Last week, I attended my kids' elementary school's curriculum night, the annual evening when parents are invited into their children's classrooms to hear from teachers about what their students will be learning over the course of the year, how their days will be structured, and what the teacher's overall goals for the classroom are.
My daughter is in third grade and my son just started kindergarten with the same teacher his sister had three years earlier, so this wasn't exactly my first rodeo. I wasn't anticipating any surprises. Honestly, I was really only expecting to be bored and slightly uncomfortable. (Have you ever sat in a chair designed for a 5 year old for an hour?)
I started the evening in my daughter's classroom, where I half listened to her very capable teacher talk about maths, reading, social studies, and science, while mostly thinking about what I wanted to order at the restaurant my husband and I were hitting up afterwards. But my ears perked up when he started talking about homework.
You see, homework is not my friend. My daughter is bright, capable, and a quick learner in the classroom. At home, a homework assignment that she could reasonably finish in 20 minutes has regularly been known to take two-plus hours. She's over it by the time she gets off the bus, and I'm the bad guy who's forcing her to do just one more maths sheet before she runs out to ride her bike or plugs into her iPad for a well-deserved zone-out session. There have been many of days when I've had to threaten to email her teacher in order to get her to complete whatever simple-seeming worksheet has come home. In second grade, it was super annoying. In kindergarten, it was brutal.
Her teacher started off by talking about "the 10-minute rule," a rule of thumb popular among teachers that states that an appropriate amount of homework is about 10 minutes per night, per grade level (10 minutes a night for first graders, 20 minutes for second graders, etc). "So we're up to about 30 minutes a night now," he said, "But I believe most of that should be spent reading, by themselves or with you, so that's going to the bulk of my homework assignments this year."
Considering that my daughter already reads that long pretty much every night before bed, I felt like I'd just been given a golden ticket. I walked out with a smile on my face and headed over to see my son's kindergarten teacher. I'd loved her so much when my daughter was in her classroom that I'd explicitly requested my son be assigned to her too, but I also knew she assigned homework every single day, and I could only imagine the process of getting it done was going to be just as difficult with my son as it was with my daughter.
Half way through her speech, the subject came up. "A lot of new studies are showing that homework isn't as helpful as we used to think," she said. "So I'm not going to give it. Your job is to work with your kids on practicing their letters every night and reading as much as you can. That's what's most important."
Could it be true? Had I (I mean, my kids) both just gotten out of homework for the whole year?! Three weeks in, that seems to be mostly the case, and I am thrilled about it. My kids are 5 and 8 and spend seven hours a day sitting in a classroom, learning in a super structured way. I want them to be able to spend the rest of their day just being kids: playing with toys, riding their scooters, swinging at the neighbourhood park, and yes, reading with me or by themselves. In my view, those are the things that will contribute to their current and future health and happiness. The worksheets? They can wait.