The Kindergarten Homework Conundrum

sophie-teach

Ms. X has a reputation among parents as a real hard-ass. I attribute this in large part to the fact that so many parents can’t manage to get their kids to school on time. I am often late to a lot of things in life, but one non-negotiable is school. Sure, we’ve had the occasional late slip, but I try to keep it very occasional. Others, not so much. And it drives Ms. X nuts for what I think are extremely valid reasons.

The parents get to see her reaction. But many aren’t in the classroom much beyond that. (Myself included, I admit.) Friday I happened to be there when she did carpet time and gave the kids some last minute instructions before Dibels testing. Dibels tests literacy, and it’s a biggie. Ms. X wrote words and letters (just examples, she wasn’t giving anything away!) on her dry erase board and reminded the kids what the test entails.

But that’s not what got me teary. It was the pep talk.

Ms. X leaned over from her rocking chair and caught the eyes of 20 kindergarteners, speaking slowly and deliberately. “Don’t get nervous,” she said, shaking her hands as an example. “Don’t get all” (more hand shaking and some grunting) “and give up.”

She spoke in her best Kindergarten Teacher voice, forceful but kind. “YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU KNOW THIS. YOU ARE A GREAT CLASS OF READERS, THE BEST I’VE SEEN! YOU ARE AWESOME!”

You could feel the positive energy jump from Ms. X to the students, like magic. It was really something. Each kid was called out individually, and each time, Ms. X stopped the class to offer her encouragement: “Rosie, you go, girl! You can do it! You are great!” And so on.

I wish every parent at the school could have seen it. Some of the teachers, too, for that matter.

Sophie’s sold on Ms. X’s magic. She wants to be a teacher. I snapped her picture the other day in Ms. X’s rocker; she was pretending to teach. Sophie’s big on pretend play these days, which pleases me greatly. And I love that her play world involves academics. A nice coincidence! Or is it one? The “I Play Teacher” started in Ms. X’s class. (The sad part: It’s hard to imagine that I’ll have the first child with Down syndrome who becomes a bona fide kindergarten teacher.)

The girls and I were winding down on the couch tonight when a headline on cover of the Sunday New York Times magazine — still unread, waiting on the coffee table — caught my eye. Peggy Orenstein wrote a piece about academics in kindergarten. Too strenuous, she says; she wants the old days of all-play back. She mentions Dibels and all the other testing and the fact that many kindergarteners get homework. (Not her daughter; she’s at a school that won’t give homework til fourth grade. The piece is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-lede-t.html)

I see Orenstein’s point. I grappled with the homework thing, too, more with Annabelle since she started school first and it was all new then. (I also remember how excited I was in third grade, when I finally got homework myself. That lasted, oh, about a day.) But a couple years into elementary school with my kids, I think homework is a good thing. Granted, there’s a little too much math in second grade, and I know it’s because Annabelle’s being prepared for tests, which frustrates me. (And hey, someday can we please have an art program in school?!)

But as a busy working parent, I have come to really appreciate homework. If nothing else, it forces us all to sit at the kitchen table and focus on the same thing (I struggle with that second grade more than Annabelle does, I admit) and in kindergarten, at least, the homework is far from onerous. On the days Ms. X has reading groups, she sends home a very short book, which Sophie is to read to us. We all love it. It lets me know what both girls are working on and how they are doing.

Maybe Orenstein is referring to a far more strenuous regimen, because it’s hard to imagine her finding fault with the nightly book in kindergarten, and the accompanying sheet Ray or I must sign to acknowledge Sophie did her work. I know this will sound horribly judgemental, but since I started off by judging the parents who can’t get their kids to school on time, I’ll continue on with the parents who don’t know what their kids are up to at school and I’ll just say it: Homework in kindergarten is for the parent, not the kid. It creates a pattern, some learned behavior — responsibility. (Like the damn library books I start to stress over as soon as I see one floating around the house.)

I closed the magazine and put it back on the table, and Sophie picked it up and tenderly kissed the photo of Barack Obama on the cover. (That’s a whole other story. I LOVE that the girls love him. Ray thinks it’s a sign of the brainwashing of American children by the liberal media. Whatever.) Annabelle made a comment about how Obama doesn’t look very happy in the photo.

“Do you think you’d ever want to be president?” I asked her.

She immediately answered no.

“Why?”

“You have to be too serious all the time.”

Hey, let a kid be a kid. Maybe Orenstein has a point. I just wish her daughter could have Ms. X for kindergarten.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Kindergarten Homework Conundrum

  1. elewinnek

    Thanks for putting the Orenstein article in perspective for me. I know that Orenstein will periodically write an “Oh my god the kids these days!” article, but I was feeling all vaklempt with her, not having actually experienced this new homework-y kindergarten for myself yet.

    Coincidentally, my own Sophie was also quite tender to Obama’s picture on this Sunday’s NYTimes Mag. Tell Ray that my 22-month-old is far too young to be brainwashed by liberal media. It’s just that she thinks the word “Obama” is lots of fun to say, and she’s right.

  2. Funny, my daughter adores Barack Obama too. He’s grabbed their imaginations, perhaps because of his little girls too? I also enjoy a small amount of homework, it helps me keep connected to what she is learning in school. Love that picture too.

  3. too much homework. your school sounds great. my niece 3rd grade is sent home with hours that, from her moms perspective, keeps the family from doing their thing. i think maybe you got a good one.

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