Advocating for Your School-Aged Child
Every parent’s hopes are high as the end of summer approaches and we all start to get our kids ready for school. We imagine them having the greatest year yet – making new friends, having a good teacher, and enjoying every minute of their day. But as the year starts, we realize quickly that school is not very fun for our children. From the moment they walk into kindergarten they are expected to sit down for extended periods of time, eat and go to the restroom at only prescribed times of the day, and have little to no active movement throughout their day. They are sent home with hours of homework, having little to no downtime between school, family responsibilities, and extracurricular activities. No matter if your child is 5 or 15, traditional school curriculums are not made for their bodies or their minds. It has been like this for decades, getting progressively worse as the years go on. But who is going to change that?
Answer = You
Many parents feel as though they can’t take control of their child’s education simply because, like TuPac told us all those years ago, “That’s just the way it is.” But when it comes to your child’s school career and emotional well-being, parents should be taking a stand. We should be telling schools, “NO, it’s not okay that you give my third grader two hours of homework per night,” and “NO. It is not ok that my first grader only gets 30 minutes of active play per day if she’s lucky.”
There are two seemingly big issues concerning parents of young children in education today: homework and recess/recreational time. The amount of homework assigned to young children is daunting. Although many teachers follow the “10 minute rule” (i.e., 10 minutes of homework per grade level), many experts agree that homework for elementary students is unnecessary.
In 2016, The Atlantic asked experts – to include politicians, educators, and parents – their take on homework. Although their answers varied, many have come out in saying that homework for an elementary student is seemingly unnecessary. Outside of reading each night, the student performing well in class shouldn’t be sitting down to do hours of homework. And if your child is struggling, remedial work can be given in short amounts, but it should not be given on top of several other subjects worth of homework.
When kids get home from school they need time to be kids. They should be outside playing with friends, promoting social interaction and cooperation. They should be climbing, jumping, and riding bikes in order to help work on their gross motor skills and their overall love of fitness. They should be setting up games together and building forts in order to promote critical thinking skills. They need to be kids.
Honestly. Can you imagine coming home from an almost eight hour work day, followed by a rigorous workout at the gym, and then told by your boss that you have to complete additional work when you get home? No. And there’s no reason that our kids should be expected to do that either.
The other big issue that many parents feel strongly about is the amount of recess (or lack thereof) that their children get on a daily basis. Most states only require students to have 30 minutes of activity outside of physical education per day.
However, many schools and school districts are recognizing that this is simply not enough for students. Last year a school in Texas went internet famous when they introduced a four times per day recess in their school. Amazingly, they found that added recess did not distract from student learning but rather enhanced it. Recess was not long – only 15 minutes at a time – but this added break from their day gave students the necessary “wiggle release” that they needed to continue on with their day in a more productive way.
Students at this progressive school were more attentive, had less disciplinary issues, and were able to solve problems more independently. Teachers and parents also noted that the children were delving into their work with more fervor – writing more creatively, thinking more critically, and working cooperatively.
Research agrees with the findings at this Texas school, too. Experts have noted for years that for both adults and children, a break from strenuous tasks helps to reset the mind and make for more productive actions. In addition, researchers from the National Association for the Education of Young Children note that recess helps to reduce stress, develop social skills, and increase focus.
How to Make Schools Listen
As parents it can be daunting to try and change the way your child’s school is run. If they are attending a public or a parochial school, they will probably have policies and procedures in place that they must follow. But getting a school to listen to your valid arguments is the first step in letting them know that you want change for the betterment of your children.
Don’t barge into the school demanding that they stop giving homework and that they increase recess time immediately. If the amount of homework your child receives is the issue, go to their teacher first and explain your concerns. Work out a plan with him or her to drastically reduce or completely irradiate the homework given to your child. Discuss with the teacher your reasoning and any research you have done to let them know you are trying to do what is best for your child. Offer suggestions in untraditional homework such as extended research projects, pre-reading, and study skill tasks.
If recess is the issue, ask your child’s teacher if they can work an extra 15 minutes per day into their schedule for open-ended play outside.
Go Big or Go Home
Sometimes the teachers may feel as though their hands are tied, especially in terms of recess, because of school policies. In this case, you may have to bring your reasoning to the principal or the school superintendent. Find out when the school board meeting is to be held and come prepared with signatures of parents who agree with your suggestions as well as research showing that less homework and/or added recess time is what the children in your community need in order to thrive in their school environment.
When All Else Fails…
If the school or the school district is not willing to comply with any reasonable suggestions, take matters into your own hands. If you feel comfortable, let your child’s teacher know that they won’t be doing the assigned traditional homework (i.e., worksheets, answering questions out of a textbook) for the year unless it falls under your structured categories of relatable homework tasks such as projects or research skills.
Recess time is much harder to do when your child is at school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help your child when they get home. When your child comes home from school, be sure to give them time to play in an open-ended fashion so they can let their creative juices flow and to take a break from their long day. At least one hour of physical play before they start their homework will help them to accomplish the task at hand.
Educators often say that parents are the first and the most important teachers for a child. It’s time we take back our children’s education for the betterment of their whole selves rather than the system. It’s time we put our foot down and tell the people that spend the most time with our children that they need their overall wellbeing to be taken into account rather than just the factual information being spewed at them. Our children’s brains are growing, yes, but they will thrive if we give them the right tools.
Tags: back to school, changing education, education, education research, elementary education, extended recess, homeschool, homeschooling, homework, homework for elementary kids, National Association of the Education of Young Children, no homework, no homework debate, recess, recess debate, research, school board meetings, school liaison, short recess
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Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls, who also happens to run her own in-home preschool. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She’s kind of crunchy in her homeschooling, cloth diapering, and natural products sort of way, but she also loves Starbucks and trashy tv. For more about her internal judgments of herself and hilarious quips about motherhood, follow her on IG and Twitter @thescoopmama, fb.com/thescoopmama, as well as her website theSCOOPmama.