Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Work and play

A couple nights ago, all my friends seemed to be posting to Facebook about their kids’ homework. One was working with their 3rd grader, another with their 1st grader, and another commenting that those two should “just wait until you get to 5th grade math.”

And I thought to myself: This is ridiculous.

Despite the fact that there are NO CONCLUSIVE STUDIES that homework in elementary school has any impact on academic achievement later on, teachers continue to pile it on. They say it’s teaching children discipline (which all know is a crock – it’s teaching the parents discipline. How many 2nd graders do you know that would do their homework without being harped on?)

I think in some ways things have just flip-flopped. From the 1930s to the 1970s children used the Dick and Jane books to learn to read. In those books, adults worked and children played. Today, children work and adults play.

Seriously, in addition to the pressure to make sure kids are toiling away at their homework every night, there seems to be more and more pressure on parents to keep their children entertained (when they're not doing homework), which results in adults having to play games, Barbies, Wii, etc. I love spending time with my kids – but does it really have to be playing playdough? Isn’t that something they can do independently?

I found a blog called Free Range Kids that is great. It discusses giving our kids childhoods like the ones we had. I wish more people held this opinion.

Do you ever...
..let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to
school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a
Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets,
car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age
children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range
and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less. This site dedicated to
sane parenting. Share your stories, tell your tips and maybe one day I will try
to collect them in a book. Meantime, let's try to help our kids embrace life!
(And maybe even clear the table.)


Kristina said...

I was one of those people going on about homework, I think!

I've thought the same thing about entertaining my kids every minute. Finally, my oldest is learning to play independently now that I can't be with him every second because of Child Two.

When did parents become playmates? Not that I think we should go back to the "plop 'em in a playpen and ignore 'em" scheme, but how many light saber battles do I really need to have?

I like the idea of Free Range kids in moderation. It's a different world than when we grew up, but we shouldn't have to feel like we're helicopter parents, either.

Greengerg said...

Great post!

I was just pondering my 1st grade daughter's homework last nite...she can't even really read yet, but was expected to write five complete sentences using all eight words on her spelling list. What has education come to? It's just nuts---they are being rushed into everything and it's tortuous for us parents.

Mo Morrissey said...

Standards based education raises the stakes for all. When we grew up, there was only the accountability to the teacher if we knew how to read. Now, students - and teachers - are accountable to standardized testing, and I'm not entirely sure we as a society have gotten our arms around the idea that education has changed. There has to be an easier way...

Jim said...

@ Suzanne

Your post is a good one. I worry about the kids growing up today.

While I'm concerned about the overzealous assignment of homework, especially for younger students, I'm more concerned about children losing connections with the natural world.

I remember growing up during the 70s and being able to leave the house at 8:00 in the morning and be gone until supper, and no one freaked out. My friends and I roamed the woods, and the area near the local river, and parents didn't have a phobia about their children being off the tether, like today's obsessed parents.

When my own son, who is now 25 was small, we lived outside of town, and while he couldn't walk the town like I did, he still played outside, roamed the 5 acres of our property, and got dirty.

Don't know if you've ever read Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, where he coined the term, "nature deficit disorder."

Parents need to get their kids off the couch, away from the computer screen, and engage with nature.

Anonymous said...

I agree that kids today don't have much time to just play and be kids (between homework, after school activities, lessons, etc...), but this is the natural reaction to the way we (as Gen-X'ers) were brought up. Since we were the generation for which "latch-key" kids was evolved, there are many of our generation who will do everything in their power to make sure their kids are not neglected. As Gen X takes over fully as parents of young children (which is happening now) we will get even more extreme in our protection. I see it in the schools that our children have attended already. The feeling that we must shield our children from the crisis in society will likely reach a fevered pitch in the next 10-15 years. The next generation of kids (after the Millennials) will be even more sheltered than the current batch. Trying to talk most Gen-X parents out of this notion is near impossible. There are a few that are willing to let their kids play outside unattended, but that number grows smaller all the time.
I have been blogging about generational issues on my blog at and would love to hear your comments.

The Ледоруб (The Ice Ax?) said...

I think we're definitely a generation that's over-protective, for all the natural reasons that Dave notes. It might be an over-reaction, but it definitely has roots in our own upbringing.

On another note, I used to read Lenore Skenazy's columns all the time in the NY Daily News when she was with them a few years back. I like her blog, too, Suzanne. I remember she pushed some people's buttons in a column she wrote in the now-defunct NY Sun about letting her 9-year-old ride the subway alone. As usual, it was a good column.