Guest Blogger: A Life Without Homework

Today’s guest blogger is Maggie Jacobus, a former resident of suburban Milwaukee who moved her family to Costa Rica in search of a more relaxed life.

A Life Without Homework
by Maggie Jacobus

I enjoyed your column in the Green Hour newsletter. I wanted to share with you briefly our story and what one can do when there’s no homework!

Three and a half years ago my husband and I decided that we wanted to give our three boys a different life than the stressed out, materialistic lifestyle we were surrounded by in suburban Milwaukee. We wanted to give them a real childhood, where they were free to run in nature, to play, to explore. We moved to Costa Rica from Wisconsin and sent them to the local rural school for the first year and then home school the next 2 years. They spent their afternoons free from homework and we had full weekends without organized sports or homework to go off and explore as a family.

The result? We’ve created a series of videos (and are still creating them, as we’re still here–two years past when we thought we would have returned!) about our adventures that we air on our website, supernaturaladventures.com. We’re putting out a call to ALL kids to get outside, explore, have fun, learn something, experience something and to send us a photo, essay or video about it. Our goal is to get a world-wide kid-to-kid dialogue going about nature and the environment and to reconnect kids with nature so that they CARE about it.


We’ve done some research with parents and when we’ve asked what would keep their child from submitting something to our site, we’ve been told, “No time. Too much homework.” Alternately, we’ve been told, “Only if it counts for extra-credit at school.” I think it’s just a shame that homework interferes with the real education that can happen from child-directed exploration.

Super Natural Adventures is a totally grassroots enterprise and quite literally a “family business”–my husband is the cameraman, the kids are the hosts, and I write the scripts and produce.

Thanks again for your efforts to advise not only teachers and schools, but PARENTS as well, that they have the power to give kids their childhood back.

17 Comments on “Guest Blogger: A Life Without Homework”

  1. HomeworkBlues says:

    I am becoming increasingly disheartened that it’s next to impossible to change the system. We homeschooled too, for one year, and it was the most magical year of our lives.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When I survey the long landscape of my daughter’s educational journey and agonize over what I should have done, I don’t revisit in my head all the things I should have said and done with the teachers, I only think I should have pulled her out earlier. Much much earlier. How much easier than all the meetings. And once we got to public school, there weren’t even meetings any longer! You do get the feeling no one cares about you or your family.

    Homeschooling is a whole other world. And I deeply regret I didn’t follow the courage of my convictions. We did finally do it but it was just for one year.

    February 11th, 2009 at 8:28 am
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  2. Heather says:

    As a first grade teacher, and a step -parent, I would like to defend the homework issue. Homework is given to reinforce skills; it is also given to instill the discipline and responsibility that a child needs in order to learn time management and helps them learn to take pride in their efforts. Teacher’s are given about 5 and 1/2 hours of “work” time. That is not nearly enough time for them to finish EVERYTHING that parents and administration feel they need to accomplish in a day. During those hours there are constant interruptions, which may be your child, and may and do include crying children, bloody noses, lost pencils, bullying and discipline issues that need immediate attention. Not to mention those birthday parties that must get celebrated, assemblies for character education, and giving students accolades for jobs well done, such as student of the week. I agree that if homework is taking too long to speak with your child’s teacher, but if you want your child to perform well on all of those state tests, then homework is a necessary evil. I have to grade every piece they do, which is not many teacher’s favorite part of the job. A rule of thumb…first grade should be about 10-20 min. a night. Second grade 20-30 and so on…..
    Taking away recess in not a solution to the problem, and for those teacher’s that use that as a solution, I disagree. The consequence is losing a fun activity in class, or losing credit for those assignments. Eventually those kids will learn.
    Establish a routine, be positive about the work, communicate with your child’s teacher, and LET THE CHILD DO THEIR OWN HOMEWORK. Think of it as a chance to talk and spend time with your child, allow them to “teach” you. If they are negative about doing homework, chances are their parents are negative about doing homework. The child often does imitate the parent.
    I understand that the parents I come in contact with are not the norm, or I would hope they are not the norm; however, I would love to know how not doing homework is going to prepare them for the world of middle school, high school, college and when they enter the work force….or is preparing them just another hat for the teacher to wear, since the parents I am accustomed to find every way possible to do everything they can not to parent. Maybe we should start with parenting before we start criticizing the teachers and schools. If parents could only be in the classroom and be the teacher, they would have a much clearer picture as to what the states, government and parents think education should be, instead of working on the issues that already exist in education currently.

    February 22nd, 2009 at 8:26 pm
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  3. Anonymous says:

    Heather writes:

    As a first grade teacher, and a step -parent, I would like to defend the homework issue.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    You shouldn’t be assigning homework in first grade at all. Read the research. Let your students read all afternoon or be read to. Trust me, they’ll come to school smarter, more rested and exhilarated about the world around them. Burn them out now and the lofty goals you list will evaporate.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Homework is given to reinforce skills;

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    No, it’s not. It’s an extension of the curriculum, school at home. And if you are trying to reinforce skills taught at school, half the math problems should do the trick. Besides which, without homework, there are a variety of ways that I, the parent can reinforce the skills you are teaching at school.

    We can bake muffins together (well, I don’t bake, my husband does but you get the picture) to teach measurements. We can take a trip to the grocery store and weigh apples and avocados. It’ll also demonstrate varying degrees of weight. We can talk a walk through the city to show the grid pattern of the streets. We can sing rhyming numbers songs together. We can read books together. We can go to the natural history museum to study anthropology. We can go the art museum to look at more Alexander Calder. We can visit the courts, state legislature, volunteer on a campaign, volunteer at a homeless shelter, do community service through Girl Scouts, hike and study science, write poetry. My list is endless.

    Trust me, all this was taken away from us because of homework overload. I have a sixteen year old. I am here to tell you unreasonable burdensome excessive homework didn’t prepare her for anything. She would have been far more eager to tackle high school homework, were she not turned off to the prospect so early in the game.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    it is also given to instill the discipline and responsibility

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    And cleaning her room and feeding the dog doesn’t instill responsibility? We don’t have a dog but you get the picture. What about setting the table? My daughter does not put dishes into the dishwasher, nor does she take them out. Is she lazy? Absolutely not. There’s no time, too much homework. She was in tears the other day, begging to do her own laundry. Honey, I am forced to tell her, ‘ll do the wash, you hit the books. When she takes a rare trip, she starts packing at 11pm because homework prevented her from starting earlier.

    She is so tired most days, she can’t see straight. Of course, she’s not six, like your students, but homework overload started then and has only gotten more severe with each passing year.

    Being sent to the grocery store on foot to buy some items and pay for them doesn’t teach responsiility? What about the weekend trips to see grandmother we can never take because of homework overload? Doesn’t caring for an elderly beloved relative teach responsibility?

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    that a child needs in order to learn time management and helps them learn to take pride in their efforts.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    If that’s the case, wouldn’t two hours do the trick? When my child spends more time on homework after school than she does at school, that’s not time management teaching. That’s “ooops, I forgot to get anything done today, I think I’ll send it all home to the family.”

    As for pride in their accomplishments, okay, I’ll grant you. If you must assign homework, how about a reasonable amount? When it takes over the child’s entire life, that’s not pride, that’s oppression.

    If it’s pride we’re after, why not Odyssey of the Mind or a science competition or the spelling bee, all optional, all after school? My daughter has done those and learned more from that experience than all the useless homework combined.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Teacher’s are given about 5 and 1/2 hours of “work” time. That is not nearly enough time for them to finish EVERYTHING that parents and administration feel they need to accomplish in a day.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    My daughter spends seven and a half hours at school and on nights when she doesn’t have practice/rehearsal, her homework takes upwards of six hours. And don’t get me started on weekends. She gets enough to keep her busy every second all weekend long. I just don’t allow it. After four after school homework hours, I’m nagging her to pack it in, I don’t care, she goes to bed. It’s a struggle. She wants to do well and finish. At this point, she might be just over halfway through.

    You do the math. Seven and a half hour school day plus six hours of homework. I’ll trade you. Give her your five and a half hour workday!

    Thanks for reading this.

    February 22nd, 2009 at 10:29 pm
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  4. Anonymous says:

    Heather goes on to say: but if you want your child to perform well on all of those state tests, then homework is a necessary evil.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Oh, I get it. My child does first grade in order to perform well on state tests. Silly me. And here I was thinking she was doing it to get an education.

    Heather, why do you assume passing state tests is important to us parents? It’s not. It matters to you, the principal and your school board. Not us.

    My daughter aces those silly state tests anyway. Can she be excused from homework now, please? Now that we’ve eliminated the “necessary evil.”

    In first grade yet. Shhh, don’t tell your students. They are little, wide eyed, and they’ll believe you. They love learning now. If nothing else, don’t kill the spark.

    February 22nd, 2009 at 11:09 pm
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  5. Heather says:

    In response to, Oh, I get it. My child does first grade in order to perform well on state tests. Silly me. And here I was thinking she was doing it to get an education.

    Heather, why do you assume passing state tests is important to us parents? It’s not. It matters to you, the principal and your school board. Not us.

    As a teacher I absolutely do not assume this, and I personally hate standardized testing, as do most teachers you will meet. We are on the same page with parents on that issue. It is administration that is so concerned, without those test scores, funding either goes up or down.

    To break down a child’s school schedule, there are really only about 5 and 1/2 hours spent in the classroom. They have specials, enrichment, library time, and all of that takes out of instructional teaching time. Not to say it isn’t valuable, but my point is, that they are in school for 7 hours, but not all of that is spent teaching.

    I personally think doing those wonderful activities such as baking and cleaning the bedroom and family activities are extremely beneficial, but how does that benefit the countless numbers of children who don’t have those activities done with them by their parents or guardians?

    Consider it from both sides. Teachers have an enormous amount of pressure put on them by administration, state mandates and parents alike. Unfortunately its sort of like the waitress and the cook philosophy. When your food is bad you take it out on the waiter or waitress…when in reality the reason it’s bad has nothing to do with them.
    If homework is such an issue, make an alliance with the teacher, and work to pressure administration. We are doing what we are told to do. It is a necessary evil when you are expected to teach the students everything from writing, to reading, to math, to manners, and shoe tying, and all of those other characteristics that creep into parent territory.

    February 23rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm
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  6. JDL says:

    Homework in the primary grades does not help a child learn time management. The parents do the management. Schools expect that from parents. Kids also learn that they can’t produce a product tha will please the teacher without a parent’s help. (I admit that’s a generalization.) If the work is important, it must be done in school. My 3rd grader is now expected to do Word Study at home, 4 nights a week. Parental involvement is essential. If this is so important, it belongs in the classroom.

    February 23rd, 2009 at 6:04 pm
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  7. JDL says:

    Has the term “informal education” been introduced into this discussion? Informal education is the acquisition of knowledge and skills through experience, reading, social contact, etc.

    Some of our most profound understandings come from opportunities to learn through experience.

    Schools can’t do much for the child who goes home and watches SpongeBob all evening while eating Dominos, but that shouldn’t be the rationale for giving loads of homework to all students. But please, don’t make it harder for my kids to go outside and look under a log, or climb a tree, or bake muffins, or hang out with a grandparent, or organize a game of kick the can.

    And please don’t try to design homework to further the goal of informal education. Invite a senior citizen to visit the class. Take the class for a walk to learn about the neighborhood trees. Ask kids to contribute, if they can, by bringing in signs of the season to share in class. Keep it voluntary and stress free.

    February 23rd, 2009 at 6:21 pm
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  8. Heather says:

    I appreciate your comment about hindering them from going outside. I think it is sad that where I teach the children do not go outside, or they can’t go outside in some cases. Sometimes I will assign going outside and looking at leaves for homework, or go outside and invent a game, then write about what you played. What I am saying is this. It is not logical to say No more homework. Some children need it, plain and simple.
    Word study is so important that we do it in school as much as we can, on top of all of the other work. Going home and reinforcing the words is usually the goal. There is simply not enough time in the day for EVERYTHING to get done in the classroom.
    I’d love to have people come in the classroom. Unfortunatly that is not always an option. I am all for real life experience, field trips, hands on fun learning. I am also all for funding for schools to do these exciting things for the students.
    I am not advocating against parents, or against no homework. I am trying to show a different side of the coin. Many people really don’t know the behind the scenes of a board of education or school district.

    February 25th, 2009 at 1:39 pm
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  9. HomeworkBlues says:

    Heather, it does sound as if you are assigning some fun engaging activities. But you say, “It is not logical to say No more homework. Some children need it, plain and simple.”

    You aren’t the first teacher on this blog to assert this. And it still leaves me befuddled. I just don’t get it. You insist that since many children don’t go outside, don’t read, don’t have parents who take them to museums, that homework is the suitable alternative.

    But I don’t get it. Because I do all those things with my daughter. Or did. Now we have no time because my daughter’s teachers view weekends as just two more days to do school at home. They get a break but not their students. We no longer homeschool, but in effect, aren’t we? The family ties have become the least important relationship, in the eyes of educators. Say what you will, your actions speak louder.

    My life has gotten so boring. I’m shut in all weekend. My hsuband and I won’t go out and play because we don’t want to send the message to our teen daughter that she is Cinderella. My husband works hard all week but has weekends off. I work part time from home. And what does my husband do with his hard won weekends? You guessed it! He’s shut in playing homework coach.

    No, we don’t do our daughter’s homework, nor do we help her. But we cheerlead, pretend it’s fun, talk about the topic to generate excitement, in short, we are your unpaid teachers aides. At my daughter’s school, it’s a given that the kids are bright. But the students admitted many teachers don’t explain the assignments, assuming the kids can figure it out all by themselves. As Alfie Kohn writes, often parents with graduate degrees can’t figure out what the teacher is requesting. And you expect a sixteen year old to nail it?

    So because Johnny won’t read, therefore you punish my daughter? Because Suzy won’t go to a museum, in solidarity you won’t allow my child to go either? Because Jimmy doesn’t build a log in the woods, therefore you won’t let my child either?

    Because, Heather, that is what you are saying. The other teachers on this blog also pull out that tired old canard. Tears for all the poor children who don’t go anywhere. How much better to waste their time on tedious mind numbing assignments. If these kids don’t have parents around, what makes you think they’ll be able to do the homework instead? Why not just allow for playtime and pray they’ll do it?

    I bleed for those children too. But I bleed even more for me because we have no money and do all those things anyway! We show up, we are there for our child. You pretend to be a bleeding heart liberal. But you know what? I’ve demonstrated I’m capable of doing all those things and no teacher has ever said, kudos, you go, mom!

    We want to enrich our child and you won’t let us! You’ve decided your agenda is more important. You keep telling FedUpMom and me that teachers of your ilk assign homework overload because of disadvantaged children. But FedUpMom has her daughter in a school of wealthy, middle and professional class parents and my daughter is in a public selective magnet! And those are the schools that overload the most!

    Care to explain all this? Because it’s just not computing over here. If you think some kids need it, as you say, give it to them! We don’t need it. Don’t give it to us.

    February 25th, 2009 at 2:11 pm
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  10. Anonymous says:

    To add: assigning endless homework to everyone because some children don’t get home enrichment reminds me of that old Alan Sherman song. He tells how his parents made him clean his plate because of all the starving children in Europe. They kept starving and I kept getting fat, Sherman sings.

    If you think some kid needs word vocabulary reinforcement, send it home. If I tell you we take long walks where I throw in all sorts of difficult words, so that my daughter was using the word quintessential when she was twelve, take my word for it. If I tell you she reads all afternoon and is writing a novel, announce, sounds good to me, mom! You’re doing plenty at home, you don’t need the vocabulary packet.

    Well, not you Heather, but you are the iconic teacher here. You suggest building an alliance with the teacher? Yea, right, I really would have gotten far with that. I tried it. Politely. With a sneer, I was told to go jump in a lake. Which I did! I left the school system for a year. Wow, that was some refreshing lake!

    February 25th, 2009 at 2:53 pm
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  11. Heather says:

    I clearly don’t have any children like yours in my classroom, so congratulations for being a parent who can engage their child and be all the roles for them that they need. I would never punish the students who have because of the students who don’t have. And each student has different homework, because they are not cookie cutters of each other.
    I think that if everyone is so against homework and they want to change the system so much, which is seems that you do, then work in the proffession and make a difference.
    My homework is definatly not mind numbing, and to my knowledge I have never recieved a complaint about too much. tonights homework, in addition to read a book with your parents, and play a math game with your parents is to go outside and play then write 1 sentence telling me about what you did. all things that are very fun.
    I wish education wasnt the way it is, and I work everyday to change it….telling me how much I don’t value children and their parents time is definatly not going to change anything.

    February 25th, 2009 at 3:36 pm
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  12. HomeworkBlues says:

    Heather writes:

    I personally hate standardized testing, as do most teachers you will meet. We are on the same page with parents on that issue. It is administration that is so concerned, without those test scores, funding either goes up or down.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    We all really need to start asking this question: Is funding worth it? Worth what we are all going through? Worth extinguishing the light in a child’s eyes? Worth hijacking education?

    “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire” W.B. Yeats

    February 25th, 2009 at 3:37 pm
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  13. Heather says:

    in responce: Well, not you Heather, but you are the iconic teacher here. You suggest building an alliance with the teacher? Yea, right, I really would have gotten far with that. I tried it. Politely. With a sneer, I was told to go jump in a lake. Which I did! I left the school system for a year. Wow, that was some refreshing lake!

    I hope you don’t judge all teachers based on that one experience. I work very well with the parents who want to work with me and bend over backwards to accomdate them. Going as far as buying their child supplies because they don’t have any. I am a fantastic teacher, and I care about each student, too much sometimes. Not all teacher’s are the like that, in fact the majority are not like that. The bad ones always get noticed though…isn’t that always the way….

    February 25th, 2009 at 3:41 pm
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  14. Heather says:

    HomeworkBlues

    Standardize testing is bogus….funding is worth it, but I don’t think funding should be based on test scores alone. There needs to be more factored into the equation.
    As I stress each night about whether I will have my position next year based on my students performance on these outlandish tests.

    February 25th, 2009 at 3:43 pm
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  15. Heather says:

    There has to be funding. Without funding how are the children going to get supplies? libraries, musical instruments, art supplies, books, pencils, crayons, construction paper, It all comes from funding. Sports programs, plays, concerts and the list goes on and on!
    I don’t understand why the lower the scores, the better the funding though?

    February 25th, 2009 at 4:23 pm
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  16. Anonymous says:

    Heather, I do understand. Of course there has to be funding. It just sometimes seems like we’re making a deal with the devil. Can’t state and county funding suffice, and we make up the rest through bake sales? Pie in the sky, I know.

    Yes, the lower the scores, the greater the funding. Or the flip. The harsh punishment imposed when teachers can’t get those scores up. And often for factors completely out of their control. Despite Michelle Rhee’s protestations to the contrary, many children enter school each day with such severe socio-economic constraints, it’s well beyond anything a teacher can solve. Because we can do so much with our daughter at home, we want you the teacher (I know there are things you are forced to do) to teach. We once asked for our daughter to get out of health and be allowed study hall instead. We told them that at age ten, sex is not the issue, homework is. My husband told them, “you do the spelling,we’ll do the sex.” They laughed and then denied our request.

    But back to my original question. Why sneer at parents like us? A friend one said, it’s because they are making forty thousand a year and you come in with a salary five times that high and they resent your “intrusion.”

    Correction, please. I don’t make five times that much. I don’t make that much period. I’ve always felt teachers are some of the lowest paid professionals but right now, I’ll take forty thousand with summers off. And I don’t intrude. I am respectful and gracious. Except on this blog. On this forum, I get to blow off some steam, as FedUpMom says and it’s therapy. Believe me, Heather, what you teachers have put me through would qualify me for a two year lease at Sheppard Pratt.

    I wish you’d work with me. All I ever wanted was more time with my child. And I was made to feel like a lousy parent for daring to even suggest that. Because at the end of the day, many of the public school teachers cared less about the stuff we were accomplishing at home, the enrichment, the books, the museum trips, the discussions, the art, the play, the interaction. In the end, all that matters is that we comply. Shut up and do what I say. Doesn’t make for a good relationship, not the stuff of alliance building. As FedUpMom says, compliance is the hidden curriculum.

    Heather, maybe you can share some of this at all those incessant teacher meetings you all have, all those training sessions. We want to count. We are the parents of these children and they are our most precious possessions. You don’t own them, we do. Or rather, they own themselves.

    Our children are part of a family unit and we need to return to a time when that was the most important relationship in a child’s life. Teachers hold a close second but you star during the hours you have them. Then it’s our turn. We need to set clear boundaries because you have taken up residence in my living room the last eleven years and it’s time for you to leave.

    February 25th, 2009 at 5:28 pm
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  17. peachcat526 says:

    I am a student in middle school right now and I have just one thing to say: Homework sucks. I usually have about three hours a night and one time I had to finish a project and was up until one in the morning. The ten minute per grade rule is s***. No teacher follows it.HW has to go, or be cut drastically. Thank you 🙂

    March 11th, 2009 at 5:10 pm
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