The fact is that the average workload for the nations youngest students has increased in the last 20 years. The quality of schools is often judged by how much homework is given and in most cases, the more homework given, the better the school. Although reports reflect that homework has become a standard part of the Kindergarten school year, we work in a school where this is not the case. At our school, there is no homework in Kindergarten. Fifteen minutes of reading every night with two worksheets per week is required in both the First and Second grades. The belief is that homework should enhance the unit/lesson being studied and that children should be able to complete it independent of their parents. These guidelines are given to our parents at the beginning of the year in an effort to eliminate or subdue homework battles. Since parents are not always available to help their children, our school offers a "homework helper" as an option within the after-school program. This is a time when students can complete their work with the help of a teacher or fellow students.
We align ourselves with the research that states that, at least in the early years, there is no correlation between homework and achievement. Children work hard enough in school and should have the opportunity to relax, engage in activities of their choice and have quality family time after school. Of course, parents are constantly asking us for homework, especially for vacation times. Although we believe in review, we do not believe in keeping the kids busy with loads of worksheets. We prefer more fun and hands-on learning experiences. We do not give out homework, but offer our students occasional home projects to complete with their families so as to enhance our thematic units and build on the home-school connection. We believe that these types of projects provide an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about what they are learning in school while simultaneously spending much needed quality time together.
Our students enjoy these projects. Although adult help is required in some form, parents do not mind due to the relative ease of the projects. Parents receive a letter a week or two in advance, which explains the activity and goal. Some of our projects throughout the school year have included:
- Unpack Your Personality: Each child brings in three items that says something about them to share with the class. This is an activity we do in the beginning of the year in order to get to know each other better.
- Summer Treasure: Each child brings in and shares one or two things that reflect what they did over the summer.
- A Class is like a Fruit Salad/Bouquet of Flowers: Each child brings in a fruit or flower to help jumpstart a class discussion about diversity.
- Halloween Candy Sort: Each child brings in one piece of candy. We take turns sorting the candy and guessing the sorting rule.
- Family Photo: Each child brings in a picture of their family and talks about its members. Again, this is a getting-to-know-you activity.
- Thanksgiving Survey: Children ask people at the Thanksgiving table which food was their favorite and completes the survey. We then combine all the information into a bigger survey in class.
- 100th Day Project: Children collect one hundred items and bring them in to share with the class. They can bring it in as is or present it in a creative fashion
- Making the World a Better Place: This project comes after discussing Martin Luther King Jr. and how he helped change the world. The children discuss and decide with their parents how they, as a family, can help change the world into a better world.
- My Neighborhood: We explore the concept of neighborhood community in class. Then we go out into our school neighborhood and sketch buildings, take pictures, and interview workers in various establishments. For the home project, we ask students and their parents to take pictures of the important elements in their neighborhood (their building, bus station, supermarket, newsstand, etc) to share with the class. We then look for similarities and differences among our neighborhoods.
Parents are always asking us for work over the Winter and Spring vacations. We send home two pages of vacation games that parents can play with their children. These games require minimal or no materials and can be fun while reinforcing essential academic skills. Here are four examples of our Vacation Games:
1. Where's the Sound?
Take three paper cups and label them "beginning", "middle", and "end." Put them on a table next to a small bowl of whatever small treat your child likes (jelly beans, cherries, etc.).
Then ask questions about the words, for example: 1) "Where is the p-sound in "pillow"? 2) Is it in the beginning, the middle, or the end? 3) Where is the p-sound in "capital"? 4) Where is the s-sound in "boss"?
Your child drops the treat in the correct cup. If they get it right, then they win and get to eat the treat. Where's the t-sound in "taste"? If they listen correctly it's both in the beginning and the end of the word. The sound and not the spelling is what counts in this game. It's important that you pronounce the words clearly. You might want to have your child repeat the word before answering the question.
2. Grandmother's Trunk
This game can be played with many people and it's very popular on car rides. Each player must list everything already contained in grandmother's trunk, and then add one item more. The list must be in proper order. If you forget or get something wrong you are out of the game. For example:
Player 1: In my grandmother's trunk, I packed a watermelon.
Player 2: In my grandmother's trunk, I packed a watermelon and a pot of tea.
Player 3: In my grandmother's trunk, I packed a watermelon, a pot of tea, and a spider's web.
Player 4: In my grandmother's trunk, I packed a watermelon, a pot of tea, a spider's web, and a pair of shoes.
3. Playing Compare
This game is similar to "War." It is played with a deck of cards. Each player gets half of a deck of cards and puts them in a pile face down. Both players turn over their top card, and the person with the larger number wins. The game is over when all of the cards have been turned over. This game can also be played by turning over two cards and adding the sum to determine the winner. Double compare should be played with the cards 1-10.
Help your child take a survey. Your child can choose a question that is of interest to him/her, create a sheet to record people's responses, ask people the question, and then record their responses. Afterward, ask your child questions about the survey. For example: "What did you find out?, How many people want to go to the beach?, How many people want to go to the pool?, Did more people want to go to the ocean or the pool?, Were you surprised by people's answers?" Remind them to include themselves in the survey!