High Stakes Kindergarten

A recent story about kindergarten and the Common Core in The Boston Globe got me steamed enough to write a letter to the editor.

We teachers and administrators must speak out when articles like this one appear. I take seriously my responsibility to cultivate social justice in the world. The Common Core and other state standards do no harm as a road map. It’s when we set children up for high stakes testing that policymakers go awry.

Make no mistake, test prep is everywhere and in every grade. If your kindergartner comes home with piles of worksheets, well, there you have it. Just because a five-year-old can learn to multiply doesn’t mean they should spend time on it. No body of research on young children supports this type of learning.

Children from privileged families in well-to-do areas don’t attend worksheet kindergartens. Children from generations of poverty and illiteracy do. Yet they are the ones who need play the most, to help them develop into socially and emotionally healthy people.

All kindergartners deserve creative, loving, well-provisioned kindergartens—complete with wonderful play areas that include small furniture, blocks, dress-up supplies, tools, and homemaking areas with pots and pans.  It’s hardly an understatement to say that our society depends on it.

Should Parents Help with Homework?

An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about homework caught my eye.  Its subtitle is “Should parents nag, assist, or [let kids do it…]?”

Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)
Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

I once ran an after-school  homework club for students. It began with a snack and fun conversation between the students and the volunteers who staffed it.  The environment was quiet but not silent.  All the tools students needed were in reach.  Volunteers circulated to answer questions and provide help when needed.  If students finished early, they read.  Then everyone played outside until their rides arrived.

Students went home happy and with the bulk of their homework complete.

Parents loved the homework club because it helped them understand the essentials of getting homework done–through conversations with me and a newsletter I sent home.  Snack. Relax. A quiet environment. Tools and help available. The student does the work.  Read and play.

Some commonly asked questions I received follow:

Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)
Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

What if the homework is too hard?  Let the student do as much as possible alone.  Then help, but remember that helping is assisting, not doing.

What if the homework is boring?  Ask the teacher about the rationale for it.  Request a challenging twist for your child if you think he needs more.

What if the homework is repetitive, like packets of worksheets?  Ask the teacher why they are assigned.  Sometimes we parents learn that they are assignments that the student didn’t finish in school.  But homework should not be make-work, punishment, or mind-numbing for students.  If it is, discuss this with the teacher.  It’s okay to ask the teacher for modifications that help your child to love learning.

What if the homework consists of test prep?  Research shows that this kind of cramming test prep does little to raise scores, although it may help students with some types of questions. If a school’s curricula is well-designed, properly resourced, and aligned to the Common Core or your state’s curriculum frameworks, there is no need for burdensome test prep.