the pressures of a busy household. I have a child at each level and they are involved in sports and other things. But as parents it’s our job to not over book our and give them a fun but manageable life. And I always put school work before extra activities. As they get older I see the value of a good homework routine. It only gets harder when they get to middle and high school. And as much as we want to help our kids the way the world is today and the pressures of getting into a good college just being average just dies not cut it.
    I just feel before we go to war against a school we all like abd teachers we adore. The only fair thing to do is give things a chance. And if there are still problems then address them. Would you want to be givin a fair chance or be attacked.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      I just want to be really clear that I’m neither “going to war” against our school or “outing” teachers. I was very clear in this piece that I LOVE our school and have loved every single teacher my children have had. I actually shared this piece specifically with the teachers my kids have this year, along with a note thanking them for what they do and making clear that this is a complaint about homework trends, not specific teachers.

      Also, I have had three kids at Wolcott and have been writing this piece in my head for several years. I actually wrote most of it before my 1st grader brought his homework packet home on Monday, and had already planned to post it on Tuesday before getting that packet. It was pure happenstance that we received a bewildering, confusing, parental-time-intensive homework packet the day before I planned to post this…and it provided the perfect opening. But this is not a knee-jerk reaction to one homework packet. It is several years’ worth of reflections from a parent who has had at least one child at this school for seven years, and it also reflects dozens of conversations I’ve had with many other Wolcott parents.

    • http://postmodernmommy.wordpress.com pmm

      MS, I agree that homework can be a good thing when used effectively. I do not think anyone here is trying to slam our teachers. I have great respect and admiration for our teachers and am not trying to point fingers and say that they are not doing a good job. From my experience so far, I think our teachers do an excellent job. I think the point of bringing up the topic is that there is perhaps a better way to utilize homework that is to our children’s advantage as well as the teachers’. And one of the things that I really like about Wolcott is that I feel that we are able to raise an issue that we have questions or concerns about and those questions and concerns are heard.

  • MS

    I’m sorry but i understand the frustrations of parents but it all comes down to balance and everyone has the best interest of the kids in mind. But please just think of this as if you we’re one of the teachers you all are discussing. I work in education and have had children at Wolcott for the past 11 years. And from a teachers standpoint I think you would feel attacked. Has anyone approached a teacher about the homework. Because I’m sure they would take any suggestions as I would from a parent of any of my students. Put yourself in their shoes. I do know that they feel this way. If you all say you love your kids teachers this is not a good way to show it. Reach out and talk with them.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      All I can say is that I have always brought to my kids’ teachers’ attention when they/we are struggling with homework. And I know many other parents who have done the same. Generally, the response has been very empathetic (again, the mixed message of “I don’t WANT to give so much homework,” which makes me think that teachers are ambivalent about homework and might welcome a chance to talk about it on a larger level) but the response has focused on MY child. Usually the response is to say, “OK, your child can have more time/skip the parts that are a struggle/stop after X minutes no matter how much they’ve done.” While I appreciate those concessions, I’m still left asking, “OK, if homework is essentially optional–if my kid can opt out–then why give it at all?” Not to mention that I don’t want to raise kids who feel they deserve to always be exceptions to the rule when something is hard.

      The time has come for us to stop with individualized responses and address this systemically. We are far from the only school dealing with a homework backlash. There are stories in the news weekly about schools across the nation where parents and teachers are questioning the value of homework and revamping expectations. Webster Hill here in town has instituted “quality over quantity” and I’ve talked to many Web Hill parents who are happy with their kids’ homework–quantity and quality. Their kids spend similar amounts of time on homework as mine, but the quality of the work is much clearer, more manageable, and more purposeful.

      I (and many other parents) feel it’s time to take a systemic look like this at Wolcott. One of my roles as a writer (usually on far weightier topics, like ethics, disability, procreation, and faith) is to articulate what others feel/believe/think in a way they have been unable to for whatever reason. And in the days since I’ve written this, 90 percent of parents who have read it have told me I’ve done just that. That’s all I set out to do….start a conversation and use my skills as a writer to articulate widespread feelings and opinions. And I’m thrilled that Dr. K. is taking steps to move the conversation forward. I imagine many teachers will welcome the conversation too–that they will appreciate perhaps not having so many worksheets to grade or so many parents coming into conferences complaining about homework!

    • Jennifer Trent

      As a Wolcott parent who strongly shares in this concern – the point of the generation of this conversation was to look at the topic globally. It is not a specific teacher issue and I think it is a shame that any teacher would take it that way. I do understand your concern, because criticism or questioning a process can be difficult to not take personally – we are all feeling humans and I think teachers are particularly feeling people simply by the nature of their profession. And I am grateful that they are. We tried to address the issue in a group forum, a request made 1 month prior to the scheduled PTO meeting to be on the agenda so the topic could be presented – but the request was not able to be met and there was a community sense of urgency to get the ball rolling.

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
      ― Margaret Mead

      I personally applaud Ellen for using her talent and voice to represent all of us who feel the same way, who are dedicated to changing a culture for the betterment of our children’s education and development.

  • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

    FYI, if you are returning to this comment thread from a previous day, please note the update I have added at the bottom of the post.

  • Bill Yousman

    Great post Ellen. I think your concerns are right on target and I think that starting a community conversation about this is not an attack on the school. I also have had three kids at Wolcott and I think it is a fantastic school with fabulous teachers. But this is a larger issue that extends beyond one classroom, one school, or even one community.

    By the way, there is a growing amount of research that suggests that homework for elementary school kids is counter-productive. (Except for nightly reading which I am all about.)

    Here are some interesting links for anyone who wants to read more:
    http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/homework.htm
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/01/AR2007080101713.html
    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2006/09/forget_homework.html

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  • http://theskyislaughing.wordpress.com Susan

    Amen. Amen. Amen. My young first grader (just turned six) had 15 pages this week. And 20 minutes of reading a day. Oh, and flashcards for both math and sightwords. Oh, and now we have to track her exercise. The sweet souls who run her afterschool program won’t do homework with her anymore because it makes her cry, and they just can’t stand it.
    Neither can I.
    Last night, she was up until 9 trying to finish the packet, when I said, “enough.” The page that created the biggest stumbling block? a word search. Seriously?
    This morning she asked me why we barely ever read together anymore. And my head exploded. I do not want to be remembered as the mom who taught her daughter how to find sight words in a word search. I want to be remembered as the mom who read to her every night, not just on the weekends, when there is no homework.

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