As we’ve settled into our new life here in the US, as well as our new life in more traditional schooling, there have been a number of things that have caught me by surprise. Some good, some less so. But I have been perhaps more surprised in my conversations with other parents, and with teachers.
If the Danish forest school system taught me anything, it’s that things aren’t always what they seem on the surface, and that sometimes it takes time and understanding to truly realize the value of an educational principle or decision. So in that vein, I thought I’d start a new mini-series on the blog here, where I can throw out a bit of a discussion question that I’ve learned to think differently about. The observations of others always teach me so much. First up: homework !
I didn’t originally put homework on my list of things to be concerned about in moving back to the US, but it was always there in the back of my mind. I wasn’t sure if all of this talk of homework – specifically for kindergarteners – was a real thing or not. My gut reaction, was that this was terrible. Not because I’m against homework per se (and candidly, as a kid I loved homework!) but because this seemed like such a young age that I didn’t see what could possibly be valuable in it. All this “homework” seemed like busy work at best, and like a huge de-motivator for learning, at worst.
But when I started to ask other parents about it, mostly in expectations of building solidarity in my suspicion of it, I was surprised to hear from many parents that not only did they not mind it, but they supported it whole-heartedly. I was even more surprised by the reason why.
Many parents said that it helped them feel connected to what their child was learning, and it was often the only bridge into hearing about how their child spent his or her day. So the homework worksheets weren’t so much a task, as an opportunity to start a conversation with a common language. It was really about a chance to be part of their world for a bit.
I had never thought about homework in that way before at all. In our initial days here in the school year, I found the homework sometimes long…and tedious. As a working mom (and often as a solo parent through much of the year), I get home exhausted. We do a bit of playtime, then dinner time…and then inevitably, the homework. As a parent, I felt strongly that it ate into my very limited time with my own children, forcing me to be an enforcer, a task master, an impatient time-keeper… when I much preferred to outsource those tasks to someone else (um, say like a teacher ;)).
I also found some of the worksheets confusing. I struggled with the math principles that didn’t make much sense to me. I hadn’t learned math in that same way, and sometimes I couldn’t quite figure it out (I don’t think I’m the only parent in that camp); sometimes, I found flat-out errors in the worksheets.
I wrote notes to the teacher to voice concerns, trying to be constructive but likely not masking my frustration very well. This is a good opportunity for me to note that our kindergarten teacher is probably the best kindergarten teacher on this planet. She told me if a worksheet was confusing, to skip it, or if it wasn’t the night for it, to hold off on it for another time. When I found the occasional error, she took note of it and either corrected it in the worksheet, or pulled it all together. Just that simple act of being an ally in my child’s education, in what I could do as a parent, and not an adversary, helped me see homework in a new light as well.
Our teacher’s point of view is that homework at this age isn’t task for the sake of task, but rather an opportunity to reinforce critical skills when a young brain depends on repetition to cement in key foundational concepts like letters and sounds and numbers. Her take is that is how a young brain learns. Her homework is mostly fun, spanning poems and art and yes, the occasional math or writing worksheet.
We are two-thirds of the way through the school year, and I recently sat at the parent-teacher conference. I heard all about my daughters ability to read, not out of duty but out of enjoyment, and I realized our teacher was… right.
Homework nights aren’t always my favorite, and we are still prone to a flash of impatience on my part here and there. I’ve learned to trust my adult judgment about when I should stay the course, or allow an occasional night off, or simply ask for help from someone else, like my niece, to help cover an evening if I’m just too impatient. But I’ve learned to appreciate the value of doing homework together so much more, recognizing that building skills over time, and building connections through conversation, sharing, and good role-modeling do make a difference.