Homework is controversial. It is the one area of conversation that strikes fear in the heart of a school-age professional. It is a topic that is debated and written about quite often. In the history of public education homework has been banned, because it was harmful for children, and promoted, as a method to win the cold war. Homework has achieved or is soon to achieve the status of other taboo subjects you never talk to folks about (like politics, money and religion), at least people you still want as friends.
Last month an article in Salon by Heather Shumaker, titled “How Homework is Wrecking our Kids” talks about the homework debate. The article sites a study by Duke University and Harris Cooper that claims homework is effective, but most effective for children in the 7th through 12th grades. The study goes on to say that a ten-minute rule is an effective strategy for homework in all grades including elementary. The article states, the "10-minute rule," Cooper said, is a commonly accepted practice in which teachers add 10 minutes of homework as students progress one grade. As the debate moves forward I want to look at homework in a different light.
In afterschool settings we have a short amount of time with the children. The children after working in school all day come to our programs with many ideas of how to use their time. The one thing universally children are not interested in is homework. This rule applies across the board no matter the age or the academic status of the child. They want a break; children want to be outside playing and to breathe some fresh air. The importance of free unstructured outside time is increasing as school recess has become shorter and shorter.
The four things children really want afterschool is Snacks, Laps, Naps, and Chats. Think about it, after your workday what do you want? More work! Our role as a school age provider is to offer good food for the children, so they can relax, get some nutrition in and be ready for a robust time at the playground. For naps we provide space for children to relax, sit in some soft space, read a book, or talk to a friend. Children also need time to socialize, play group games, and practice social skills.
Earlier I mentioned fear. I mentioned it because talking to parents about homework is a great fear among school-age professionals. I have observed that when parents are asking if we offer homework in our program, what they are really asking is do we provide a homework completion service. Why? Because children put up a resistance to repeating the work they just did in school a few hours earlier. The children know they are going to spend a great amount of time doing worksheets when they could be creating and exploring something else. The real issue is not the work, but the time needed to complete it.
In our program homework is family controlled. I let families decide how important homework is in their life. At the beginning of the each school year I talk with the new parents about homework and the role it plays in our program. I let the parents know that homework is not a priority for us since it does not align with the best practices for children in our age group. I let the parents know that there is a homework hierarchy and it goes like this. The parents, teachers and children dictate homework and its importance. The person responsible for homework is the student. The responsibility for checking completion and correction of homework falls to the child, the parents, the teacher, aunts, uncles, neighbors, anyone else except us. Why? In afterschool we are the school of applied knowledge.
Our school of applied knowledge in a nutshell is the opportunity for children to choose and work on what they want when they want, and to have a great time doing it. The time we do not use for homework gives children the opportunity to use all the knowledge they have learned during the day and put it into practice doing something they have a passion for. This type of education is very popular right now and is presented as the free play movement. The same type of play we enjoyed as children and have stripped away from our children so we can be better at math than another country. Finland is considered the best education system in the world and they have little or no homework.