Playing to Learn

HomeworkWith busy school days comes what is for most parents their least favorite activity to do with their kids—homework.

I was an elementary school teacher before having kids of my own, and I must humbly confess that I truly had no idea the impact my homework assignments might be having on my students, their parents, and their happy after-school family life. Let’s just say I would be a very different homework assigner if I were to ever return to the classroom.

While I think that reinforcement of skills learned during the regular school day has its place, I now believe that homework should only exist if it serves one purpose—to help a child creatively practice concepts that have ALREADY been taught in class.

Asking children, and essentially their parents, to figure out and explain information in order for the teacher to test what students know PRIOR to a lesson, or requiring kids to do ENDLESS math problems when three or four would tell them if your kid “gets it”, or asking kiddos to go home and sit for long periods of time (again) is just not appropriate between the hours of 4–8 p.m.

It’s pretty much like setting fire to the family unit via a big ole’ blazing blowtorch. Kids get frustrated, parents are befuddled, crying and gnashing of teeth ensues, and the day ends in distress. Not good.

Our kids spend six to seven hours a day in prescribed, structured, adult-led environments where they’re pretty much told what to do, how to do it, and when. Requiring them to do an hour or two more of structured busywork when they get home can send many kids over the educational edge.

I firmly believe that homework should look (at least a little) different than schoolwork. It should incorporate movement and creativity, divergent thinking, and, dare I say it, FUN. Not stay-in-your-seat, rote regurgitation, or drill-til-ya-kill worksheets.

Imagine, instead of having your kids write their spelling words 10 times each and fill in blanks on mind-numbing worksheets, they could spell their words in sand, sugar cubes, or the LEGOs they really wish they were playing with. Or instead of the drudgery of math worksheets, drill multiplication facts while tossing a football and trying to shout the answers before each catch is made. Or how about creating a reading nook outside in the backyard for your kids to bang out their required 20 minutes a night? (I assure you they’ll read for longer.)

Is it really that difficult to infuse a touch of playfulness into our kids’ after-school studies? I think not.

This year as our kids come home with homework-ladened backpacks, weary from the long day in the trenches, let’s help them discover ways to translate PLAY into learning. And if you share what’s working with the teacher, maybe she or he will get inspired and start assigning more creative means to the same end. With a smidge of playfulness sprinkled on top of homework assignments, your kids will be less terrifying, you’ll be less befuddled, and the night will be permitted to end in peace.

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