Too Much Too Soon: Is Homework Even Right for Kindergarten?

Too Much Too Soon: Is Homework Even Right for Kindergarten?
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Too Much for Kindergarten: Yes or No?

We’ve all been there. Your kindergartener comes home from a full day of school with a backpack full of photocopied worksheets that must be completed before the start of school tomorrow. After a snack, some outdoor play time, a quick run to the grocery store, dinner, bath time and a quick book…you’ve forgotten all about those worksheets. Do you feel badly that you’ve forgotten? Will you force your child to finish them over her Cheerios and banana in the morning? Or do you roll your eyes, throw the worksheets in the garbage, and walk away certain that Kindergarten homework is a waste of time?

Experts in Australia are beginning to wonder about the appropriateness of homework for very young children. John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, says that “homework as it is usually undertaken is likely to have little to no effect in primary schools.” While Mr. Hattie says that he is not in favor of getting rid of homework entirely, what he would like to see is a paradigm shift when it comes to forcing homework upon our youngest scholars.

Is homework appropriate for Kindergarteners? Or are we forcing children to complete tasks that are really just a waste of time and resources?

The No Homework Camp

There are many who believe that homework for very young children is a complete waste of time. Richard Walker, an associate professor at the University of Sydney and author of the book Reforming Homework, may be one of those believers. He says that there is very little evidence to support that homework improves learning or test grades at the early elementary school level. In fact, Mr. Walker says that even in junior high or middle school, there is only a tiny amount of evidence to support the ritual of nightly homework improving learning or assessment results.

Parents are often left with the less than desirable position of enforcing the homework rules. Many families, especially those in which both parents work outside of the home, have very little time to spend with each other in the evening hours. Most parents, I believe, would rather spend those precious hours connecting with their children, reading together, playing a game together, or simply spending time with one another before bed time. The stress of the waning evening hours having to be devoted to homework struggles or arguments is hardly appealing.

Homework can have negative effects on teachers, as well. In addition to finding resources, making copies and explaining homework expectations, teachers must also take time away from actual teaching in order to check and grade homework. Also, it is often the case that a child who is missing her homework must then be disciplined appropriately. Should the teacher take away recess? Force the child to complete the task while the rest of the class moves on to another lesson? How best to handle these situations? It can be a nightmare for a teacher.

Yay for Homework!

Not everyone agrees that homework is unnecessary for young children. As children, we have all probably managed to complete our kindergarten homework, as our parents before us did. We spent a few minutes each day after school coloring mimeographed sheets or matching upper and lowercase letters. I am betting that none of us are permanently scarred by these short homework assignments, and many of us probably just barely remember completing them. As parents, we often compare our own school experiences with our children’s current schoolwork. We may believe that if it was good for us, it will be good for our children, as well. We have come to expect homework, and may wonder about the academic appropriateness of the teacher or the school if our child comes home with no homework.

As a former educator, I believe that everything, in moderation, has its place. This includes homework. While hours of homework is extremely inappropriate for the kindergarten age, five minutes of homework is just about right. A quick worksheet, or a review of something already discussed or approached in class is not too much to ask of kindergarten aged children. Also, it is important to keep in mind that homework may not always be about practicing a particular kindergarten skill such as reading, counting or writing. Homework can also be used as a way to instill a sense of responsibility in young children. As children grow, homework is good time management practice, a skill that many high schoolers, college students and adults still struggle with. Homework can also be an excellent lesson in helping children show pride in their work, as it takes time and effort to complete a homework assignment and return it to school in good condition.

Is homework right for Kindergarteners? I believe it is. But, as with all things, moderation is the key. Kindergarteners shouldn’t spend more than five to ten minutes a day on homework and the assignments should reflect and reiterate the lessons that are taught in the classroom.