This is the question being asked on the latest BAM Radio Network show that I commentated on: “Should You Be Assigning Homework in Preschool?” by Rae Pica along with Etta Kralovec and Dr. Ann Barbour.
Go and take a listen to the show and see what you think!
Before you answer this question consider this…
These two boys are at play with large pattern blocks…
They are exploring patterns and shapes and how they fit together to create the train….
They are learning how to cooperate, collaborate, take turns, listen to each other’s ideas, follow directions, and adapt where needed to build their train…
While building the train, the children are reinforcing their recognition of shapes and colors…
The process of creating this train requires some trial and error, problem solving, and plenty of floor space to spread out their work…
They are building more than just a train, they are also building a friendship as they work together and play together…
Can you package all of these wonderful elements of learning into a single assignment and send it home as homework?
My random thoughts on homework for preschoolers…
In all of my years of teaching preschoolers, I have never sent home homework. At least not the kind of homework where a child is expected to complete an activity then return it to school for some type of reward, grade, or accountability.
For children in full time preschool or childcare programs, I think that after a long day at school what they need most is time relaxing and interacting with with mom and dad. The preschool years are an important time for bonding with parents and their time time together should be respected.
If you are wanting to provide any kind of “homework” let me suggest these everyday activities that parents can do at home to help their child build the skills their child needs to be successful in while in school.
What kinds of activities can parents do at home to help their preschooler be successful in preschool? Here are a few simple ideas…
- Promote independence by helping your preschooler develop skills such as dressing himself, washing hands, going potty, putting on coats, and feeding himself.
- Build communication skills by talking with your preschooler often and encouraging your preschooler to ask questions or express his views on topics.
- Promote an interest in literacy by reading with your preschooler- read simple books, signs in the grocery store, the back of a cereal box, street signs, and so on.
- Promote social skills by inviting friends over so your preschooler will develop their ability to share, work out conflicts, and play positively with his or her peers.
- Promote decision making skills by letting your child choose from a menu at a restaurant.
- Promote problem solving skills by letting your child figure out how to open a container or how to do other things without your help.
- Promote organizational skills by letting your child put away his own toys.
A Facebook friend recently posted her frustration with trying to get her third-grade daughter to sit down and do her nightly homework. “Oh, yeah?” replied a friend of said friend in the comments, a New Jersey mother named Jennifer. “You should try it with a 4-year-old.”
My youngest son has yet to enter preschool, and when my older child was there, he spent more time in “circle” than on worksheets. Jennifer said that nightly homework assignments sent home with her preschooler frustrated both of them. “I watch him slumped over our coffee table, fake crying and moaning, begging to play. I know he’s not ready for the discipline, but I feel compelled to make him turn in his assignments. He’s not ready and neither am I!” As a parent, I wasn’t ready either. Jennifer’s story had to be a wild aberration, far from the norm — one child, one family, one wildly competitive preschool perhaps?
It wasn’t. Most preschoolers may not be lugging backpacks of books yet, but when I reached out to friends and friends of friends via a Facebook post of my own, I found a diverse group of parents all over the country completing — or attempting to complete — nightly homework with their wiggling preschoolers, ostensibly to “prepare” them for kindergarten homework.
The parents I spoke with, who send their children to paid preschool in places like Chicago, the five boroughs of New York, New Jersey and the St. Louis suburbs, are looking at a range of kindergarten options, from private to public to magnet to charter. The homework in question is typically worksheets — copying or coloring letters and numbers and name-writing practice, proficiencies that are required for some magnet school entrance “assessments.” And while most parents agreed that the idea of preschool homework was absurd, most also went along with it anyway.
Yet according to the education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, the author of “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing,” a close look at all the research available contradicts this practice. In an e-mail regarding homework for young children, Mr. Kohn told me, “No research has ever found any benefit. It’s all pain and no gain.”
Homework may also take away from valuable play and family time, as the teacher and parent Jessica Lahey laments in her post on this blog, “I Hate Homework. I Assign It Anyway.” Early childhood experts tell us that play should be the top priority in preschool, and documentaries like “Race to Nowhere” remind us that many kids are burned out by the time they get to high school.
So after a day at school, why are we bringing home more work for the barely potty-trained? I remember being horrified when my oldest son brought home nightly homework in public kindergarten. Tired and spent from a full day of academics, he couldn’t focus, he begged for it to be over, and my husband and I spent hours coaxing him to fill out a worksheet that should have taken five minutes.
But did I say anything to the teacher about it? Not a word.
Neither did the preschool parents I spoke with. What’s more, they didn’t want to say anything at all. Several parents refused to be quoted on the topic. One parent put it plainly: getting into a decent school is hard enough, I don’t want this to come back and haunt me. Why are parents afraid to say they don’t like preschool homework? If we parents think that homework (or any policy or practice) is making our children miserable, why wouldn’t we say something about it?
Pressure to test preschoolers for entrance into coveted gifted and talented programs makes it even harder to protest. Vassiliki, a mother from Chicago, did balk; she told me she refused to turn in her preschool daughter’s nightly homework. “The idea was revolting to me,” she said. But Vassiliki also acknowledged that her daughter’s private preschool, located within a Chicago public magnet school, had a cozy relationship with the magnet’s gifted and talented program. “The kids get primed to ace the ‘gifted’ system-wide tests.” Homework (whether it’s turned in or not) is part of that priming.
One reason parents may be reluctant to speak up, says Mr. Kohn, is our nearly unconditional acceptance of schools’ authority. Instead, busy parents may spend more time finding ways to deal with the unpleasant homework instead of confronting the school. Jennifer from New Jersey eventually asked her child’s preschool teachers if there was a way to reduce his workload. “They said it shouldn’t be about frustrating the kids, so now he will be given just one sheet of letters to practice per week. They said, ‘Look, this is only preschool.”
But we should be asking bigger questions — like if the real reason we’re not saying no to preschool homework is because, in today’s rush to get young children into academics, we fear our child will fall behind. We parents should stick up for what preschool does well — teaching kids how to socialize, take turns, and work in a group. Preparing children to read and write during the hours of the school day is fine, but a preschooler’s “homework” should be exploring, playing and listening to bedtime stories.
As we demand academics from younger and younger children, will there come a time when 4-year-olds are no longer prepared for the demands of pre-K? And then is homework for 3-year-olds around the corner? A few years ago, preschool homework might have been a headline in The Onion, but we don’t seem to be laughing. Instead, somewhere out there, someone is busily developing “Worksheets for the Womb.”