Aiding kids’ development at home

Brandy Young, a teacher at Godley Elementary School near Fort Worth, TX, recently made international headlines thanks to a note she sent to parents. The short note informed parents that they wouldn’t be expected to do any formal homework that year, unless there was classwork that had been left unfinished. Instead, the note went on to ask parents to make sure that they eat dinner as a family, play outside, read together and go to sleep early.

Ms. Young’s note has since been roundly praised by parenting and teaching groups around the world. The general consensus is that children are often wasting time that could be better spent, when doing homework for class. Some teachers commented that up to 90% of their students didn’t need homework for practice – but it was still set due to expectations of the school and the parents in general. Other teachers said that homework was essential in order for kids to get enough practice, especially in subjects such as math. It was generally conceded, however, that homework can have a negative effect on family life – causing unnecessary stress for parents and children and arguments.

Rather than having sulky children hiding out in their bedrooms staring at a pile of books, it is preferable to have families sitting together in a relaxed and open atmosphere, enjoying dinner together. In the ideal scenario, children would help the adults prepare the meal, everyone would enjoy the meal together and discuss their day’s progress, thoughts and reflections. After the meal, everyone would play a part in clearing and cleaning up. After the meal there might be time to go outside for a walk, tend to flowers or vegetables, play some softball or soccer. Alternatively – especially if the weather isn’t great – it might be a good time to do some reading and reflection. Some children have a habit of trying to read a book by simply saying each word to themselves, often silently, without comprehending its meaning in a sentence or in the general context of the book. This means it is possible for a child to read a whole book and not know what it was about. Because of this, it’s important to give them the chance to reflect on the book and its message. What information has been given? What questions does it raise? Can the child explain what they have read to another person?

Reading well is an important skill that is worthwhile taking the time to learn. It is a basic study tool, but it is not the only one. Spend time working through different aspects of math, too. Rather than simply choosing a branch of math and setting problems at random (which would seem very much like homework), try to discuss the activities you have been doing in mathematical terms. Many kids love sporting statistics, so you can have them try to come up with their own calculations and equations to work out answers to problems such as their probability of hitting a home run I each game of softball – based on existing statistics – or, a graph showing their rate of improvement over time, and an equation to go with it.

If sport isn’t a big passion, don’t worry about it too much. It’s still important to get out into the fresh air and work up a sweat. Another way to do this is through learning skills such as gardening, keeping animals, building a shed or a treehouse. All of these activities have a huge scope for learning over a variety of subject areas. In the last example – building a treehouse, the child may be able to pick up skills in anything from calculation and deduction, to technical drawing, to using power tools and mixing paint. Even the introduction of something like a nail gun can lead to explanations as to how it works, and the child spending some time on a site such as Air Compressor Scout, learning about different types of air compression.

By spending their time and energy on projects and activities like these, it gives the child a great chance to bond with their parents, as well as learn a wide range of skills – academic, technical and practical – to further their development in a way that traditional homework simply cannot start to do.