Homework traditionally goes hand-in-hand with school; it dates back to the very inception of public education. I remember my mother telling me “do your homework” before I was allowed any play time or television time after school. The topic of homework is getting a lot of attention these days. Many well-known educational organisations are investing time and money to research the benefits. Meanwhile, some are expressing varied opinions. While many mainstays insist on the need for homework as a rite of passage to teach children responsibility and accountability, others view homework as wasted time.
In the book Reforming Homework, authors Richard Walker and Mike Horsley make the case that homework has little to no benefit for academic achievement in primary school students. Parents in Victoria recently won the right to opt-out of homework for their children, and Allambie Heights Public School in Sydney echoes this belief in their recent adjustments to homework: they’ve traded daily homework for periodic student projects. As a teacher, I have assigned homework to my Kindy students, ranging from reading with a family member to hands-on activities to weekly worksheet packets (the packets happened only because I was mandated to do so). My years and experience working with young children have demonstrated to me that homework holds little to no value for them. Yes, I said it: young children should not be receiving homework. Are you aghast at my statement? Hear me out…
First consider the amount of learning and work it takes for Kindy students to adjust to the routines, schedules, workload, and expectations of Kindergarten. Many of my students’ parents comment that their kids are taking naps after school because they are already exhausted from their time at school. They need this time to rest and rejuvenate, not for homework. Second, children (especially young children) learn best and retain the most when they are initiating and leading their learning. (This is the principle that many child-led schools and homeschoolers/unschoolers base their approach upon.) Kids learn the next best when they are engaged in hands-on activities in which they hold a high level of interest. Worksheets do not fit this bill. What’s a teacher like me to do when you are told you must assign homework? I approach homework for Kindergarten by keeping in mind three principles: engagement, family involvement, and time. When designing homework, I ask myself these three questions:
Engagement: Is this a meaningful task?
I usually create a “homework calendar” for my students with a suggested (not mandatory) activity to do each day after school. For example: let’s say that we’re learning about the letter Aa and counting. Sure, I could send home two worksheets—one that has the child redundantly write and identify the letter Aa, and one that has clip art of various items for them to count and label how many. Boring! What I do instead is create a task where the child finds things in and around their house that begin with Aa–apples, an apron, apricots, ants (hopefully not inside)—and then they count those items. The one task combines two skills and is hands-on, which is quite developmentally appropriate for this age range.
Family Involvement: Does this task include family members in the student’s learning?
Studies show that children whose parents or families are involved in their education generally do better in school. Plus, most parents are wondering what their child is learning in school. With these in mind, I try to apply this to homework by designing tasks to involve family members. For example, if we’re learning about family traditions, I’ll have one task be to discuss with their parents or siblings or grandparents some of their own family’s traditions for birthdays, holidays, or life milestones. The discussion task involves the family member(s), provides a good discussion (which aids in children’s cognitive, language, and vocabulary development), and connects our learning in the classroom with their life at home.
Time: Can this task be done in an appropriate amount of time for 5 and 6 year olds?
Time is precious. Learning time. Play time. Family time. Free time. I am a big believer in allowing kids to be kids, to have time to play and explore, to be with their families and friends, to think and daydream. Also, consider that young children have very limited attention spans, especially in Kindy. To this end, I firmly believe that Kindergarten homework should last no longer than 15 minutes. No one wants to see their 5 or 6-year old sitting and struggling though an hour of homework, so I design my various tasks so that they should take between 10 and 15 minutes. Often, the activities I design could be discussed as mum or dad are preparing dinner.
Of course, I am just one teacher. If your child’s teacher assigns homework that you find to be too strenuous, schedule a meeting and ask them about their homework philosophy. Keeping in mind the principles I outlined—engagement, family involvement, and time—should make for homework that is productive and meaningful for your child.