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Homework for Winter Vacation

Published in ChicagoNow, January 8, 2014

“Welcome back from Winter Vacation (two days late in our area due to sub-zero weather), second graders! Please put your homework on my desk.”

I have never liked homework assignments given over school vacations. I remember so vividly the awful Thanksgiving vacation 33 years ago when my daughter, who was only 7, had such a difficult assignment that it took hours away from our family celebration. The fact that it was also her birthday just rubbed more salt in the wound.

The worst part, however, came when I complained about it to her teacher. The teacher’s response, “That was a punishment for the class as a whole for misbehavior. Most of them didn’t even do it.” When I told her that my daughter, who had not broken any rules, took the assignment seriously, she replied, “That’s too bad.”

Fast forward to the present. Ironically, my daughter’s 7-year-old just spent a chunk of winter “vacation” doing homework! Here’s what she did:

  • She read for at least 20 minutes every day all 14 days of vacation. Good for her – she would have done that anyhow. But did she really need to answer comprehension questions about what she read?

  • She completed a “heart map,” writing about everything she did each day. That’s 14 days of little essays.

  • She wrote a page and a half essay, which needed to be edited by her parents to correct errors, about something she did over vacation. This also needed to be illustrated and was preparation for a writing assessment to be done upon her return to school.

  • She completed numerous tasks surrounding her list of spelling words in preparation for a spelling test upon returning to school.

Really? Was this necessary? What about kids who spent much of the 14 days away visiting family? What about the kids whose parents weren’t on vacation from their jobs and free to monitor and edit this work? Perhaps those families should have used Christmas or New Year’s to complete the assignments.

What I am trying to say here is that the busy work was not all that helpful. I have my doubts about the value of most homework for children in the early grades of school. Maybe there is value to memorizing spelling words each week, but does a child really need to write each word five times neatly, write the words in bubble letters, write the words with rainbow colors, etcetera?

And don’t get me started about the math sheets sent home on a daily basis. Everyday Math reminds me of my experience with new math (some of you may remember the Tom Lehrer song) back in the early sixties. Helping my granddaughter without being allowed to borrow or carry or regroup (call it what you will) makes a simple math problem into a time-consuming one. Hopefully, she will become a better math student than I was using this new, new math. All I know is that it means more time spent doing homework.

I guess you can tell by now I’m not a fan of homework that is not reinforcing skills already learned in school and thus doable by the child herself. Even then, there is no proof that many problems are better than a few to reveal if the child gets the concept or needs further instruction. That is the purpose for assigning homework, right? Otherwise, children would be better served by reading a book for pleasure, the one homework assignment that makes sense to me for young children.


by Laurie Levy
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