Spending hours upon hours in the library is never fun and it has almost made me forget about how much I enjoyed homework in the early grades of elementary school. I remember coming home from kindergarten and going straight to this light blue wooden table in my playroom to start my “homework.” I distinctly remember these little picture books we would be assigned to complete for each letter in the alphabet. For example, for the letter “A” we were instructed to cut out and glue pictures to a book that started with this letter (e.g., apple, airplane, ant). This was a creative assignment and while it was given to get us thinking about the different alphabet sounds, I thought it was the coolest thing!
Earlier this week I had a similar experience at the elementary school that I volunteer at. To put this in perspective, second grade is the first time where homework is officially assigned to students at this school (besides at-home reading). Well, on Monday a kindergartener came up to me with the biggest smile on his face and said, “I have extra work from school today and I’m going to do it at home. It’s homework now.” I laughed and told him how exciting that was that he could home and sit at the table with his older brother (who is in second grade) to complete the remaining sections on this worksheet.
If children enjoy doing school-work outside of school, how can we make it both enjoyable and a productive use of their time?
I would argue that writing spelling words 50 times in first grade wasn’t the most effective way to actually learn my spelling words and became a rather mindless task. Interestingly, Nancy Self, a clinical assistant professor in early childhood education at Texas A&M University, states the following in her article “Designing Effective Homework,”
“Teachers should rethink the reasons for assigning homework. Rather than seeing homework as an obligatory task, students must complete as part of the routine school process, teachers can use homework to enhance classroom lessons, reinforce skills, and engage students in meaningful learning exercises.”
Self goes on to include a few strategies for making homework enjoyable and effective. One way to incorporate a student’s home or community is by creating assignments that require students to apply skills taught in the classroom to other areas of their life. This could include looking for geometric shapes within the home or reading articles to seek out parts of speech or new vocabulary words, in older grades. A second idea is assigning homework that actively engages students and their families in bonding. Self gives examples such as interviewing one another about personal experiences, using division and multiplication to half or double ingredients in family recipes and then cooking these dishes together, or even asking students to share what they learned with their family that night. The final piece of advice that Self gives is the idea of designing homework where students can complete assigned tasks at home and return to the classroom the following day to report what they have learned to their classmates. This encourages students to think through what part of their homework experience was successful, difficult, and overall what they learned, while taking the opportunity to engage with their peers.
Homework is a great way for students to take responsibility and initiative towards their learning but it’s essential that these tasks are assigned in a constructive manner. Many students want to do homework and enjoy practicing what they did in school that day, which is why teachers should be strategic when deciding what is manageable and realistic for completing at home verses at school. It is crucial that we cultivate this love for learning and this starts with making the realistic decision about whether homework will be an effective experience for a student based on factors such as age, home environment, enthusiasm, and motivation. In times where homework is appropriate, we can at least strive to make this fun and a positive learning experience!