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Pencils Down: Stop the Homework Insanity

Welcome to Shafspiration!   In this series, we’ll be re-posting the most inspiring and informative articles (and videos) on the web supplementing our family’s journey of entrepreneurism – not only because learning is one of our goals for the journey – but it also adds to the fun and AdVenture.

With school now in full swing, homework is back on the front burner.  And there seems to be lots of dialogue everywhere about the amount of homework children are bringing home.  There’s no doubt about the importance of learning…but for this family, enough is enough.  (Today’s re-post is from the Wall Post Street Journal – the original can be found here.)

Homework Is Getting Out of Hand

As I write this, my 6-year-old son, Paul, is two days away from the start of first grade. He’s a bit nervous, worried about whether he’ll make friends and like his teacher. Meanwhile, my husband and I are stone-cold petrified.

The source of our fear isn’t bullies nor bad lunches nor childhood illnesses. It’s homework. We’ve been hearing about it all summer from friends whose kids have completed first grade.

“I’m letting him do all the soccer he wants this summer because there’s too much homework for him to do it once school starts,” a woman told me by the side of the field last weekend as we watched her 8-year-old celebrate a goal.

A close friend recently confided in me that fights with her husband and daughter over supervising the 7-year-old’s homework were driving them apart. And the school year had been in session less than a week.

Last year, from the first day of kindergarten to the last, Paul had homework every day. But his kindergarten was a half-day program, and he did the homework in aftercare, so we never had to do it with him. Thank goodness, too, because once he got home in the evening, he was exhausted and in what Paul’s grandfather calls “the indicative mood.” One day this summer, while I was supervising Paul on a math workbook the school had recommended during the break, he got so frustrated he reared back his pencil and accidentally struck me in the eyelid. A millimeter down and Mommy’s summer nickname would have been “Patch.”

First grade is a full-day program, and Alejandro wants to opt out of aftercare and pick Paul up at 3:15.

“That means you have to do the homework with him,” I’ve warned, fearing Alejandro doesn’t have the patience to work with Paul on this challenging task. I’ve already become suspicious about Alejandro’s acceptance of the homework reality because he has signed both kids up for numerous fall soccer activities. My boys, I will confide with maternal immodesty, are talented little South American players, and we long to continue feeding their passion. But, I am told, we need to set aside an hour each night so our 6-year-old can do his work sheets.


This situation, as you might have perceived, makes me more than a little angry. I attended some of the highest-rated private schools in California—admittedly, in another era, when a 1970s hippie ethos reigned (and tuition was waaay cheaper)—and wasn’t given homework until fourth grade. Ditto for Alejandro, who attended an excellent school in Uruguay.

I know much criticism is reserved for parents who encourage sports at the expense of academics. But my boys, who are 4 and 6, are so energetic they itch for a vigorous game nearly every day; it seems to calm them and allow them to focus later. Both kids can name a dozen countries, recognize their flags, know what language is spoken there, and find them on a map—all due to their love of different teams and players. Why is that memorization—inspired by their own interest—less valuable than the rote memorization required for most homework sheets?

I was bellyaching about my fear of what homework would do to our family dynamic when a friend suggested I speak to my neighbor, a sweet, soft-spoken, stay-at-home mom with a second-grade daughter, who reputedly had some kind of unique solution.

The other day, I tapped on her door. “Maybe this is just gossip, but I heard through the grapevine that you do something about the homework situation,” I said.

My neighbor smiled and gestured, “come.” She unfolded a piece of paper and showed me her daughter’s annual assessment, which indicated stellar performances in all subjects.

“She’s never done a lick of homework,” my neighbor said. At the beginning of each year, my neighbor sits down with the teacher and principal and explains that her daughter does not have time for homework because she needs to play and do chores. She vows her daughter will pay attention in class and bids the school to alert her if any intervention is required.

“Be firm,” my neighbor advised me with an adorable smile that I imagine she uses during those conversations at school.


That night, I sat down with Alejandro and described the approach of the rebel on our street.

“Whoa. That’s radical,” Alejandro said.

“I know. She’s hard-core,” I said. It was clear that neither of us would be drumming up the guts to have that kind of a confrontation in a few days when school starts.

But, we decided, we won’t live in fear of homework or let it overtake our lives. If Paul is doing well in school and if homework is making it impossible for us to enjoy our home life, each other or some fun soccer games, we are going to act.

Step one would probably be to have Paul do the aftercare program for at least the first hour, so teachers can help him with his work and it doesn’t have to come home with him. And if that doesn’t do the trick, we will go over to our neighbor’s house, get another pep talk, practice our own adorable smiles and become rebels ourselves.

What is your philosophy on homework for your children?  Is there a better alternative?  How much homework did you do as a child?

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read this article, and was very thankful that Cooper only has one homework page a couple of times a week. After a full day of school, I’d rather he have time to run and play and enjoy time with the family versus slaving over hours of homework.

    September 13, 2012
    • Totally agree Kirsten. I do think there is value in homework but not a lot – especially in grade school

      September 16, 2012

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