Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hot topic: Homework in kindergarten?!?!?

An SF K Files reader asked me to start the following thread:
My child recently received his first homework packet. He's in kindergarten at a public school. I knew there would be some homework but I have to admit that it's more than I expected. And every week! It's such a hassle to get it done and he's resisting. I tried to get him to do it and he got very frustrated and upset. I feel as if kindergarten has become way too academic. Any thoughts?


  1. If your child is getting that frustrated, I would suggest talking to the teacher (in fact, that is what or teacher suggests in her guidelines about homework time). While I'm not a fan of homework at this age, it is a start - one that should help your child create some life-long academic skills (time management, perserverance, etc!). I also think it's a sneaky way to encourage parents to engage more with their kids and to turn off the tv/computer - as our teacher suggests playing academic games like Bogle Jr. and Memory and reading to your child as part of daily homework time.

  2. way too early. schools should wait until second grade. let kids be kids.

  3. Way too early for any serious homework.

    It might be OK if the intent is only to give the parent and child a way to talk about what is happening at school. But not homework to turn in, and especially not to grade.

    We all spend our entire lives stressed with deliverables and deadlines. Kindergartners benefit in no way from being exposed to this when they are not ready.

    I wonder if this is just a way for the teacher to see which parents are engaged?

  4. We haven't had any homework yet in K, and if recall correctly from the older sib, we won't. We used to get a weekly book and a journal, but I don't know if they still do that. Those were perfect! In first grade, the weekly homework packets started and they've been reasonable ever since.

  5. I believe it is not a "must".. They give it at Kindergarten so the kids learn to do homework. It is mostly short and fun to do.

    It is important when your child is doing it. My daughter loved to do homework when she was not tired. When she resisted we didn't force her and just told to the teacher and she was just fine with that.

    Now she is at 1st grade and manages the homework much better. So I can say kindergarten homework worked for us.

  6. Homework at this age is a great opportunity to see what your child is learning at school. It's not like the kids really get A's or B's at this age anyways. So I doubt that the homework is being used as a measurement of aptitude.

    My older 8th grade daughter has had homework since Kindergarten, but her homework habits now are great. She has never missed an assignment. Now her little sister who is a first grader gets very excited to do her homework too. The funny thing is that the older daughter looks at the first grade homework wishing her homework was that "easy." It only gets tougher, but I'm assuming my kids want to go to college and they are taking baby steps to be prepared.

  7. If homework is causing any frustration in kindergarten it is counter-productive.

    To me, the number one predictor of future school success is engagement. The number one predictor of engagement is enjoyment.

    Stress kills enjoyment and done early enough will result in a child that might do OK at school but not with true engagement.

    True engagement is the difference between someone who works for money and someone who works for enjoyment.

  8. I think it's SFUSD policy to give homework in each grade beginning in Kindergarten. The guideline is something like 10 minutes per night per level, so 10 minutes in K and going up from there. I think most teachers follow this, but some don't. Also, teachers have a much different idea about how long things will take tired kids at home than parents do. The homework is usually in addition to an expectation to read (or be read to) each school night, and often students keep reading logs.

    My older child was completely stressed out by homework (he still is in high school!) so, with the consent of his teachers, I considered it optional until 4th grade. By then, he was better able to handle it and there was more tangible feedback (stickers on a chart when it was completed, for instance). It still took a LOT of managing by me.

    My younger child has had an easier time with it (at least since 3rd grade or so), but I am still happy that she finishes most of it with the afterschool-program tutor at her middle school.

    I'm pretty sure that most elementary grade teachers don't correct homework, they just keep track of whether it is turned in. I'm dubious about the value of homework. I know that many adults bring work home at night, but it would be pretty outrageous if your boss handed you a stack of papers every night and said, "Okay, bring these back finished tomorrow"!

  9. I think homework at this age is fun. Its a chance to sit down for a few minutes at night and talk about something they learned in school and do an activity together. Whats wrong with that?

  10. My twins just entered K and have not had homework yet, but next week it will be starting. I'm worried, because we have a 7:50 start time and they need to get up an hour before that, to be able to eat breakfast and get out of the house half-way stress-free. We both work and pick them up around 5PM, then dinner, shower, and they have to be in bed by 7:30 or 8:00 PM at the very latest. What time is there to do homework? I'm really scared.

    They went to a Montessori school before and during their last year had homework every night, but school didn't start until 9 and bedtime didn't need to happen until 8 or 8:30 PM. Even so, it was a hustle...

  11. If they are in an afterschool program perhaps they can do their homework then. Much better to do it earlier in the day before everyone is cranky.

  12. I too was surprised by the homework. I too think homework in kindergarten is too early. But my daughter seems to love it - she's in Spanish immersion kinder at Daniel Webster and loves sharing Spanish words with me and correcting my pronunciation. We'll see if her behavior lasts, but so far it's been a great way to catch a glimpse of her new world and see her huge sense of pride at learning a different language.

  13. I think that all public kindergartens give homework as a "policy". I do think it is okay to give a little home work in kindergarten as long as it is no more than 15-20 minutes per night. It gives good work habits and most kids that age love it if you make it a fun time together with your child.

    Private schools tends to give homework a little later, mostly starting in first grade but with some small assignments in kindergarten such as a drawing or reading together. There are of course different at different schools, but generally public school start homework earlier than private schools.

  14. I'm a working single parent of older kids (middle and upper elementary). I've been dealing with an earl-start school for years, and we are in no way morning people. For me the best thing has been the homework club at afterschool, which is usually sufficient for elementary-level homework, even in the upper grades (let me tell you, homework ramps WAY up in middle school).

    The main exception to that rule would be reports/projects of a larger size, but those are usually one per semester and weekends are a great time to do those, especially as they often mean getting poster board, art supplies, etc.

    What little homework doesn't get done in afterschool is usually accomplished right after dinner--a page of math or whatever. There have also been a few nights (not a regular thing) when I have written a note to the teacher excusing one or both of the children from homework that night--they have to make it up--but when they are tired, better to let them go to bed. The teachers in elementary were fine with that. Again, things get more academic in middle school.

  15. I teach Kindergarten. I assign homework. Most students enjoy and want homework and start asking for it well before I start passing any out. I tell parents explicitly and often that homework should be completed only to the extent that students enjoy and appear to benefit from it. I certainly do not judge parent participation based on homework.

    If your child does not want to complete his or her homework, by all means talk to your child's teacher.

  16. My preschool gave my son homework; he did it every week because he got a star on the board when he completed something. I think that's teaching kids to look externally for motivation/gratification. We ended up sending him to a private school that thought that was as counterproductive as we did.

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  18. Different children react differently to homework. Some like it because it feels "big kid" (although many who are excited at first come to dread it), some just do it along with older siblings, some fight it.

    According to researchers, there is no correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school (and only a weak correlation in middle school). Most researchers (I think Cooper is the one everyone cites, the one with the 10 minutes for each grade level rule) then go on to state children should do homework anyway to generate time management and study skills. Other researchers, like Alfie Kohn and Deborah Meier, point out that this is opinion, as there is no research to prove, or disprove, the theory that elementary school homework helps develop time management skills.

    I personally always found that K homework worked on MY time management skills more than my child's, and may have been counterproductive in that my child came to rely on my participation in her homework, a habit we later needed to break so she could work independently.

    Also, it took away from time for physical activity and reading. The physical activity thing is undervalued in brain development. Reading recovery teachers will often work on gross motor skills if a child is having trouble with reading. Kids are sedentary for a lot of the day while in school - making sure they move around is important, for reading and for health (don't forget, the rates of obesity and juvenile diabetes is skyrocketing).

    All that being said, in my limited experience K teachers are very understanding about kids not completing homework. First grade teachers are not.

    Good luck!

  19. I believe the studies are not as clear about the question of whether, how, and when the addition of homework helps kids who are from different socio-economic backgrounds. It seems to be aimed at multiple purposes: family involvement in the lesson plans, focus on structured learning in the home, and also reading (hence the dreaded reading logs), and reinforcement of school lessons that may or may not be a part of home life.

    I guess as a parent of somewhat older children I would say I am a homework skeptic, but I am open to the possibility that certain benefits are not mainly going to be felt by my children, who are exposed to so many learning opportunities simply through their (relatively) privileged class status and family educational background. If other kids really are benefiting, I'm willing to put up with a *reasonable* amount of pain around it. It wouldn't be fair to give all the homework to one group, I'm guessing.

    However, this idea does beg some start, are there more effective ways to get families involved in learning? Are there more effective ways to reinforce learning than through pencil/paper (and, okay) crayons/markers homework? I'm guessing so, but they are probably more expensive options. Options like hiring more outreach specialists to work directly with families and host family learning nights, with meals provided to help ensure nutrition and attendance; options like more hands-on learning and field trips, and most of all, extended learning opportunities like fun-but-educational summer programs, effective and holistic after-school programs, and ultimately, family outreach that starts in infancy and leads to universal preschool. You know, options like that. That cost more than giving homework.

    Teachers are trying to raise achievement for our most challenged kids. Homework may help do that for some of them. They are trying what they can.

  20. I think parents should spend time at home teaching things that aren't taught in school, rather than finishing what was started (and should have been completed) in school.

    As a previous post noted, a lot of how the schools work is based on the need to protect the vulnerable kid vs. what is the best way to teach an average child. It might not be harmful, and it might be helpful for those most kids at risk, but it might be sub-optimal for your kid.

    "good work habits" are not built incrementally from 5 years old. Show me a hard working kindergartner and it will have no relation to whether they are a hard-working adult. The period for this habit/ethic is determined more in middle school and after. Time spent between 5 and 10 years on developing good work habits is like training a dog to do a fancy trick.

    As innocuous as it seems, homework at these early ages just steals time and energy from eat, sleep, play, sing, paint, bath...and puts the kids on the hamster wheel of work earlier than is even effective.

  21. I don't really mind homework for my kid, but I HATE it when the teachers give homework to ME ... meaning the "project" that they want the kid to do requires me to help for two hours ... I feel like sending the teacher a two hour chore

  22. 2 hours? I've never seen that much in elementary or aimed at parents. The 20-minute reading logs, and a few games to play, yes.

    Agreed that even those small projects can be like the last straw some nights for full-time working single parents like me who struggle with early bedtimes....

  23. You guys are pathetic. No wonder american students are the laughing stock of all western civilizations. American public K-12 education is for the most part does not challenge the kids and they end up entering university woefully unprepared to compete with foreign students.
    We have a first grader in a public school and he's gotten weekly homework since kindergarden. We do our best to make it a stress free and fun activity for him and he for the most part finishes his weekly homework in less than an hour. There is no reason for kindergarden homework to be stressful. The homework isn't graded for accuracy or completeness. The point of homework at kindergarden is as much to instill a homework routine as it is to reinforce what is taught in the classroom.
    Could it be your child is frustrated with homework because he/she picks up on your frustration with it? Kid's inherently want to spent time in activity with their parents, why couldn't homework be another activity same as reading, playing games, etc?

  24. i see the registration requirement is over. i love the comments, nasty and all. it's so ridiculous that it's entertaining.

  25. my kid's class keeps a reading log and takes home one book a week which hasn't started yet. i love where i am sending my son. i knew i picked the right school and it's worth the 25 minute drive each way.

  26. I think homework in K is a burden on parents who work outside the home, who want some home life in the little time we have. Kids this age learn a great deal from helping with chores, hearing and participating in dinner table talk, playing board games -- all the things that are supposed to be part of family time. It seems cruel that just as the work week has lengthened so far past 40 hours, encroaching on family time, the school day would creep in too. I suppose I/we could opt out of homework in K, but I doubt my kid, who is very into "big kid" things, would go for that. I'm against it.

  27. Homework at kindergarten is not for grading but to establish a routine that will be part of their academic life. My kid gets a ditto page where she traces some letters a colors a few figures. It takes her 5-10 min max and she does it at the kitchen table while I'm making supper.

    No big deal...really.

  28. Well, we're in our 2nd week of homework at SK MI and already my daughter is complaining about doing it. The packet includes a reading log and about 5 pages of worksheets. I feel like if she was focused the homework would take her about 45 min to an hour total to complete. As it was, we nagged her through it in about 3 sessions - made a competition game to see who could write the '3' characters on a page first (she won, of course). I'm hoping her attitude improves because so far she is not fond of K and not fond of homework.

  29. Second week of homework for us. Our kid completes most of it in the afterschool program. It's no hassle so far, and he seems to enjoy sharing what he's learned.

  30. Someone above wrote that american students are "woefully unprepared to compete with foreign students".

    I wonder if 'compete' meant on academic tests, in business or in life?

    I am preparing my children primarily to have the character and knowledge to have a good life, second to be able to make living doing something they like, and not-at-all worried about how they measure up against students from other countries.

    I would argue that although other countries have more rigorous approach to academics (including Saturday school), and that may show in test scores, they big-time-fail in developing many the characteristics that define innovation and leadership.

  31. If/when my child is assigned homework in kindergarten, I will want to understand the curriculum for the year and why the teacher and school believe that the homework is a valuable tool in the learning process. (Granted, I want to know and understand the curriculum and learning goals for the year anyway.)

    My children are looking at more than 20 years of school from preschool through graduate school. They have years and years of homework ahead of them. I am in no rush to start it in kindergarten. At this stage, the greatest benefit I can think of is for penmanship practice, which I do see as useful.

  32. We're at Commodore Sloat and so far, no homework, though that may ocme later in the year. Her afterschool program has homework time if needed.

    At her preschools, we were getting anywhere to one benign letter tracing worksheet (Handwriting w/o Tears) to major projects (e.g. treasure hunt around the house to find stuff that begins with the letter P AND listing AND drawing said stuff!). My kid happens to like worksheets and would sit down and work on them. It took her ten minutes tops.

    We've been able to have conversations with her preschool teachers if we were all getting stressed out from the homework. The general view was that this was a sharing and reinforcing exercise and was in no way meant to cause distress.

    I don't mind homework for kinders if they WANT to do it (like my nerdy girl who's already asking why she, bless her), but no one should be forced to at such an early age.

  33. Even countries with enviable academic systems (say, the Finns who outscore all other developed nations on math and language arts) don't give 5-year olds homework!

    There is NO research showing that children who learn to do homework at age 5 become better organized or more responsible students later on. NONE.

  34. I agree with 12:19. I believe that creativity, imagination and teamwork will prove more fruitful than the time spent on memorization and regurgitation that comes with high competition and high test scores.

    I don't know - I am not a loosy goosy parent either - I guess I want rigor + engagement. However, homework at K does not sound very appealing.

    I'd be interested to hear from parents of older children about how SFUSD deals with "life skills" including time management, money management and commercialization. Is there anything going on there - even by parent volunteers?

  35. At this stage, the greatest benefit I can think of is for penmanship practice, which I do see as useful.

    Speaking as a K teacher, I think this is perhaps the worst form of homework. The vast majority of students in my class will have regular and legible penmanship at the end of the year without penmanship drill activities. I find that many students do not have the motor control required for beautiful printing early in the year. I think penmanship practice tends to cause students to focus on the form of letters when they write, as opposed to developing stories, using the alphabetic principle, etc.

  36. Too many over-generalized statements about homework here. Homework can be tedious, but it can also be stimulating if it is creatively designed and closely linked to the curriculum. It can be just as much fun as the activities some of you are complaining that you don't have enough time to do because your kindergartner has to do too much homework!

  37. Our 1st grader's teachers have been very good about communicating about WHY they are giving homework and asking for parent input about how it's going, so I've found it to be a productive and enjoyable activity with my kid. A routine has been critical for us. My husband and I both work full time, but I have tried to become very disciplined about picking my kid up earlier rather than waiting until the very end of after-care. We go home, take care of the dog, have a snack, check his packet and do what needs to be done. I have to prompt him less and less each night. Then if it's still light out, we go over to the park and hit tennis balls around for a little while. (We'll have to plan some indoor activities as winter sets in.) Then I fix dinner while he plays or helps me cook. I try to make something that sits on the stove or bakes unattended for a few minutes and give him his bath and put him in his PJs in that window of time. Then we eat and brush teeth and go to bed. We're lucky that he does not need as much sleep as some kids (9:00 p.m. is fine for him and he usually wakes up before we do in the morning) and we have an 8:30 start time. Also, having 1 plus dog is easier than having more kids to keep track of.

  38. One possible homework tip: A dad at Starr King told it to me. He gets up early with his son (we're an 8:40 start time, this would be much harder at a 7:40 school) and they do homework in the morning. Everything's quiet, there's nothing external to disrupt the time and (because they get to bed early) his son wasn't exhausted from the day. I thought that was quite brilliant and we've done it ourselves at times. So there's one idea for not making your evenings crazy.

  39. Another tip that I think really helps the working family make the most of the evening: keep the TV off on school nights! We get home around 6 and are able to get homework done, play, have a home-cooked meal and chat around the table while we listen to some music, take a bath, and go to bed at a reasonable hour with time for a story . . . and often dad does not get home to help until it's time to sit down to eat.

  40. Public schools and individual teachers vary in their approach to homework, and very much so in the younger grades. My school gave out monthly packets so, for example, a family could control the pace of work -- for example, just choose to do homework on weekends if it wanted to in K. I'm a little surprised at the post's mention of weekly packets in kindergarten -- that does force families to do homework during the week. Note that many (mine included) afterschool programs bar kindergarteners from doing homework, at the K teachers' request. By contrast, my school also started daily homework in first grade -- which I think is too much, too soon. I think nightly homework is just too much for both the kid and family until at leat third grade. Better to have monthly, or at least weekly packets.

  41. I've heard teachers say that the main reason they give homework in kindergarten is to build a connection to the home so the parents know what the child is up to at school. But most parents are already pretty engaged, and those that aren't, well, their kids do homework in after-care/extended care programs, so they aren't doing it with their kids anyway...

  42. Is there ANY research showing the benefits of homework in kindergarten?

    NONE of the top tier privates give homework in kindergarten.

    Even the French don't start until second grade!

  43. I'm a homework skeptic myself, but geez, "top-tier privates" again? What does that mean, top-tier kids? Top-tier money? It means little. What it means to me is mostly upper/upper-middle white families, who for various reasons (and not all bad ones, but not all thought through) tend to want play over homework. Talk to high-performing families in parochial or "top" public or even private who come from other cultures, especially certain Asian ones, and you'll hear a different story.

    It takes all kinds to make a world, and a multicultural city too.

  44. It means the parents have read some of the research the Asian immigrant parents have not, research into the importance of play and exploration in early childhood.

  45. Importance for what purpose?

    Life looks different to an immigrant family that needs to survive to thrive and feels everyone needs to work hard to make it. And it's hard to argue with the success that our Chinese immigrant kids are having in school all the way through university in this state.

    Just to be clear, I'm in the let 'em play category myself, but I can see life through the eyes of my Chinese immigrant in-laws. You can't talk about the importance of any approach without naming your assumptions first--what outcome you want and what is your context.