In the past 8 weeks, our family has made a series of big transitions: N started Kindergarten and dance lessons; Baby Sis started day care; G started a new job as well a new business venture, while I increased my work hours and took on new professional responsibilities. N turned 5 and G turned 40-something. Also during these 8 weeks, we traveled to Oklahoma and Massachusetts to see family; to an apple orchard in New Jersey to pick some fresh fall fruit; and threw an at-home birthday party for the newly-minted 5 year old. We’ve had a lot going on.
In the midst of all this, I’ve been trying to help out our local PTA. Already we’ve spent who knows how much money and time on school fundraisers; I even signed up for the Fundraising Committee. My teeth were gritted when I put my name on the line, knowing it wouldn’t be buckets of fun, but if it will help her school I’m willing to do it.
The committee I REALLY want to serve on doesn’t exist: an “Education Policy Committee.” I want to be in charge of talking to who’s in charge about how and what our kids are being taught.
From N’s first week of Kindergarten, she’s had one hour of homework each night. One hour!! It seems ludicrous to me, but it’s true. First we start with the worksheets — usually 4 of them — which require writing, coloring, cutting and pasting. Some nights she has additional assignments in her “homework” or “poetry” notebook or in her math workbook.
Once that’s done, we move onto the reading homework. N must review her sight words and a phonics sheet; read the 4-5 little booklets that come home in her bag; and choose a book from her home library to read so we can note it on her “reading log.”
This deluge of work — which does not seem to be consistent among Kindergarten classes, even within our school — has inspired countless conversations among me and my parent-friends that start like this: “When I was in Kindergarten, we never had any homework! We didn’t even attend a full day — I was in Mrs. Claver’s morning Kindergarten class from 8:30 to 11:30! I was home for lunch and a nap!”
Not so anymore.
For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been trying as best I can to help N stay on top of her homework. She gets out of school at 2:40; we’re home just before 3:00. She gets 30 minutes of free time — then we put her nose to the grindstone and she starts her homework.
For the most part, N is pretty good about focusing and getting the job done. Sometimes her mind strays or she “dilly-dallies,” but she naturally enjoys writing and doing little crafts, so sitting down for an hour of homework isn’t as much of a stretch for her as it must be for some of the rambunctious boys in her class.
Nonetheless, I’m sure it’s stifling to her imagination. Tonight she took a while to complete her homework, so when she was done she only had a few minutes to play with Baby Sis before dinner. Once we sat down to eat, she was off in her own little world of pretend — which meant that her dinner sat in front of her for almost an hour, practically untouched.
During that whole time, I was issuing calm reminders such as “eat your dinner,” “eat,” “eat,” “take a bite,” “eat,” “stop playing with your milk or I’m going to take it away,” “eat,” etc.
Tonight her dilly-dallying was worse than most nights, so instead of getting angry (as I usually do), I tried a new tactic: calmly explaining that if she didn’t stop dilly-dallying and focus on eating her dinner, I would have to send her to bed straight after dinner — no dessert, no games, no storytime, zip.
[Cue full-on 5-year-old hysterics.]
Thirty weeping, wailing minutes later, she was in her room, beginning to calm down. I asked her to lay on her bed for 10 minutes while I put Baby Sis to bed. Then I would come back in and check on her.
When I peeked back in, at 6:50pm, N was fast asleep, still in her school clothes.
She has not been staying up later than usual. The exhaustion she felt was simply her little 5-year-old body responding to the demands of a rigorous daily schedule.
We didn’t even finish her reading homework.
Which raises several questions for me:
Is one hour (at least!) of homework a day an appropriate workload for a 5-year-old?
If I decide to decrease her workload, how will I handle this? Will I have a conversation with her teacher, or simply send a note when she doesn’t finish something, and ask for more time to complete it?
We did ask for additional time when N missed one night of homework — it was dance class PLUS her birthday — but it took us all week to catch up from that one night of missed work.
When I asked for more time, N’s teacher said absolutely, take your time, no rush. I recall that during parent orientation, she said not to worry about it if we miss a day of homework. The kids don’t get a report card so “it’s not a big deal.”
But it is a big deal to me. If the teacher sends homework, I think N ought to do it completely and correctly and hand it in when it’s due. I know her Kindergarten homework won’t matter on her high school transcript — but isn’t Kindergarten when kids start learning how to be a student? Aren’t they supposed to learn what is expected of them, and how to meet those expectations? Wouldn’t it be taking a shortcut and sending the wrong message if I said, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about every piece of paper the teacher sent home tonight. Let’s only do half of it.” That doesn’t seem like the right thing to tell her about the way to handle school, and her education!!
And that’s the other thing: I want her to learn to read, and to write, and do math. I want her to learn right along with the rest of the class and not fall behind. So if everyone else is doing it, I am not going to cut back or tell her that she doesn’t need to do everything 100%. Because it will take a full effort just to keep up with her classmates.
Here’s the rub: when my 5-year-old needs a little bit of time to be creative, to imagine, to have her own little world and feel in control of one piece of her day, I want her to have that. When she needs a little extra sleep and an early bedtime, I want her to have that.
But she can’t have those things AND do everything that is expected of her in Kindergarten. It’s just not physically possible.
So I have some thinking to do and some decisions to make. What’s more important — teaching her how to be a good student and instilling good study skills to carry with her throughout her school career? Or giving her a little time each day to herself, to pretend and practice creative thinking and even problem-solving?
I guess I have to find a way to do both…