She’s sitting on the bathroom counter with a book propped in her lap. She’s holding the tiny sparkly pen she earned out of the prize box at school last week and I’m giving her words to spell. The lines on her paper don’t match the lines on the paper from school – the blue and red lines, some solid and some dotted, the lines meant to guide her towards understanding of which letters are tall and which are short and how they should all look in relation to one another.
“Cat,” I say, and she sets off to make the c and a the same short size and the t a bit taller.
She insists these words I’m throwing her way are too easy, so I ask her to spell soap (she gets it wrong) and driveway (she gets it right).
She tells me which letters should be tall and which ones short. She sounds out the words and hears the sounds they make roll off her tongue and then slip onto the paper in their assigned shapes.
She’s practicing her handwriting and her spelling.
This isn’t her homework. This is her pleasure.
I picked her up today at 5 from her after school art program. She was outside with her teacher and the rest of the class, wandering in the huge city park with the skyline looming behind her. They were making a movie, writing scenes with fairies and robots and I forgot what else. Their first grade excitement was palpable as I saw them walking towards me. “Our story is awesome!” one of them screamed. “The whole world should see it!”
Yesterday she had been picked up from a computer lab where she was using a program to animate stick figures on the screen.
Last week she made three dimensional art using clay and paper and cardboard.
She always asks to stay late. And we’ve been obliging her despite the fact that I can’t really imagine a six year old wanting to be at school from 7:45 until 5. But she does and she’s handling it well and she’s doing pretty amazing stuff.
Ken is out tonight and I am tired from a cold I’ve somehow caught only three weeks in to school. Rather than torturing myself with the thought of cooking dinner, we went out to a restaurant where we sat, the three of us, in a huge booth and I let the kids eat breakfast for dinner because why not.
We ate and paid our bill and ran in the rain over to the half-priced book store where we stocked up on superhero books and all of the Cam Jansen’s Nora has yet to read, which isn’t many.
We got home and Nora ran off to start reading.
“Wait!” I said. “You have to finish your homework!”
“Ugh. But I want to read.”
“I know, but you have to finish. It’s due back tomorrow.”
“I hate homework,” she said as she moped over to the dining room table.
Homework came home with her on Monday – a scavenger hunt for doubles around our house and neighborhood, a language arts worksheet asking her to write about the beginning, middle and end of a book, a social studies page asking her to write about a family tradition and a double-sided math worksheet that was marked as a challenge.
Monday she was excited to do homework. It was her very first homework ever to be assigned. Guess what she did first? The challenge. She struggled through it, thought it was fun. Then she moved on to the doubles sheet since that is the one that was actually due back to class. It was engaging since it asked her to look around the house and outside, just to notice things that have always been there from a slightly new perspective (what all good education should do, I believe). Then she stopped and we pretty much forgot about it until today.
She’s in bed now. The one paper to bring back tomorrow is done – she had actually finished it on Monday we realized. But the story paper, the beginning, middle and end paper is blank. She didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to make her. She did the same one at school last week and did it really well. It didn’t seem like something I thought she really needed to practice.
Here’s the thing about this, though. I always, every. single, day. did my homework. All of it. All the time. And if I forgot it at home or accidentally left off one part, I was devastated. Upset. Chances are I probably cried about it.
But now, as a parent, as a teacher who reads so much educational research that says homework is of no value and probably of some harm to young kids in their education, I couldn’t make her do it. I know that kids might be better off with no homework – “that there are no academic benefits to homework for kids in primary grades”. I know that parents report better attitudes towards school and learning in general when a school assigns no homework to the youngest students. I know that there is immense value to reading at home daily. I know that there is some value to homework as students get older, as they need to practice more complex skills. But we aren’t there yet.
So while part of me wanted her to finish every sheet in that homework packet because it is what I would have done. Because even looking at it sitting blank over there makes me nervous. I didn’t make her. Instead I let her tell me more about the awesome movie she is making with her friends. I took her to a bookstore to get more books. I let her practice spelling and handwriting because she wanted to. I let her read three chapters of her new book in her bed, headlamp shining on the pages like it does every night – not because it is homework, but because reading is awesome.
I’m not sure what I’ll do when she has more homework or when the paper in question is the one that is supposed to go back to the teacher. I like to think that I’ll stand up against homework that is just a worksheet and up for the learning that happens organically around here every night. I like to think that she’ll only get homework that matters, that helps her see things in a new way. I like to think I won’t force my compulsion to do it all and do it perfectly onto her. But I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll just see what happens when the time comes. But for now, the worksheet is staying blank.