Do you ever hear the word “homework” brought up in conversation and cringe a little, not knowing what the next statement will be? I know I do. No matter if I’m talking with fellow teachers, administrators, parents, or friends of mine with school-age children, I usually dislike conversations about homework because people have such strong feelings about it! There is a lot of talk out there both for and against homework. I guess the next thing anyone else needs is an opinion, but I’ll go ahead and put in my two cents!
I’ve only ever taught kindergarten, and I’ve always given homework. Whether it was a thick packet of stapled workbook pages, monthly family projects, journal prompts, or homemade calendars with nightly tasks, homework has always been part of my teaching journey. I’ve seen the conversation around homework shift and turn ugly and make rational adults start pointing fingers. So I’ve done my fair share of reading research and looking into studies on homework’s effectiveness, and I’ve formed my own opinion. I believe that homework should be the real-world application of skills learned at school, done in ways that will be clearly applicable to students’ lives, and it should be optional.
That last word usually gets the most reaction, especially when I tell parents at Back to School Night. This year, I actually got cheers and audible sighs of relief. My rationale behind making homework optional is that students are children first, and they should be given time outside of school to have experiences that help them grow, develop, and have fun. Children are also busier than ever with extracurricular activities, and families are crunched for time as it is. The last thing I want to do is put strain on a family because nightly homework hasn’t been done.
What I give to students is a monthly homework calendar. Each night, the task is hands-on, interactive, and (maybe) even fun! The homework is designed to be done with an adult and focused on conversation. Every day of the week has a theme so that parents are able to predict what kind of task will be done (writing on Mondays, counting on Tuesdays, sight words on Wednesdsays…). But if there is a busy night or the child is just too tired, homework can be skipped.
I absolutely love doing homework this way. I feel that it respects child development and family time. I love when students come in to school the morning after completing a fun homework task and are excited to tell me about it. I especially love hearing from parents who can’t believe they’re declaring homework time to be an enjoyable part of their night! I love sharing this model with other teachers in hopes of swaying them; however, I do get lots of questions about my homework, so I’d like to answer some of them:
What do you do if a student doesn’t do homework all year long?
Depends on the student. I’ve had students in the past whose homework I never saw, but the student was performing well and making good progress towards kindergarten goals. For those families, I never bring up homework. But there are other students whose homework I don’t see for the first part of the year, but I also don’t see progress towards kindergarten goals. For those students, I will talk with parents and make homework required, at least for a period of time. If they are not meeting goals or performing at grade level, I’ve already talked with parents before this point. I want them to know that support at home is crucial and that I’ll be checking homework weekly.
How do you manage homework giving, checking, and collecting?
It all goes in the binder. I print the homework calendar with a reading log on the back, hole punch, and stick it in my students’ Take Home Binders at the beginning of every month. (I also put the monthly newsletter and lunch menu in at the same time). In the back of their binders, I put some wide-ruled paper for them to actually do their homework on. I keep packs of paper in my cabinet so I can refill all year long. At the end of each month, I take out all of the old months’ papers and insert the new. This is when I actually check to see who has done their homework, quickly glance through the papers (because some tasks are fun and I want to see their product!), and replace paper if I need to.
Is homework optional when they go to first grade? How do your students adjust?
No, and we talk about it before they leave kindergarten. Unfortunately, I can’t convince all of my coworkers to join me on the optional homework train. So to make this transition easier, I make sure that I talk to my students about it. I also talk to their parents in the final months of kindergarten to make sure they realize that homework will no longer be optional. A fun way that I can “gently encourage” all of my students to start doing their homework towards the end of the school year is with Homework Club. All it means is that I check homework weekly for completeness. If a student has completed a week’s worth of homework, they are declared a member of the Homework Club! Members get perks: extra iPad time, peer tutoring opportunities, or free time with manipulatives to name a few. I think that just the public recognition of being in the Homework Club is sometimes motivation enough for students. I don’t write down names anywhere publicly, but I announce, “___ is in Homework Club!” as I’m checking homework each Friday.
If you’d like to try homework calendars in your classroom, click on the picture below (or pin for later)! It comes completely editable so you can change tasks or dates to best fit your classroom needs. Another bonus: When you purchase these calendars, which are August-June, you’ll receive free updates every single year! No going in and changing dates or major holidays yourself. And if you want to require it, I guess that’s okay, too 🙂
Thanks so much for reading! How do you do homework?