The question of no homework vs. homework for kids at the elementary level is really about what parents believe their children should be doing at the end of the day to retain what they have learned in school and to ensure they are prepared to learn more. The answer to this question is not necessarily “home” or “work,” and in fact, the extent to which it can avoid feeling like “work,” especially in the early elementary grades, the better.
Ideally, we want children to understand that they are always learners. In school, we refer to them as “students” but outside of school, as children, they are still learners. So it makes no sense to even advertise a “no-homework” policy in a school. It sends the wrong message. The policy should be, “no time-wasting, repetitive tasks without any clear instructional or learning purpose will be assigned.”
Children in elementary grades should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic, and better understand the world around them in terms of civics, science, and the arts. It is also a time for parents to help them develop their people skills, or their “emotional intelligence.” This encouragement should be part of everyday family interactions outside of school and the school should provide developmental guidance to all parents, in the appropriate languages, to help them do this.
For some children, specialized guidance will no doubt be needed. Some parents will select specialized programs or after-school experiences to help foster their children’s learning in one or more of the aforementioned areas. And communities should think about how to make these kinds of experiences available to all children in high quality ways, without undue expense to families.
Of course, some teachers will have specific, creative ideas about how learning can be enhanced at home, depending on the particular units of study in school. Maybe what we need is a new word for all this. Instead of “Homework,” how about “Continued Learning” or “Ongoing Growth Activities?”
Finally, students’ learning would be greatly enhanced if we take a clear stance about schools supporting good parenting in general. Schools can help parents by encouraging them to promote their children’s social-emotional learning, to spend more time directly interacting with their children in enjoyable ways, and to take an interest in their studies to convey the value of education and effort. In addition, educators should work with parents to ensure they are monitoring their children’s use of and exposure to electronic media and that they are promoting “Continued Learning” at every possible opportunity. Above all, schools should remind parents to never lose sight of teaching their children about the value of close relationships, support, caring and fun. That is the most important “home-work” of all!
Maurice J. Elias is Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University and the Director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab. He regularly blogs about social and emotional development topics for Edutopia.