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Working Hard or Hardly Working

Twenty-four hours are in a day. Eight of those are spent sleeping, one to two hours are spent getting ready in the morning, and another eight are spent with the parents at work and the children at school.  The commute from school/work to home, on average, takes one hour.  So now we have five hours to spare, right?  Great! That’s plenty of time to spend with family; anything more than that may be unbearable!  I have so many ideas for family time, but wait, I forgot about dinner.  One hour to cook, half an hour at the table, half an hour cleaning up, now we have three hours of family time, I think that’s still enough.  Until I open my daughter’s folder and come across the three homework assignments she has due tomorrow morning.  Goodbye family time.

The truth is, too much homework interferes with family time.  We spend so much time on everything every day except family; this is unavoidable due to, well, life.  We as parents can’t pay the bills if we don’t work, and children must go to school in order to learn.  As I’ve demonstrated, that takes up most of the day.  The time we spend at home should be quality family time, learning from one another and enjoying being at home.  This is why homework should be no longer than ten minutes per grade level.  In an article titled “Do Our Kids Have Too Much Homework?” the author references a statement made by Harris Cooper, professor of Psychology and Director of the Education Program at Duke University, stating that he points out this “10- Minute Rule” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association, which suggests that homework should be ten minutes for first grade, twenty minutes for second, and so on and so forth (Wilde).  So why does my kindergartener have one-two hours of homework per day?!

In another article on kids and homework, the author suggests that the playtime being taken away from children, even during school hours, is a terrible threat to their academic success.  Linda Jacobson writes, “Test preparation in kindergarten, homework requirements, busy out-of-school schedules, and reduced recess periods are leaving young children without time to engage in what author and early-childhood expert Vivian Gussin Paley calls “the theater of the young”- that make-believe world in which children act out stories.  In essence, our children are already being robbed of this imaginative play time at school, and taking on more work.  When considering this dilemma, doesn’t it seem even more unnecessary to send our little ones home with extra assignments?

Imagination is the key factor in thriving academically.  It is during these imaginative play periods that children can learn from their peers and grow as individuals; exercising their imagination is the only way to do this.  Have you ever really learned a life lesson via chalk board or a homework handout?  My daughter’s lessons learned on how to treat others have either been a result of witnessing myself or a peer treating someone kindly, or having a dispute with a peer and realizing that she handled it wrong and treated them badly.  These things cannot be taught on a piece of paper, nor can they be demonstrated when all of our home life is taken up by mountains of practice sheets.

Eventually, when we replace this important play time with a heavy homework load, we can cause an even heavier load of stress and anxiety on all family members.  This stress and anxiety are caused by the pressure to finish quickly, yet do your best, even though you’ve been doing this all day at school.  The clock hand seems to move faster when we are doing two hours-worth of homework.  Making sure your child stays focused and does their best is not easy when you’re juggling dinner, other siblings’ issues, and have one hundred other tasks to finish before bedtime.  And these things are not just taking your attention, they are also distracting your child’s attention away from the work in front of them.  It’s difficult to stay focused when there is so much going on around you.

Now I know there are a lot of parents thinking about how “cray-cray” this may sound, but no homework is better than homework!  The concerns on abolishing homework, or minimizing it to a mere ten minutes a day per grade level, are clear.  I get it, I really do.  We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.”  Not only have we heard it, but anyone who has ever passed a test or mastered a certain skill, has also lived it.  Still, we have to take a look at the bigger picture.  Our children are in the classroom practicing for eight hours a day!  That’s a significantly long time to have to focus on and absorb as much material as possible.  If you ask me, to be sent home with the expectation of completing two hours or so of even more work, is what’s really crazy.  So what are we to do?  Who can solve this irritating and ever so challenging battle between academic success and functional family values?  Perhaps, we the parents should give it a shot.

Parents need to take more initiative to make learning at home more interactive and encourage creativity.  You hear a lot of parents constantly placing blame on the school systems when their kid(s) are failing.  Why don’t we question what is going on at home?  Are we stimulating our children enough?  Are we creating a safe, play friendly environment?  Are we providing this “theater of the young” that Paley says is vital to our children’s growth and development?  Most of the time, we’re not.  Children’s behavior and academic achievement do reflect some, if not all, of what is going on at home.  So if there is already a lack of creative play at school, and now at home, we’re certainly minimalizing our children’s chance of academic success.

Furthermore, studies do not show that these mounds of homework are helping our children’s performance in the classroom or on tests and exams.  In another study that Cooper cites by P.R. Wildman, he writes, “Wildman even went a step further, stating that “whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever is usurps time devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents” (qtd. in Cooper 85).  He then talks about the biases of homework studies and how the results are so conveniently swayed (Cooper 85-86).  As a result of these biased homework studies proving that more is better, children are being set up for failure on a daily basis.  More expectations every year, plus the lack of positive reinforcement when these expectations are met and an abundance of negative reinforcement when they are not met; these things are all equally to blame for educational failure.

At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, for our children to learn.  We want them to have big dreams and aspirations and go farther in life than we ever imagined, but we don’t need to take up a majority of their childhood with pieces of paper to ensure this ever so sought after future for them.  We just need to be there and make sure that we are setting the best example possible and creating the best environments possible.  You want some reassurance that your child will go far in life?  Then be a part of their life with games and social interactions, and just plain old family down time, away from all the noise of society’s high expectations, not through endless nights of forced focus to only have resulted in the opposite of your child’s best work. To the parents who strongly disagree, I have only one closing statement, if you truly believe that more homework is better and this is the only way that your child(ren) will thrive academically, then BE the homework.