Since the beginning of my teaching career, homework has been something that I find myself haggling with every year. How much do I give? At the early childhood level what kind of homework is going to give me the most bang for my buck? I’ve tried all routes there are to travel when it comes to homework. After my own trial and error and reading through much research this is what I’ve concluded when it comes to assigning homework in the Early Childhood classroom (K-3.)
- Less is more. – In the Book The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano, a lot of research on the topic of homework is presented. Too much time spent on homework can actually lead to detrimental results. Most experts recommend 10 minutes per grade level, per night. This breaks down to 10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade and 30 minutes for third grade. Keeping this in mind poses the question “what is the most important learning goal I want to cover in homework?”
- There are no clear benefits to homework assigned in the Early Childhood classroom.- What? Was that actually a statement written by a teacher? That can’t be! But yes actually, all the research Marzano quotes in The Art and Science of Teaching point to the same results. And that is, that in the Early Childhood classroom homework has absolutely no correlation to improved test scores. (It does for upper elementary and secondary students though. But we’re only chatting about K-3.) So if there are no benefits to homework then why assign it? Researchers still recommend homework assigned for elementary students despite the lack of test score correlations because it helps children to develop study habits and learn that learning will take work outside of school. In other words it will help get them into the habit and prepare them for homework when it is beneficial for them.
- Homework should involve parents- this is a no brainer. No one can help a child create a positive attitude about school and learning than a parent. That said, as a parent myself, I don’t want to come home and sit with my child for two hours completing work that is not helping my child, aka busy work. With both parents working, as in many households these days, it’s hard to come home and worry about dinner, baths, house cleaning, oh and two hours of children’s homework each night.
I mauled over these three ‘big ideas’ to come up with what I feel is the best option for homework in my second grade classroom. And I came up with three areas that are most important to my students.
- Spelling- This is basic, rote memorization I know but if I want my kids to learn their trick words for Fundations or their spelling list for Journeys, then they have to practice them every night. Plain and simple. I tried to come up with a quick and short template choice that students can choose one activity each night and complete. This should ideally take 5-7 minutes and no longer to practice spelling words every night. Also, this activity requires little parent participation. Parents can get a child started and then go about another activity while their child learns to work on homework independently for a short amount of time.
- Reading- In the book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley, the author discusses reading to elementary students by parents in other countries and how those students perform a year and half ahead of students on the international PISA test when they are 15. I could go on to quote a half million other studies and research on the effects of reading with elementary school children at home but if you’re reading this I assume you completely understand how important reading is. Part of my homework is to read a story each night with your child. Then choose one activity to discuss and write about in regards to the story you read. I would even recommend to parents to start this on Sunday night. Read a story before bedtime then use that story from the night before to complete one activity for homework the next night. Sharing stories and discussing them with a parent means talking and questioning and encouraging children to think. This is the most important thing a parent can do with a child in an Early Childhood Classroom. If the parents read a story before bed then discuss it the next night and record their answers in a notebook together this activity should take 7-10 minutes.
- Math- Working with numbers should also be part of homework each night. I wanted this to be a fun activity to do with a parent or caregiver. So I came up with the idea that the parent can count the number of pages they read together and use that number to complete one math problem with. For example, I read Green Eggs and Ham with my child and afterwards (or before) we count how many pages we read. There are 28 (I’m guessing) pages in that book so I’m going to take the number 28 and choose a math activity to do with that number. The student has to count first, and then take time to explore that number.
After coming up with these three main areas I created my Homework notebooks with an activity box for each of the three areas. So students can choose one activity to complete each night. I decided to put this all in a notebook so that answers can be completed in it each night and signed and dated by the parents. In my classroom I would have students copy, paste, or attach their spelling words in their homework notebooks each Monday or Friday for the following week. Then I would take the time Fridays to have students share one book they read and discussed during the week for homework or a number they explored that was just cool to them. They could do so in small groups while you walked around and wrote feedback in homework notebooks. Or they could do some spaced out throughout the day (2-3 kids here and there for 4 minutes during a transition- how cool would a “drop everything and discuss homework” be?) You could also utilize all this conversation about homework to take a speaking and listening grade.
The last thing I thought about when deciding my homework was how could get parents to still work on math facts and sight words? This is typically taught by parents through flash cards and rote memorization. When I taught kindergarten I found a lot of success with “monthly challenges” where the kids were assigned a challenge for the month and then got a reward at the end of the month for completing the challenge. You could do a monthly challenge of “this month your child learns all doubles math facts.” Send home a starting date for the challenge and a date that the child will be assessed. Then the family can decide when they will teach math facts and it doesn’t have to be added to the nightly homework saga unless they have time to do it. I believe in the Early Childhood classroom, monthly challenges should be individualized with goals for each child set individually. Please check back with more information on how I set up and organize monthly challenges.