For the first three years of school, Daniel had homework almost every day. Some of it was useful. Undoubtedly, Daniel benefited from being required to read out loud to us and to keep a log of what he’d read. But I almost lost my mind when he was asked in grade one, over the Thanksgiving weekend, to prepare a two minute presentation on sources of energy. With speaking notes. To assist him, we were given a grading rubric by which to assess his work. It would have been more useful for assessing the work of a second-year university student. Then there was the time he was asked in grade one to build a “structure” from one hundred wooden Popsicle sticks. You may have heard of this assignment as if forms part of the provincial grade one curriculum. It was quite popular among the parents of our school. At least, I assume so, since I don’t think many children are so intimately acquainted with the work of Buckminster Fuller.
Let’s be clear: I do not dislike homework. Given that my boys are getting older, I’m aware that homework will become more and more important to their academics, and I’m not entirely upset by that. I like using their school work as a jumping-off point for further study or exploration — our trip to Montreal this summer was motivated, in part, by the fact that Daniel started core French this year — and if they’re struggling, I want to be able to help. Last year, Sebastian often found it difficult to finish his work during class time, and he understood that he was expected by both his teacher and his parents to take any unfinished work home to be completed. By him doing so, we were able to work with his teacher to come up with some strategies for helping him stay focused. As I was the type of kid who asked her grade two teacher for MORE homework (and who was resoundingly laughed at, by said teacher), I still tend to hope that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree and that my kids will actually like learning, at any time and in different contexts. So far, so good.
But what I really dislike, and what makes me want to cross my arms, close my eyes, and shake my head, is what I call “busy work”: homework that is either (a) beyond the capabilities of the student without significant parental assistance (read: any project involving one hundred Popsicle sticks, and did I mention we commute by public transit?) or (b) work for the sake of work, simply because it’s “good for you”. Letting my kids run around after school, exercising their hearts and brains with their friends, is good for them. Photocopied worksheets handed out for completion each evening simply because “other parents want them” (as I’ve heard is done at other schools) is not.
When the Toronto District School Board revised their policy on homework a few years ago to limit the amount and type of homework to be expected of students, a cheer could be heard from our house. We’ve been pleased that since the new policy was introduced, the boys’ teachers have been remarkably consistent in their expectations. Daily reading is a given. Daniel’s grade two teacher sent home “homework” every day, but it was just a short task that tied into the day’s learning expectations (example: How many chairs do you have in your house? How many legs is do all of them have, altogether?”). Sebastian receives a weekly homework folder, which contains work to be completed by Friday of each week. In each case, it’s manageable work that correlates directly to what they’re learning during the day, and that can be completed without requiring hours of butt-in-seat time at a time of day when my kids are at the point of having sat just about enough, thank you very much.
I know I go on and on and on (ad nauseum, undoubtedly) about how busy our days are. Two working parents and two busy kids in day care means that we don’t have a lot of time for, well, “family time”. We listen to them when they come home tired and spent and ask if they could please just have some down time on the weekend. So when it comes right down to it, I want US to decide what we do with the time we have together. I don’t have an issue with homework taking up part of that time, but I’d be quite resentful if it was all of it, and even more so when the homework adds nothing to the time we spend together.