By Nancy Nathanson, Educational Consultant
I recently attended a social gathering of young parents and grandparents where the topic of conversation was of all things, homework! Young, hard-working, well-educated parents were in a heated debate over the benefits and pitfalls of homework. Some had experienced the negative side effects, even tears and screaming matches as their elementary aged children struggled with hours of homework. Others felt quite strongly that practice, hard work, and reinforcement were necessary for staying, competitive and successful in school. I happen to be part of the older generation, mature, experienced parents and grandparents who never expected to ever put the words homework and preschoolers together in the same sentence, let alone debate the good and bad of it all.
As an Early Childhood educator (over 25 years in the field), I have certainly experienced firsthand the changes in family life and educational expectations in our school systems. Many of my colleagues fear that we are losing sight of what is important and that educational organizations are often becoming defensive about what is age appropriate and what is just teaching for the test. One thing I know for sure:
Putting what is right for children first is something that should never change!
Now more than ever, research tells us that young children learn best when they are moving and doing with a hands-on, multi-sensory learning approach. We have also learned that optimal learning takes place when children are guided and facilitated through their play. The latest research tells us that focus and self-control, self-directed, engaged learning; in addition to, character and motivation matters most in attaining the goal of success in learning.
Now more than ever, we know for a fact that the family is critical to student achievement. As educators focus on program quality, we must build a full partnership with the home and involve parents as our partners in doing what is right for our children. Let’s never forget that Moms and Dads will always be their child’s first and most important teachers!
The homework debate will go on for a long time. If you read Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, he states that the evidence to support the case for homework is coming up empty. Other books at the top of the bestseller list relating to the early education field include How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and Mind in the Making. The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Gallinsky. These two books emphasize character traits and life skills such as perseverance and self-control. Everyone has an opinion on the best formula for success.
What is wonderful about this debate is that young parents are reaching out to us in the educational field, wanting to get involved in working with their children to enhance their learning. We need to guide them in the right direction so it can be a positive experience for all, especially the children. Connecting what is learned in school with what parents can reinforce at home is a great model if followed according to basic early childhood guidelines. I don’t believe homework was ever meant to take away valuable family time, play and independent time for exploration but we must be careful not to allow that to happen.
What we want to offer our children is time and balance with lots of healthy emotional connections to make them strong and self-assured. Unstructured time is a gift that will enable a child to explore his or her world. We want our children to have a strong disposition to learn, not be turned off by the very thought of it doing mundane, non-engaging busy work! We want balance between hard work and play, developing hobbies and interests that reinforce how exciting learning about our world can be. So my friends, bring on a home connection in which learning and exploring their world is fun AND educational.
Activities which encourage taking on challenges, staying focused on complex projects and making connections relevant to a young child’s interests and world. The Home Connection- a complementary learning approach can be implemented positively to enhance learning and encourage a stronger bond with parents and their children. Here are some ideas that explain further this extension of learning:
*Tips on reading aloud
*Literacy-learning kits sent home with critical thinking questions
*Photo projects for adult-child to do together
*Journaling experiences on trips or documenting special interests
*Cooking activities at home
*Everyday Math at the store or in the car
*Shared Show and Tell and Scavenger Hunts
*Generating Lists -“What to do when I’m Angry” with the whole family involved
*Walking and Hiking trips with challenging goals
*Visiting an art museum and making a creation for home or the garden
*Writing to a family member or elderly person
*Science experiments in the Backyard
*Speaking topics for the dinner table
The ideas are endless. The point is that providing resources for our families and engaging them in early learning that is developmentally appropriate is a WIN-WIN for all those involved, especially the children!