Confidence, intelligence, creativity, and happy productivity depend on ample time for unstructured play and imagination. This is true throughout childhood, but especially critical in the early years, until about the age of seven.
The National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association both recommend that children be asked to do no more than 10 minutes a day of homework in Grade One, then move up incrementally from there, with second graders doing a maximum of twenty minutes a day, third graders thirty minutes, and so on. For younger ones (Kindergarten and below) just lasting through a structured day of school or daycare is demanding enough.
In too many schools, the ten-minute rule is being broken, not by a little, but by a lot. Too many children are showing signs of stress, and too many parents are finding precious family time eaten away by homework demands.
Recently, I heard from a mother of a four-year-old. She said that one week into Junior Kindergarten (for four-year-olds), her little boy had already been assigned five different kinds of homework. She had no problem with the weekly reading session. “That’s good for all kids,” she said. But she wondered whether it was okay that her son’s teacher had also told him to (1) prepare for a show-and-tell presentation, (2) participate in a daily home program of reading games, (3) have a conversation at home every day about what he’d read at school that day, and (4) learn and memorize the background to his name. I told the mom that that sounded like way too much.
In addition to using the ten-minute rule as a guideline (clearly violated in this case), how do you decide if your young child is getting too much homework?
It’s important to your child’s education that you support the teacher, but if your child’s time is being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices, if they don’t have enough time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, it’s your job to push back. How do you do that?
Effective advocacy is built on patient, thoughtful respect for all the players. It can take a long time (or not), but it's worth doing. I’ve seen many examples of one parent’s concerns for a child’s welfare leading to changes in practice, and eventually, to changes in policy.
Homework isn’t always a problem. Some little kids love it, as long as the demands are reasonable. But in other cases, homework interferes with more important activities like playing, daydreaming, sleeping, and spending time with family and friends. When that happens, parents should think about acting for healthy change in their child’s life.
1. Homework for Young Children
2. Parents Advocating for Change
3. Children’s Development: What Matters Most in Early Childhood?