Our daughter is in kindergarten and is expected to do homework every night. This seems silly to us, but we don't want to make a fuss with the teacher this early in the year. Should a kindergartner have to do homework?
You are not alone in asking this question—the pressure to increase the school work load is increasing everywhere and many parents are surprised, remembering that when they were children homework was not a part of the early years of school. Schools and teachers have different policies on assigning homework to children in the lower grades. In general, work is sent home with children in order for parents to be able to see what their child is doing in school and to forge a link between the classroom and the home. Homework can also provide time for children to do some of the practice time they need to improve their reading and arithmetic skills. Some children, even at kindergarten level, enjoy doing simple homework so that they can show their parents what they are learning in school and be just like big kids. Yes, it is debatable, even among educators, whether five year olds need homework. However, the reality for you right now is that this curriculum decision made by teachers. Rather than asking if your child should be assigned homework at all, you should ask if the homework is age-appropriate and realistic.
First, the time needed for homework should be realistic. The average five-to six-year-old will needs a parent to do her homework with her, either helping or sitting and watching. Her attention span for this kind of task may be only five to ten minutes, especially at the end of a long day. Even if your child can spend a half an hour or more working on a task that she chooses, an assigned task may not inspire the same level of persistence. If your child is taking more than fifteen minutes to do her homework, even with your help, be sure to talk to her teacher.
Talk to other parents about their reactions to the homework assignments. You can’t assume that everyone feels the way you do. Parents’ values differ widely, and you may find that some parents feel that homework is a good thing. Teachers often report being caught between the demands of parents who don't want homework assigned and those who criticize them for not requiring more! At the same time, many kindergarten teachers are aware that children often are going to after-school programs and already have a limited amount of time at home with their parents in the evening. Although homework can be an intrusion into evening family life it can also be a way for a child get more attention from busy parents. Of course, if you have more than one child, you may feel as if you are running a study hall instead of a family.
Ideally, homework assignments at this age should be fun, or at least interesting, for the child and the parent. Parents should not be expected to teach new skills to the child, but simply to reinforce what has been taught at school. For example, it's fine to help your child practice finding the letter "a" or to write her name, but you shouldn't have to be teaching your child how to form letters or hold a pencil. You may be doing rhyming games, but you probably won’t be using flashcards to teach your child the initial sounds of words that rhyme. These are skills that teachers have (or should have) but that most parents don't. If teachers do want you to teach your children skills at home--and in these days of budget cuts you may have to--they should at least provide you with guidelines on how to do so.
The best homework for very young children will require that their parents spend time with them in activities that support overall academic learning. Some kindergarten teachers feel that the best "homework" assignment is for a parent to read to a child every night, not just a bedtime story, but an exciting chapter book with an interesting plot and characters who say and do exciting things. If you read to your child, she will probably learn more vocabulary, context, grammar, and word usage than she will from any worksheet she completes on her own. So if reading aloud time isn’t a part of the assignment, ask the teacher if it can be, so that everyone in the class has an equal opportunity for the best homework of all.