Kindergarten Homework is Just Plain Wrong


My grandson has kindergarten homework. Starting in January, he receives a weekly homework packet that is due every Monday. I guess that’s a good due day because, like 64% of mothers with young kids, my daughter works. At least she has the weekend to force him to complete it. Because my grandson can’t do this homework without parental support and intervention, it has turned into a battle.

Like most 5-year-old boys, my grandson would rather be doing something with his family like building a Lego construction, going to the zoo, or even playing at a park. Instead, he cries about spending 3-4 hours every weekend doing his homework. And he has become a homework-hater before he even is able to read the directions for himself.

When I was visiting recently, I thought he and I could easily do the first part of his weekly homework, “reading comprehension.” He had to “visualize” what is happening in a story in his mind, draw a picture of what he visualized when he was reading the story, and write a sentence about his “illustration.”

Turns out it was very hard. In fact, it was an epic fail. When I told him to visualize the garbage truck in the story, he said, “I wanted to draw a train valentine and a rocket ship. I can’t even visualize. My brain does not know how to visualize. But I can draw lots of pictures because I have so many ideas in my head.”

I’m not going to touch that quote. My grandson is much smarter than the adults who decided this homework was appropriate for a child his age. So I just watched him draw picture after picture, and he told me stories about all of them. He just refused to draw that garbage truck. It wasn’t in his head. And he declined to write a sentence about any of his “illustrations” because, as he told me, he doesn’t know how to write yet.

After that struggle, there were still several more assignments to complete for his homework notebook. The part that killed me was the requirement to “write neatly in pencil” for every section of the homework. That’s asking a lot from a little guy whose fine motor skills and attention span make this challenging.

A perfect example of the developmentally inappropriate expectations of his kindergarten homework is the writer’s checklist (which he can’t read yet, but we’ll skip that minor point), outlining 4 rules for writing:

Start with a capital letter. While my grandson seems to understand this rule, this is not a reasonable expectation for all kindergarteners. Maybe it’s a goal, but I’m pretty sure many are capable of this.

Use finger spaces between words. The illustration shows an index finger between each word in a sentence. No way can he do that consistently. He is still struggling to keep his words on the line, which is totally normal for a child his age.

Use punctuation. This means putting a period at the end of each sentence. I guess he can make a dot, but he has no idea what a sentence is.

Use lower case letters. Many 5-year-olds are still struggling to master that “E” and “e” are the same letter.

Now that the rules are in place, let’s write. But wait. Writing means copying a “high frequency” (sight) word 10 times in his best handwriting, following the checklist rules. It may also mean writing a new sight word ten times in “rainbow writing.” This means changing colors for every letter. While his older sister thinks this is fun because she loves rainbows, it is definitely not something many active 5-year-old boys enjoy.

Even more torture lies ahead, as he has to complete his math worksheet. Now, my grandson happens to be good at math. He counted backwards from 100 to 1, and that wasn’t even his assignment. He can add numbers quickly in his head. Just don’t ask him to, “Write the number 13 five times in your notebook. Be sure to use the finger space between your number 13’s. Say the name of each number after you write it. Draw 13 squares in your notebook.”

This is a test of his fine motor pencil skills, which are still developing, rather than an opportunity to work with his math skills. There is no way he can draw 13 perfect boxes. Besides, just drawing plain boxes makes no sense to him when he can turn them into robots.

As a firm believer in developmentally appropriate education, I am disheartened by what has happened to education since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law under President Bush in 2002, followed by Race to the Top (RTTT) under President Obama. Right now, Congress is debating the reauthorizationof the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is basically the same thing as NCLB and RTTT.

A policy memo published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) calls for moving education away from the high stakes testing model that has been in place for the past 13 years. Actual data reveal that it hasn’t worked. The problem isn’t fixing the tests, but rather making them cease to be the focus of teaching our kids.

This important memo addressed to Congress and the Obama administration has the backing of over 1,200 actual education experts. These respected educators, as opposed to politicians, businessmen, and textbook and testing companies, agree with my grandson. Narrow curriculum focused on teaching to and preparing for the high stakes tests does not serve our children, especially our youngest learners. If the goal is to create future citizens capable of creative and independent thinking, lifelong learning, or civic engagement, this is not the way to accomplish it.

The very notion that a kindergartener should be doing homework, let alone the quality and content of what is assigned, is a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the way we are currently educating children. It breaks my heart to see my young grandson and his peers subjected to such developmentally inappropriate expectations. I have to start somewhere, so I’m advocating for a little boy who wants to go outside on a nice weekend day to play Hot Lava Man.

Please don’t squash his enthusiasm for learning under a pile of inappropriate and meaningless homework. He’s just in kindergarten.

Versions of this were published in ChicagoNow on February 19, 2015,March 2, 2015, and March 17, 2015.

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