Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


On When NOT to Worry About Finishing Homework, Straight From a Teacher

Is Homework a Pointless Endeavour?

Does this sound familiar? You rush home from work, throw together dinner, and run back out the door to take the kids to an evening activity. You get home just in time to get the baby down and then turn your attention to the older one. There's just enough time for the two of you to snuggle up with a good book and start that bedtime routine. Suddenly, he looks up at you through those lovely lashes and says, “Mom, we forgot to do my homework.”

Argh! And you were so close to wine time! Sure, you value education and realize the importance of your child doing well in school, but you also value family time, physical activity, imaginative play, and your child enjoying a childhood. So, where does homework fit in and what’s the point of it anyhow?

In my view, homework is meant to engage families in the learning process, to teach students accountability and planning skills, and to extend learning. From grades 1-5, homework should be minimal, taking anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour, building up as students mature. In middle school, it's time to start preparing kids for high school, by gently ramping up the homework and forcing more time management skills. 

Homework is not meant to teach new skills. It is not meant to take up your child’s entire evening. And it is certainly not meant to have you staying up late putting the finishing touches on your daughter’s science project. For me, homework in the younger grades should incorporate a lot of reading time, not the kind that entails endless reading logs and comprehension questions, but the kind that inspires a love of books. I believe in literacy homework that truly lets kids get lost in a book. There is enough time in the classroom to worry about knowledge-testing questions and reading journals.

I also believe in homework that engages the family. For example, one of the first homework assignments I give each year, regardless of the grade I am teaching, is for a student to go home and interview a caregiver about how the family came up with the student’s name. Later, all the kids present their “name story” to the class. In this case, I hope the homework inspires conversation at home and a connection between school and family.

Yes, sometimes homework is used to complete work not finished during class time and this is often used to help kids keep up with the program; however, this type of homework should be occasional. If your child has in-class work to complete most nights, then there needs to be a conversation with the teacher. Does he or she need some more support organizing class time? Is the teacher assigning too much for your student to handle? Is socializing interfering with class work on a regular basis? Studying, reviewing, and test preparation are definitely skills that should be taught and fostered throughout the school years. Some of the monthly allotment of "homework time" will need to be given to developing these skills. Hopefully, teachers are guiding both students and their families in the best ways to do this.

According to the homework policies of many of Canada’s school boards, homework is not to be graded. Although feedback will be given and a student’s ability to meet homework expectations will be tracked, this is commented on in the learning skills section of the school report card and is not reflected in the letter grades assigned for each subject. The goal of homework is far more about teaching kids responsibility and good habits, and far less about reviewing basic academic skills.

The point is, don’t stress if homework gets missed one night because the kids were visiting with their long-lost uncle or spontaneously repainting their playroom. Don’t halt the bedtime routine in the middle to do six more long division problems and force your child to read another chapter of a book they don’t like. But do, when the time is right, have a conversation (or seven) with your child about being better organized, staying on top of things, and meeting expectations. After all, that really is the point.

Of course, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.