My 9-year-old goes to a great school. I love his teachers. Although they spend a lot more time sitting than I remember doing in third grade, he still manages to get in a good amount of physical activity, hands-on/interactive activities, and of course, socializing (aka acting like a fool with the other 9-year-old boys).
I wish they did fewer worksheets and hours of Common Core math, but the teachers do their best to make it stimulating and interesting for the kids. I have personally sat in on some of their classwork, and the kids are bright-eyed and engaged, including my son. Really, could I ask for anything more?
But when I pick him up from school, the worst part of his (and my) day begins. He’s in school for six and a half hours a day. He’s 9, but that’s still young to be in a room full of kids and teachers doing work for that long. So, the kid is tired. I remember what it was like after my long days of school, and I was tired as hell too.
We don’t schedule many activities after his long day of school. As far as I’m concerned, school is enough for him, and he can do extra activities on the weekends or during his summer vacation. When it’s warm enough, he’ll play on the playground after school, but structured after-school activities are a rarity for us.
All I want him to do after school is to relax and unwind—and get a chance to be a kid.
But homework thwarts all that. Homework is the bane of my existence and his.
It’s not that he gets a ton of it. In actuality, the whole activity should take him 15 minutes or less. But when he’s tired, when I’m tired, and when he just wants a few hours of his day not to have to think about schoolwork, those 15 minutes turn into an hour, easily.
Here’s the breakdown:
– 15 minutes of me asking him to take out his backpack, lay his homework on the table, and tell me what his assignment is.
– 15 minutes of me asking/begging/pleading/bribing him to do it.
– 15 minutes for him to find a pencil, ask for a snack, spill a cup of juice on his notebook, clean it up, go to the bathroom, knock his brother down on the way, and fashion a telescope out of an empty toilet paper roll so he can watch the squirrel eat all the bird seed out of our neighbor’s feeder.
– 15 minutes to do his homework, or more depending on how many breaks he needs to take to complain about it all.
Honestly, I would much rather he spend his homework time working on that toilet-paper telescope. I would rather sit there and talk about why the squirrel is so interested in the bird seed, what the standard diet of the squirrel is, where the heck the birds went, and how telescopes are made.
There are so many ways he could be learning at home that don’t suck the life out of him. Here are some activities I would much rather my child be doing than homework:
1. Go Outside
And do something. Anything. Kick some rocks around (that could turn into an earth science lesson). Turn the hose on and off (lessons in velocity and plumbing).
2. Read a Book
Reading is part of his daily homework assignment, and I have been blessed with an avid reader, but if reading weren’t a requirement, I think he would do even more than the assigned 20 minutes—for pure and simple pleasure. Imagine that.
3. Play (Fight) With His Brother
Yeah, half the time they’re punching each other in the face, but I wish my big kid had more time to play with his little brother. His little brother has the biggest imagination in the world, and I think it’s good for my big kid to remember what it’s like to dress up, make up stories, and let loose.
4. Play His Squeaky Recorder
Oh, the infamous recorder. Like many elementary school kids, my son was given a recorder at the beginning of the school year. Yeah, it screeches and squeaks, giving me a royal headache, but he loves playing it (and has actually gotten better at it), but so often I have to tell him to put it down to do his godforsaken homework.
5. Chores (Even With Protests)
Okay, this is not one of the things he would like to do. But I think adding a couple of extra chores to his list would be a lot more educational than filling out another worksheet. Take responsibility for your stuff. Learn a little discipline, kid!
6. Get Bored
Sometimes when he has free time, he gets bored and restless. It’s common for boys of his age. He whines. He pretend-punches me in the arm. It drives me crazy, but I’d love for him to have more “bored” times. Getting through these moments (without resorting to electronics) almost always results in something interesting and creative.
7. One of the Million Board Games He Got for His Birthday
He has a closet full of board games, art kits, science kits—you name it. But we usually only get to those on the weekends, if at all. I really wish he could spend a solid chunk of his day delving into this stuff. But, alas, he has homework to do first.
8. Messy Science Experiments
My kid likes the ones where you make a volcano, whip up a bucket of slime, or just generally explode stuff. I wouldn’t want him to do this kind of stuff every day, but boy would that be a better use of his time than homework.
9. Video Games
I will admit that the kid doesn’t need more video-game time in his life. And he gets plenty of time when he first gets home from school and needs a serious break. But as often as video games are mind-numbing, they are also often interesting and educational. My kid has even started using programs to design his own video games.
10. Any Freaking Thing
Really, truly, anything besides homework. Sigh.
If the goal of homework is to keep the learning flowing after school, there are many ways of doing that besides more worksheets and writing. I don’t fault the teachers or the school for this at all. It’s a systemic problem. Numerous studies show that homework in elementary school simply doesn’t accomplish what it sets out to, but it seems that most school systems haven’t gotten the memo yet.
Given time and space, children have a natural inclination to be learning all the time—through the power of play, free exploration, and gentle nudging from their parents.
Homework tends to extinguish that inclination. And I hate that. There has to be a better way.
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