I embrace the role I have to play in my children’s education through reading, playing, and modeling good behavior. But I also embrace my role in setting boundaries for our children, our family, and myself.
I received an email recently from my son’s kindergarten teacher regarding a new bi-monthly project that was presented as “an additional opportunity for your child to have ‘homework’ and the responsibilities that come along with it.” It sounds like a great project, yet I want to cry.
I am already overwhelmed enough as it is, and so is he.
Some nights I think his brain is at maximum capacity (I know mine is), and he dozes off by 6 pm. Other nights he arrives home overtired and irritable, and I inevitably have to send him to his room for a timeout. It breaks my heart when I walk in 10 minutes later and see him passed out with all his clothes on, knowing that he went to bed upset (and without brushing his teeth!).
And yet other nights he is a ball of lightning wildly unleashing the emotions and physicality pent up at school. Throw in his easily excitable 2-and-a-half-year-old twin sisters, and you can’t even imagine the evening chaos in our house. When our son gets home my husband and I are still nursing our wounds from our busy work day while our twin girls have just woken up from their nap and are themselves either miserably cranky or overflowing with energy. Either way, these two toddlers have an inexhaustible need for attention and stimulation, and whenever I am not feeding them a snack then I find myself cleaning one up. Whatever fragile balance we may have achieved is shattered when our son comes in from school like a cue ball.
The results are lively to say the least, and often quite lovely. When I see everyone play nicely and care for one another I feel like I must be doing something right. I treasure those rare moments of tranquility. But more often than not we face fights, tantrums, whining, messes, potty talk, insolence, jealousy, and ingratitude. We are challenged to get everyone to sit down at the table at the same time to eat the same thing, to put on PJs without drama, to go to bed on time, and anything else that requires unanimous collaboration from three free-spirited and stubborn children. So, basically everything.
We struggle to meet our children’s basic needs, much less partake in “enriching” activities. As things stand now I don’t get enough quality one-on-one time with my son, in part because he sleeps more than his sisters. Even as I try to cuddle him as he falls asleep I oftentimes hear the girls wail for snuggles in the other room. It tears me apart, but I can only do so much with this impossible juggling act.
I just can’t imagine prioritizing homework with my 5-year-old son when I feel it’s more important we spend time together as a family, nurture our children, or let the kids play together. I am not an early childhood education expert, but it seems to me that social skills and emotional intelligence are the most critical things to teach. I see my children absorb valuable lessons from interacting that they would never learn from me alone: sharing, conflict resolution, leadership (our son teaches his sisters yoga), teamwork, praising others, and more. As a parent of multiple children, sibling bonding is one of my highest priorities. At the very least, higher than kindergarten homework.
Let’s face it, at my son’s age, homework is not really for the children, it is for the parents. Been there, done that, got the diploma. I would rather my kids bring homework home when they are mature enough to (mostly) do it themselves. I am more than happy to help my children with their homework, help being the operative word. If there is a point to homework in elementary school, it should be to help kids with discipline, not to learn new concepts or otherwise require parental supervision or intervention. After a full day of school for the kids and work for the parents, homework seems like an unnecessary and avoidable source of friction.
I politely declined the homework project, and thankfully my son’s kindergarten teacher graciously accepted that. I embrace the role I have to play in my children’s education through reading, playing, and modeling good behavior. But I also embrace my role in setting boundaries for our children, our family, and myself.
I can’t imagine I am the only parent who feels burdened by a young child’s homework. I truly wonder how other parents with more complicated situations (e.g. single parents, families with many kids, special needs children) manage. So I say: Let the teachers teach at school and the parents parent at home. The home is for family time or down time or play time or even meltdown time. But it should not be homework time. Not yet.
Cara Paiuk is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other publications. She is also an entrepreneur, photographer, future book author (stay tuned, folks!), and of course, proud mother to a gaggle of ragamuffin redheads. You can follow her on Twitter @carapaiuk