I picked my boys up after school yesterday and surprised them with a day at a farm I used to frequent as a kid. They climbed haystacks piled high for their enjoyment, and took turns pretending they were kings. They pulled each other on rustic wagons through grass, dirt, and pavement, comparing the speed, velocity, and physical exertion required for each route. They fed the animals, drank wholesome, farm-fresh smoothies, and handpicked pumpkins to carve for Halloween.
After hours of uninterrupted play, they decided they were hungry for dinner. They chose one of their favorites; a restaurant I have been going to for 30 years. The owner gives them responsibilities that make them feel good about themselves while they wait for dinner. She lets them greet customers and visit tables to inquire about food quality. They were so carefree they imitated their parents, much to customers’ amusement, with a kiss on the cheek.
When we got home, they took their showers without argument. They dived into books of their choosing, devouring the pages readily, beyond the 20 minute teacher recommendation. They threw their arms around their dad/bonus dad in exuberation when he got home from work, eager to fill him in on every aspect of their day.
Yesterday was a memory maker; one for the vault. It was a day made possible because the kids’ school is rethinking its homework policy.
I have long been a critic of the demands on elementary school children. My boys, aged 7 and 9, get a scant 20 minutes for recess, leaving little time to expel energy, move their bodies, or play games. They have to scarf down their mid-day meals in a 25 minute lunch period. Most days one or both of them come home with half-eaten lunches; they choose socializing with friends over snacking on apples, missing out on nutrients that would help them during their 6-hour school day. (I am pleased they’re clearly not chewing with their mouths open—my Master’s in Nagging pays off at times—but when special treats are left uneaten, it is indicative of a serious time crunch issue.)
They used to get off the bus and immediately start an hour plus of homework, completely burnt out, overworked, and cranky. And I’d beg, bribe, or threaten to take things away if they didn’t comply with my time sensitive, stressed out homework requests before I had to start dinner.
It was ugly.
The daily struggle drove me especially batty because there’s no scientific evidence that homework improves the academic performance of elementary students. Homework research czar Harris Cooper, of Duke University, compiled 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006 that prove this fact. All it does is negatively impact kids’ attitudes towards school, learning, and their parents (the homework enforcers).
We’re two months into the school year, and the homework vacation has delivered so many unexpected gifts:
Neighborhood reminiscent of the 80s. Kids in our community are coming out in droves. There’s impromptu flag football games; bike rides to “the circle,” an area rich with rocks to climb, woods to explore, and room to run; and skateboarding and/or scootering on small inclines to sharpen their skills. There’s boys and girls coming in and out of our house, asking for snacks and drinks to keep going, and eating together outdoors. There’s kids playing outside until the sun sets instead of asking for electronics after homework is completed.
Better grades. Both of my kids came home with hundreds on their tests this past week. My little one aced his math exam, and my older one crushed his states and capitals test. They weren’t bogged down with busy work after school and chose to practice on their own.
I did not have a week like that—two perfect scores!—despite hours of daily homework and preparation last year.
Reading rocks. Reading used to be such a chore for my kids, sandwiched between homework assignments and showers. It was something to endure, not enjoy. They take their time now…because they have the time.
Ample opportunity to be who they want to be. Both of my kids play sports that have practices and/or games at least three days per week. No homework gives them time to decompress before their extra-curricular activities, or to daydream, or to play with their musical instruments or Legos or air hockey table…whatever gives them joy.
Improved relationships with teachers and administrators. My kids used to complain that teachers gave them so much homework, and now they see them in an entirely different light. They try harder during the school day, giving it their all…knowing they will have free time when the last bell rings.
More confidence in the school. The underlying message of testing a ‘no homework’ policy is trust. It shows me, as a parent, that administrators believe in the chosen curriculum. They believe in teachers’ ability to connect with students. They believe kids will learn what they need to learn during the day. And they believe in us, as a community, to embrace change.
The homework reprieve has created a seismic shift in my house. The boys are happier. I am happier. They have more time to be kids, and I have more time to be a mom/bonus mom…a perfect score in my book.
Do you think elementary school kids should have daily homework?
This post originally appeared on Jodi Meltzer Darter’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook , Twitter, and Mommy Dish.
The Homework Myth – Death and taxes come later; what seems inevitable for children is the idea that, after spending the day at school, they must then complete more academic assignments at home. The predictable results: stress and conflict, frustration and exhaustion. Parents respond by reassuring themselves that at least the benefits outweigh the costs.
But what if they don’t? In The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn systematically examines the usual defenses of homework – that it promotes higher achievement, “reinforces” learning, teaches study skills and responsibility. None of these assumptions, he shows, actually passes the test of research, logic, or experience.
So why do we continue to administer this modern cod liver oil – or even demand a larger dose? Kohn’s incisive analysis reveals how a mistrust of children, a set of misconceptions about learning, and a misguided focus on competitiveness have all left our kids with less free time and our families with more conflict. Pointing to parents who have fought back – and schools that have proved educational excellence is possible without homework — Kohn shows how we can rethink what happens during and after school in order to rescue our families and our children’s love of learning.