There has been a lot of discussion in the media about schools today. How kids have almost no recess and how they have tons of homework. Every other day, I seem to be confronted with another article about how some Scandinavian school system is doing so much better; how letting kids play and explore is the best thing for them. And I, along with a million other parents, bemoan the rigorous, yet somewhat ineffective school system we have in our country. My son is in kindergarten, and as much as I love his teacher and the things he is learning, I already see the busywork starting. Already, I've made the decision that I refuse to make my kid do his homework.
If he gets it done, great. It's important to me that he enjoys learning and works hard, but doing hours and hours of busy work in the short span of time we have together in the afternoon undermines that. If he's really into filling out a worksheet, I'm happy with that. If he wants to finish coloring the picture he was working on at school, I'll be thrilled. But if he suddenly starts to feel stressed by the daily reading assignment he brings home, then we're just going to stop doing it. My son loves reading. He loves reading alone. He loves reading picture books with me. He loves listening to my partner read Harry Potter. But forcing him to do schoolwork after spending his entire day doing exactly the same isn't something I'll ever ask of my children.
My son is in kindergarten. He's a young kindergartener; he turned 5 right before the school year started. And we live in one of the top-ranked school districts in the country — the same school district I attended. His typical day involves catching the bus at around 8:00 a.m. and getting home close to 4:00 p.m. During his time at school, he has one recess, and it's about 25 minutes. It's a really full day. When he gets home, he's tired. And by tired, I mean that he'll completely fall apart crying if something bothers him. I have never seen him get upset so easily. So is it any wonder that when gets home, I just want him to play and relax? He needs ample time to unwind before I ask him to sit still at dinner. After dinner, it's a mad dash to bedtime so that he gets enough sleep. Otherwise, he is near impossible to wake up in the morning.
As soon as we cross that line — me nagging him to get his work done, and him crying that he wants to do other things — we can't ever go back.
It's not ideal, but I know he's adjusting. I see that he's already used to the longer days. And I can see just how much he's learning. His reading and writing have improved. He used to hate holding a pencil, and now sometimes he chooses to write stories in his free time. (Let's be honest, since I'm a writer, I couldn't be more thrilled about this.) He loves asking math and science questions. He's thriving in all the ways I want him to, and it's with very little pressure on my part. He's learning because he wants to, because he's engaged in every part of the process.
But now that they're halfway through the year, he's been given a new task: a packet of homework. It's just three pages for the whole week. It involves alphabetizing words, writing them three times in a row, and using them in sentences. He enjoys doing his homework. I think he feels very grown. But he enjoys it for about 10 to 20 minutes, and then he's over it. To be completely honest, if he doesn't get those three sheets done in a week, I really don't care.
I remember not finishing my homework because I made the decision to finally go to bed sometime before midnight, knowing I had to be up before 6:00 a.m. I felt like, as a "smart kid," I had to take the most rigorous classes. I felt like I had to be competitive with all of my friends. I was overwhelmed and miserable.
It's not that I think it's an unreasonable amount of work for him. It's not. It's that as soon as we cross that line — me nagging him to get his work done, and him crying that he wants to do other things — we can't ever go back. As soon as homework is a struggle, it's not worth it to me. There will undoubtedly come a point in his school career where he realizes he has a lot of responsibilities and expectations, and I'm in no rush to get there. Part of my dread surrounding the heaps of homework that he surely has coming is based on my own experiences in school. I was a conscientious kid. Nothing made me feel worse than showing up to school without something done. But I was also really inattentive, constantly daydreaming (and later diagnosed as having the inattentive type of ADHD). I missed a lot of stuff. I always felt a little behind. I was constantly stressed — either by forcing myself to finish my homework, or by not finishing it at all.
Of course, all of this really peaked in high school. When I look back on those days, all I remember is a blur of depression and sleep-deprivation. I remember sitting in one class, not listening, because I was trying to do my homework for my next class. I remember not finishing my homework because I made the decision to finally go to bed sometime before midnight, knowing I had to be up before 6:00 a.m. I felt like, as a "smart kid," I had to take the most rigorous classes. I felt like I had to be competitive with all of my friends. I was overwhelmed and miserable.
I'm prepared to send emails to his teachers explaining why I'm not sending him to school with complete homework. I'm prepared to insist that sleep and health and fun are more important. I'm prepared to insist that he goes to bed at 10 p.m. once he's in middle school, whether his homework is done or not.
I only realized how much busywork my high school had required when I got to college and the workload slacked way off. Suddenly the emphasis was on learning and finding my passions and making connections. That's what I want for my son. I don't want him to lose the wonder he has now. I don't want him to stop asking me if the Earth is a magnet, or if monkeys can go to space, or if there are numbers in between zero and one, or if it's possible to write out the lyrics to The Imperial March. (For the record, he has written it out: "dun dun dun dun da-dun dun da-dunnn.")
I'm prepared to send emails to his teachers explaining why I'm not sending him to school with complete homework. I'm prepared to insist that sleep and health and fun are more important. I'm prepared to insist that he goes to bed at 10 p.m. once he's in middle school, whether his homework is done or not. I'm prepared to fight back when a teacher insists that homework is about responsibility. There are so many other ways to teach this. He has to keep track of his library books. He has to clear his plate from the table and help clean the bathrooms. I'm prepared to justify that assigning a certain length of reading time isn't helpful for my kid. Because I am almost positive he'll always be reading as long as it doesn't become something he has to do.
Some moms in my position might choose to home school. I get that. But at this point, I see what he is learning from his teacher and I think he's much better for having her in his life. I also know myself and my laid-back, somewhat disorganized style and know that I would probably be doing him a disservice. I'm not anti-school. But I am anti-stress and anti-busywork. It's my job as his mom to keep him healthy. As soon as homework interferes with that, I'm done with homework. His grades aren't important to me. Or, at least, they're not more important than his health.
I tell my kids I want them to be three things: hardworking, healthy and safe, and good to the planet and each other. Those three things are more important than any success on paper, or conforming to any rigid standards. I know, as with any parenting decisions, that my feelings and strategies will probably change. I don't want him to think he doesn't have to work to learn. I just don't want him to resent that work or that learning. Right now, he's not even 6 years old. He deserves to play. In fact he probably learns as much, if not more, from playing than he does from sitting still. I put a lot of things above homework and academic success: health, fun, happiness, family time, and enthusiasm for learning. And I'm 100 percent OK with that. My kid is, too.