Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Chicago

Today’s post is by Laura, an intellectual property and reinsurance attorney in Chicago with three children ranging in age from 5 years to 4.5 months. A long history of LD and ADD makes effective education one of her hot button issues. She wrote a lengthy letter to her daughter’s kindergarten teacher explaining her position on homework.

Homework is Detrimental to Long Term Success
by Laura

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

I am writing regarding the progress report we received for Libby this past week, specifically the home assignments to her. The primary purpose of this letter is to outline our position regarding home assignments for our five year old. We expect this letter should be included in her school records. Principal _____ is copied on this letter; please feel free to provide it to any administrator who has a valid reason to read it.

I understand assigning homework at all grade levels is Chicago Public School policy; however, I strongly believe that homework at the kindergarten level, absent specific deficiencies, is detrimental to long term educational success. A significant number of longitudinal studies show homework, especially in the younger years, increases family strife, increases the child’s stress level and does not provide a lasting gain in test scores. I agree that the lessons learned in the classroom should be reinforced at home, but I believe we do that adequately by showing how what was learned in the classroom is used in real life and in fact homework interferes with our ability to do that.

Our family reinforces the lessons Libby is learning in school in a myriad of ways. For example, Libby regularly writes letters to her grandmother and great grandmother. Libby writes the letters herself and we work together composing the letter and sounding out the words. Libby also assists with creating our grocery lists, including counting what we have and writing down the items we need. We read books every day, far beyond the 20 minutes required by ROBERTO [Read Or BE Read TO] and we have Libby read books to us. Libby measures ingredients for us when we cook and bake, she helps around the house and does a great deal of painting and drawing and creating on her own.

We research subjects in which Libby shows an interest and incorporate learning into those activities as well. For example, Libby has started ice skating, as part of that we have talked about science (water turning into ice) and physics (gravity, balance, shapes of blades) and have library books on ice skating. In addition we have “Reading Readiness” and “Math Concepts” workbooks that we take with us when we are out and about and work on for a change of pace. These are all things we do not have time to do if I am trying to fight Libby to do homework.

I am further are against assigning homework to kindergarteners because it is inappropriate for a five year old to be in school all day, with a minimum of recess, and then come home and do 15 minutes of homework (assuming that it only takes 15 minutes to get the child focused and doing the homework) and then 20 minutes of reading. When Libby comes home from school, she is mentally exhausted from her school day and often needs a nap in excess of an hour. Although she is mentally exhausted after a full day of school, she is physically wound up because she has not had the opportunity to run around and play.

Ten to fifteen minutes of recess is far below the federal guidelines for the kindergarten age group. With childhood obesity and diabetes at an all time high, as well as an increase in attention and focusing problems, it is important to model active lifestyles to children, including recess. P.E. is important, but an active lifestyle is beyond taking an exercise class. As a family, we attempt to give our kids that opportunity after school, even though the activities we can give them do not develop the social skills in the same way we feel recess would. We are unable to allow them to play on the playground after school because of the large number of older children who are not cognizant of the smaller children and act in a manner not safe or appropriate for a five year old to be around. There is language used on the playground that I do not wish to have to explain quite yet.

A standard schedule for our day is as follows:

7 am – wake up get ready for school
7:45 am – breakfast and pack up and get ready to leave for school
8:30 am – walk to school
9:00 am – 2:45 in school
3:10 pm – arrive home and have a snack, discuss the day and discuss the family plans for the evening
3:30 pm – Nap, oftentimes a story will be read at this time.
4:30 pm (at the earliest) – wake up and start to prepare for dinner, bath if needed, sometimes we read to her, sometimes she reads on her own or plays with her brother or alone.
5 pm – begin cooking dinner and associated activities, playtime
6 pm – eat dinner
7 pm – get ready for bed
7:30 pm – bedtime stories and bed.

Our family handles homework by asking Libby if she has any practice she needs to do for school. We call it practice because practicing makes you better at something, whether it is writing, or dancing or singing. If Libby says “yes” we sit down together and work through it, but if she starts to fight us on it we move on. As you can see from above, we have approximately 4 hours with Libby after school before she has to be in bed and we are not going to spend it fighting with her about homework. If she says “no” she does not have any practice and we find out she does have home assignments, we discuss honesty and trust. So in sum, we encourage her to do the practice she was assigned, but we do not demand it and we will not fight her on it.

We further choose not to participate in any of the reading incentive programs beyond ROBERTO. We read a significant amount in our family and we read for the joy of reading and want to instill that value in our children. After the first Book It month Libby began saying she wanted to read a book so she could get pizza or she wanted to read a book so she could go to Six Flags. She wanted to read in order to receive a specific reward. If she had not initially been a fan of reading, I would not be as concerned, I understand that motivating children to read can be difficult. But Libby’s interest in reading has gone from being an organic joy of reading to reading to get a material reward. This is directly in conflict with the lessons we want to teach her regarding reading. As a result we decline to participate in them despite reading far beyond the requirements of any of the programs.

Lest you think I am merely a parent who does not wish to force her child to do homework, I can provide, if requested, citations to many studies and literature regarding homework in the younger years and the lasting impact it has on the children and the families. I also have a significant amount of research regarding the lack of recess and the detrimental effects it has on our children and their long-term health, social development and educational success. I would like to find a way to work with CPS as part of Libby’s learning team, but in the same way I do not dictate the way CPS educates my children during school hours, I do not wish CPS to dictate how I educate my children outside of school hours. I would be more than happy, jointly, to create a modified plan that would provide you with the information you need to ensure lessons are being reinforced at home. Please feel free to contact me, at any time, regarding Libby, at ________. I look forward to finding a mutually beneficial solution.

11 Comments on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Chicago”

  1. PsychMom says:

    That’s an excellent letter! Libby’s Mom is on the right track. I hope she keeps us apprised of her progress.

    February 25th, 2010 at 7:53 am
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  2. Anonymous says:

    My daughter’s name is Libby, so I had to read your whole letter. First of all, I can tell by the tone of your letter that this is your first child going through the public school system. You sound about as neurotic as most of felt with our first child. You really have to lighten up, if you child is bright, they will be recognized ad it shouldn’t require such an explaination unless of course your school policies really are that strict and if that is the case, you should just relocate. It is not unusual for schools to give out some form of homework in K as a progressive step. Kindergarten has monthly assignments that are optional, 1st & 2nd grade have weekly assignments that need to be completed, and by third grade the kids are turning in daily work because they need to begin to prepare themselves for more assignments and bigger projects as they near middle school. I am raising three children that are all gifted, and it sounds as though many of the things you are doing are the same things we did with our children…but if they don’t begin a progressive form of structure in school, then they become overwhelmed very quickly when the work intensifies. They need the baby steps so they are not overwhelmed later. Kindergarten homework should be “recite the numbers 1-30 to a grown up” and tomorrow “tell a grown up a fairy tale story”. It shouldn’t be grunt work at this age, it should be engaging, and reinforce their love of school. I didn’t like homework, but my kids for the most part don’t mind because of the way we’ve approached it. And yes, we do every afterschool activity imaginable. Ditching homework altogehter, I believe is a big mistake, it does have value, but if you truly believe that you know better, then it sounds like you would be a great homeschooling mom. Good luck.

    February 28th, 2010 at 12:59 am
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  3. FedUpMom says:

    We’ve all heard this argument, “kids need to do homework now because they’ll get lots of homework later.” In my experience, it just doesn’t work out that way.

    It reminds me of the attempt to become immune to poison by taking continual small doses:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithridatism

    Starting kids with homework at a young age creates problems in the family, because most young kids can’t reliably remember their homework and get it done with coaxing/reminding/nagging/screaming. They wind up resenting the whole process, and it’s an unpleasant start to their school life. Kids are getting burned out and turned off at a very young age.

    Why don’t we wait until kids are developmentally able to deal with homework all on their own, and then only assign work that is necessary and useful?

    February 28th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
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  4. FedUpMom says:

    Oh, and I had to respond to this:

    ****
    if you child is bright, they will be rec­og­nized
    ****

    — hollow laugh –. In my experience, schools do a very poor job of understanding who the kids are and how it might be appropriate to help them. In our public school district, if the child is performing adequately, she will be more or less ignored in favor of the kids whose scores need to be brought up.

    February 28th, 2010 at 2:09 pm
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  5. FedUpMom says:

    oops, typo above. Should be “kids can’t get it done withOUT coaxing/reminding/nagging/screaming.”

    February 28th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
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  6. SailorEris says:

    Sadly, this is hapening all over the U.S.

    ‘sigh’ C’est la vie. 🙁

    March 1st, 2010 at 6:29 pm
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  7. tracey says:

    Why are the crass comments always anonymous? I mean, if you really believe something, stand behind it! If you don’t have the guts to own what you say, then keep it to yourself!

    I personally thought that the letter (though long) was well-thought out and will definitely prove to the school system that you are not going to be bullied into their ways of thinking.

    March 3rd, 2010 at 1:40 am
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  8. HomeworkBlues says:

    “You sound about as neurotic as most of felt with our first child. You really have to lighten up,”

    Further evidence of how we really denigrate mothers. Other mothers and female teachers should really sit down and examine these hidden biases. Because they are there and this is one example of how it comes through, loud and clear. Not only is this statement patronizing, it’s downright hostile. Hidden message. You have no right to approach a teacher unless you are praising her. If you raise a serious concern, you are over-reacting and shrill. In other words, not to be taken seriously.

    A mother dares to question a teacher and she is seen as neurotic and intense. If this letter had been written by the child’s father, he would have been perceived as hard hitting, to the point, assertive and in control of his home life. Please let’s scrutinize these misogynistic attitudes.

    This mom is neither neurotic nor shrill. She wrote a well crafted intelligent letter. I’m with Psych Mom. Return the form just as Psych suggested.

    FedUpMom hit the nail on the head. This is outright cheating. I am no fan of these tests. But this assignment adds insult to injury. If this were me, I would flat out refuse. Now, not only am I not allowed to dislike the tests, but now I have to do the teachers’ dirty work. The teachers clearly are nervous. They are being judged by these tests. Is that unfair? You bet. But the way to nip this problem in the bud once and for all, finally, is to protest the tests and dismantle them. Not pass the buck.

    The teachers know they are being graded on these tests. Make no mistake about it. These tests are not about the children. It’s “No Principal Left Behind.” And teachers are worried they’ll get sacked if the kids don’t cough up respectable scores. Now the teachers are asking the parents to do the work. Whether they taught well or taught badly this year, no matter. The “parent helpers ” (read mothers) are instructed (mandatory) to do the work at home. If the kids do well, guess who gets the credit. Mom? Yea, right.

    Mary, I respect your views. But here I must disagree with you. I would not leave this up to an eight year old. Kids are vulnerable and impressionable and they are being played here. Many children are earnest and aim to please. Do we really want to manipulate them that way? It is completely okay for this to be a parent decision without input from the child.

    The teachers know the kids won’t want to come to school and be the only ones who didn’t do this homework. How better to twist mom’s arm than to suggest, either overtly or covertly (and the pressure in that letter is pretty overt) that this kid better come to school with this packet done. If you don’t like these tests, feel they are harmful to your child’s education, and now are seeping into your home life too, in th words of Nancy Reagan, JUST SAY NO.

    March 5th, 2010 at 11:45 am
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  9. HomeworkBlues says:

    Sorry to be confusing. Above I was addressing two posts at once, this one and the one on the “Parent Helper” standardized test prep homework.

    I’ve been gone for the site for a while and quickly read the latest. I wound up combining my two responses.

    March 5th, 2010 at 1:44 pm
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  10. HomeworkBlues says:

    FROM the site, not FOR.

    March 5th, 2010 at 1:45 pm
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  11. Laura says:

    I just thought I’d take a second to respond. I am not neurotic…at least not about this…possibly about other things. However, my daughter’s homework is not monthly or weekly as suggested by anonymous. It is daily, including over weekends and breaks. Some of it is good applied projets, other is busywork. The teacher in this case doesn’t have a say in homework as it is a school districtwide policy and I actually like the teacher. Since writing this letter there has been no change in the homework coming home, and we continue to do what we do (encourage but not require). Amazingly what has changed is the teacher’s communication with me about her progress and areas needing help, things that would not have been communicated otherwise until reportcards and conferences.

    And now there is not homework fighting. And that means the world to me.

    March 5th, 2010 at 8:11 pm
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