Kindergarten homework?

A friend and I are working on an opinion piece about homework in the early elementary school grades.  I need your help.  PLEASE leave a comment if you have any input you are willing to share, including:

– personal anecdotes (parents and teachers, as well as from your own childhood)

– opinions

– information about how this differs across locales

– articles to read on the topic

If you leave information about your personal experiences, please indicate the type of school (rural, urban, wealthy, struggling, private, public, geography, size, etc.).  We will not use your anecdotes without getting your permission first and we would never violate your privacy or steal your words.  But, we are interested in hearing all the arguments out there before we make our own.

Thank you in advance for your input!

21 responses to “Kindergarten homework?

  1. I am guessing you saw Peggy Ornstein’s NYTimes Mag piece on this subject– http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-lede-t.html?scp=1&sq=kindergarten&st=cse

    It spread like rapid fire in my school yesterday. We are a small prek-6th grade progressive independent school in an urban setting that does NOT believe in homework in the early grades. We do (somewhat grudgingly) assign HW starting in the 4th grade & try to make it as thoughtful as possible. Oh, and by ‘progressive’ school, we do not mean UNSTRUCTURED or without rules or academically wishy washy–which some folks mistakenly believe. We do talk with families about the importance of reading together every day, but that’s it for HW in the early grades.

    As a mom of TWO kindergartners, I support this no homework policy with all my being. HW in the early grades often seems about ‘parent work,’ not kid work. HW in kindergarten appears to attempt to send the message that this school, whatever it may be, is academically rigorous and serious about preparing kids for x and y and z schools in his/her future. I lament that many schools miss a HUGE piece while caught up in the academic rigor thing (and testing scores)– that kids need social and emotional growth as well, that they need help with life skills that go well beyond elementary school: how to be a member of a community, how to voice one’s opinion, how to deal with disappointment, how to name one’s feelings, how to disagree with others in a respectful way, etc. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the importance of creative play….

    I love that when I get home with my sons, we choose our schedule. One afternoon may be folding origami whales, another scootering outside, another investigating the mushrooms sprouting on the grass, another sacked out on the couch, etc. without the pressure and pull to get some school-assigned worksheets completed….

    I have tons more to say as a kindergarten mom and an educator but I will leave this here and if you want more of my thoughts on the subject– send me an email.

  2. I believe that learning should be directed, as much as possible, by passion. At the very least, it should be engaging and relevant and provoke critical thought (even our littlest learners are capable of that). I’m all for academic rigor, actually–but I think there are some misperceptions around what that might mean and what supporting it looks like. Homework doesn’t necessarily achieve any of this. I’m all for asking that kids spend some time out of school reading and writing and engaged in real learning. I think that what kids are asked to do must be differentiated—open to choice, connected to their real lives, and respectful of who they are and what they are ready to do. I haven’t looked into it lately, but I know there is quite a bit of compelling research out there that suggests that homework has little to no effect on learning, and in some cases, I’d guess it might have a negative influence. If you ask this question on Twitter, I’ll be happy to retweet it and get you some information from the educators who follow me there. I also have a prompt up on my blog today that I’d love to get your feedback on…..and an opportunity for you this summer, if you’re interested. Let me know.

  3. Erin Bohacek

    Hey Emily. I’m not sure what is the right answer to this. I’ve chosen to send my kids to a Montessori school through 6th grade. They are still young now so I haven’t seen the results of this. Montessori programs do not believe in homework but give some from about 4th grade on to prepare the kids for middle school. With Montessori the kids are doing their work independently at school all day so there is no need to do more work when they get home. A non-Montessori school would typically have a teacher lecturing in the front of the class throughout the school day and the kid goes home to apply what they’ve learned during the day and then do it “independently”. The theory of homework may be good but when put into practice in the real world you probably get varied results depending on the nature of the kid, home situation, and type of homework given. For your article it may be interesting to explore some of the principles of Montessori. One thing that is stressed is minimal adult intervention into the learning process. The child works independently and mistakes are used as a learning tool, not as a way to grade a child on their performance. Traditional homework, as your previous poster stated, has become more of homework for the parents so the child may not really be learning much from their homework and in some cases could be adding to stress in a home environment as parents have to force a child to sit to do their homework similar to doing a chore.

    Here I’ll make a generalization, but as the parent of a boy and a girl I can see the difference. I think my girl would be self motivated to finish her homework to please her parents and teacher but I think getting boys who are generally more restless and active to sit down to do homework is more difficult.

    I really don’t know the right answer but feel like the benefits of homework are over-rated but elementary schools are pushing it to make sure they look like their giving the kids the best education. That being said, at home reading, is a valuable activity and is encourage in both traditional and Montessori-type schools. I do believe that homework is valuable as the child gets older so there is a point where the school needs to teach a child at-home study habits.

  4. Bub is in senior kindergarten, and his homework consists of a book program – he brings home a different book each day, reads it to us at bedtime, and then writes down the name of the book the next morning after breakfast. The books are assigned according to reading level – Bub has progressed to level “D,” which involves more of a story-line – the level “A” books are usually a single sentence with only one changed word per page (cued to the picture).

    This kind of homework has been very successful for Bub, mainly because it’s the same every night. Initially, he was resistant, especially to the writing portion, but as it became part of the routine he just accepted it as a matter of course. It’s not difficult for us to keep track of what needs to be done either, since it’s the same every night, and it doesn’t cut into our family time because it’s integrated into our routines.

    The only other kind of homework he has is on a once-a-month rotation, where he brings home the “Guessing Jar” and has to fill it with something (i.e. candies or pencils) and then write down what’s inside. That’s a bit more of a battle because it’s a change to the routine, but it’s mostly fun. We have no worksheets to complete or anything like that, thank goodness.

  5. Morgan had homework in kindergarten when we lived in LA. She went to a private school and had I’d say half an hour a night. Which seemed extreme to me, considering she was only four and a half years old. But she loved it. I personally think if they start it that young, they will be burned out on school by 8 years old.
    Now she goes to an alternative school and rarely has homework. Sometimes, but it’s generally very specific to a project that is being worked on or some science experiment, not just endless worksheets.

  6. Hmmm…

    First off – a teacher friend of mine calls such projects “parent work” since that’s who generally does them. However:

    Child 1 – no kindergarten. Home schooled.

    Child 2 – kindergarten in Alaska (award winning school), no homework, was already reading (age 3 – due to excessive sibling rivalry and a stubborn streak you could surf on) so I can’t remember if we had reading assignments as Child would have whipped through them in no time.

    Child 3 – Kindergarten in Alaska (different school though – Eagle River rather than Anchorage), I don’t remember any homework although with three in grade school things get a little fuzzy at that point! There were lots of in-class projects and things and there might have been a work sheet or two, but nothing excessive.

    Personally I think homework for K is silly. The parents end up doing all the work (certainly all the nagging, the standing over, the “helping”) and the kids just get irritated or frustrated.

    A friend of mine had a kindergartner in California and they had weekly packets that had to be done – letter tracing, pictures to draw, books to read etc – and it was a total pain in the neck. The only time they had to sit down and do the work was after dinner at which point the poor child was tired and cranky and the parent not much better off (widower, so single parent trying to wrestle all this stuff). It was a nightly fight to get it all done and honestly I could never figure out what skills the poor kid was supposed to have learned that weren’t already being taught in school.

    ‘Nother point? The sheer volume of paper being sent home in grade school is appalling. I regularly got three to five sheets per day per child. Horrifying.

  7. I don’t have any kindergarten-aged children yet. However, I plan on politely declining homework if at all possible.

    I find the early and constant drive towards achievement to be unsettling. I’ve learned that my daughter is happier, and learns better, when she’s not pressured or pushed. I realize that as she gets older there will be an inevitable trend towards more structure and directed academic activity, but I really feel it’s better to delay that rather than promote it.

    I’ve heard that a lot of kindergarten ‘homework’ in my area involves activities such as reading with parents. It feels like an assignment directed towards higher-risk kids, who aren’t getting the same kind of parental interaction my kids are. I can understand what educators are hoping to accomplish. But I know that my kids don’t fall into a risk group, and those who do are unlikely to have the level of parental involvement required to complete the assignments. It’s unfortunate, but it creates a situation where homework is of little value, because the students who are most likely to do it are least likely to actually need it.

    The result is a lot of effort going towards homework, and an intrusion on family time and childhood, for little purpose.

    There were some interesting discussions about this last year in Ontario. You can find a couple of articles here:
    http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/407827
    http://www.thestar.com/GTA/Education/article/302001

  8. My niece had 1 page of homework in kindergarten per week, given on a Friday to be returned the following Friday so you could work with your child on it when you had the free time, which i thought was great. She also had 20 word spelling tests by the end of her kindergarten year which blew my mind, but we are talking 3 letter words here and she really thrived (public suburban school district with a good reputation). They do recognize reading as vital at her school and they announce each childs name as they reach 100 book milestones, last year in kindergarten my niece read 400 books (but she was also reading prior to starting kindergarten so she had the advantage that she wasnt learning to read)…… and this year she hit 500…. she is now a first grader reading on a 5th grade level and loves LOVES chapter books. I think the homework load was fine since it was 30 min once a week, but I think she would have been fine without it too.

  9. Public school in a high achieving, upper middle class suburb of NYC: no homework in kindergarten.

    Don’t know what happens in first grade – we’re not there yet.

  10. Homework for K? No. Ridiculous. That’s the age for playing and being read to. However, my older dtr got homework starting middle of grade 1. It wasn’t a lot, about 1/2 hr total a week. By grade 3 it amounted to about 1/2 hr total on a weekday and another 1/2 hr total on the weekend. The following year the schoolboard came out with a no homework policy. It’s a disaster in my opinion. The curriculum is so broad that there is not enough time in the school day for spelling and math regularly. These are subjects that require daily practise, especially math because it builds on foundational skills. It isn’t something that can be successfully learned in isolated, crammed chunks.

    I found that my older dtr’s learning in basic math and spelling stagnated and my younger dtr wasn’t at the same stage my older dtr had been in primary grades when she had that small but regular amount of homework.

    What’s ended up happening is that I’ve had to institute our own homework program without the school’s support. My kids do JUMP math every other day and about a 1/2 hour of spelling/writing on the weekend.

    They do wonderful creative learning in school. I’m all for it. But other parents, who don’t have the resources that I do, are disadvantaged now because their kids won’t get that basic learning. I also wonder what those kids will do when they get to middle school and have to study. How will they know how on their own? At an age where they aren’t going to be interested in parents’ help?

    I think there is a good balance between an excess of homework, projects done by parents, and basic skills practise.

  11. At Gray’s elementary school (small, urban, private, bilingual), homework started in first grade and mostly consisted of practicing reading sentences and, eventually, very, very short stories, in French.

    I loved it because, unlike most of Gray’s classmates and parents, we aren’t native French speakers and it gave me a chance to improve my French accent by listening to Gray.

  12. lifeineden

    My son is in public school kindergarten. They have homework M-Th. At the beginning of the year it is billed as “practice” and should only take about 10min. The purpose is supposedly to “get them in good habits” for when there is more significant homework later. Yeah right.

    Mon homework is to read their library book, then draw a picture from their favorite page and also write a sentence about it (as well as fill in other information). For my son, who is a lefty with fine motor delays and poor drawing skills, this task can take 30 mins or more. It is usually a rushed experience, fraught with nagging and unhappiness.

    Tues is “math at home” where you are to pick something from a pamphlet sent each month. Honestly, we rarely do this and I out right lie on the turn in sheet each month. Wed is some type of busy-work work-sheet. Thurs is at least simple with him “reading” me a simple book they make each week.

    Homework in K sucks. My son needs to do OT for his fine motor. We have doctor’s appointments to get to. Swim lessons (essential in my opinion at a young age). Most kindergartens are now “all day”. We talk about how our children are “overscheduled.” But we give them homework in K? Ridiculous.

    I could go on and on. Email me if you want to talk more, or I’ll give you my number if you need it. Let us know when your article is done!

    ps — sorry for all the quotation marks!

  13. Just popping in here for a moment because I just read something that may (or not) be of use/interest to you: http://www.yardsticks4-14.com/2009/04/imaginationthe-most-significant-critical-thinking-skill-of-all.html
    There are more posts before and after that one that are also related. The blogger has written a very popular book for teachers on child development, among other things.

    It’s an interesting question– I don’t have time to say much right now, but Pedro was in the equivalent of kindergarten last year, and while there was little to no homework, it was still pretty academically-focused, and by the end of the kindergarten year all the kids can read.

  14. Thoughts on homework: IT SUCKS.

    There should NOT be homework in kindergarten. We work hard during the day, and there are MANY MORE YEARS of homework. And, when it is given later, it should be INDEPENDENT work and NOT require parent help. (As a teacher I do NOT want to see what the parents can do.)

    Rant over.

  15. My son went to Catholic School K-2. Waaaay too much homework. Spent entire evenings getting it done. Thought that was just the way it was. Moved him to public school and homework went way down. My mother, who has a doctorate in educational administration with emphasis on elementary, says the rule of thumb should be 10 minutes per grade level.

  16. young kids are actually excited about homework, so I think it’s OK to cash in on this and get them used to the idea of doing a LITTLE bit of homework. During K MQ had very little homework. Now in first grade she has 5-10 minutes 4 nights a week, with the occasional bigger thing (like a speech with a presentation poster… but we work on that over a week or so). From what the school has said I can expect that to increase appx. 5-10 minutes a day for each grade she advances. I really think that kids in elementary school should not be spending more than about 30 minutes on homework most days… they are in school all day, most have extra curriculars (many have too many extras!) and they need time to PLAY and just be kids and be with families. Our neighbor’s kids often have more than an hour worth of homework and it is too much. Studies show that, particularly at a young age, a lot of homework does NOT increase a child’s learning (a think a little is find to reinforce what’s happening at school and teach a child the habit – even so, I would not argue AT ALL with not having any!) I know parents who have done a lot a kid’s homework for them because they are given so much busy work that the child has no time to play, and the parents do it (this was all the kids in a class… the parents had talked to the teacher and she refused to change, so all the parents sort of agreed amongst themselves that they would take a load of the kids by doing some of it. I think this is really weird, but then again… what are you going to do??)

    (my kid – fairly affluent smallish town small secular private school, first grade, neighbors are in larger catholic school (same affluent town), parent who did the kids’ homework was a public school in Bakersfield, CA)

  17. My son had homework starting from age 6 – he went to the village school, across the green from our house. I thought this was ridiculous – everything he was asked to do was beyond his mental capacity without significant help. Therefore it was homework for parents. I was very laid back about whether he did it or not.

  18. I just shuddered a bit at the thought. Not sure what our kindergarten thinks about homework, but we’ll know soon enough. Coming from a Montessori school, I dread the thought of worksheets. Dread, I tell you.

  19. Location: a suburban school district outside St. Louis.
    Period: September 1977 to October 1981
    Grades: K-beginning of 4th grade (family moved)

    School district had a policy of no homework until the fourth grade, at which point life seemed to become a lot more grown-up. I seemed to turn out ok, and definitely wasn’t behind my peers when I moved to New Jersey in November of fourth grade.

  20. My son is in 1st grade now. He goes to a public school in a smallish (10,000 popn) town – it’s known as best school in the county, and we’re in same county as the state capitol. He had homework in kindergarten Monday – Thursday, and it averaged 30-90 minutes per night. I thought that was the norm and so I’m surpised to hear the comments everyone has left.

    I never felt ANY mommy guilt until he started kindergarten. Then, I felt it big time. Getting home from work at 5:30 and then having to cram homework and dinner and bath and reading into our evening before his 7:30 bedtime was nearly impossible a lot of the time, but we did it. It never occured to me to decline but boy, wish I could have that year back.

    This year he’s in 1st grade and has homework Monday – Friday. Sometimes 10 minutes; sometimes 90 minutes and we never know what it will be until he gets home.

    The only upside I can see is that he does need extra practice writing so he gets that at night with homework. But I have a very tired child by 7:30 pm.

  21. I think a lot depends on if you have half day or full day Kindergarten. We have half day and my son got homework daily, which consisted of a work sheet and reading. The worksheets were mostly busy work (NOT needed at all!), but the reading is important and I believe should be the only “homework” needed at this age.
    My son is now finishing up First Grade. He gets homework each night (worksheets) and 15 minutes of reading his book from school. I DO NOT think that after a full day of pretty intense work at school that they need to come home and sit down and work on homework. At the beginning of the year he would come home, exhausted and cry “all I want to do is build my lego ship”. Which is exactly what he SHOULD be doing at this age. They need play time and I don’t think they are getting it at school anymore. We don’t want them to “burn out” by the time they hit 4th grade. At this stage they should still be learning a lot through play and not homework!! School should still be fun!
    To sum up: I think 10-15 minutes of reading should be their only required “homework” at this age.
    (we live in an upper-middle class suburban school district).