This year, my 4-year-old son started preschool. Being a typical second child, he was more than ready on his first day, marching in with his shoulders back and head held high. He’s intensely brave and enormously confident for such a little guy. (Don’t get me wrong. I totally would have hugged him up if he was scared. Still, I’m not gonna lie: I was proud of his courageous attitude.)
Most of my expectations about the first day of school were spot-on, at least when it came to my son’s demeanor. Yet, I wasn’t prepared for what he brought home in his backpack that very evening: a calendar of nightly homework.
Yes, you read that right. Nightly homework for a 4-year-old.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised. My daughter had been given homework in kindergarten, which was always a lesson in patience. After she had been sitting at a desk most of the day, trying to get her to sit down yet again and complete her homework was disastrous. She’d tear at the corners of the page and scribble in the margin. She also didn’t seem able to focus on actually doing the work.
I was frustrated at the time, but in retrospect, it was completely age-appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, it was also my first stint in this newfangled, overly academic type of kindergarten we’re seeing these days. So, I tried to play by the rules. Looking back, however, I wish I hadn’t. By midyear, we gave up on it altogether. Her teacher even admitted to me that while she hated giving homework to such young students, it had to be done in order to keep up with the new rigid standards.
Even though I’d been through the “early homework” debacle before, homework for a 4-year-old seemed much more bizarre to me. I briefly wondered if the homework was optional. Perhaps some kids that age just like doing homework and it’s given in case they want the extra challenge?
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I turned the page and actually saw the word “optional” scratched out with a black Sharpie. My ex-husband and I shared a laugh about it. After all, we could barely get our child to put on his pants without empty threats and bribery. How would I get him to sit down and do homework? Even more than that, why would I even want to?
In truth, I had no intention of forcing my son to do homework, no matter what the task was or whether I thought it was age-appropriate. The request itself felt inappropriate altogether. He already spends full eight-hour days at school, and I can tell he’s spent at the end of the day. I was also angry at the not-so-subtle suggestion that there was no saying “no” to homework, as noted on the paper. It made me want to throw it directly in the garbage.
At the same time, I didn’t want to disrespect the classroom policies. Even though I knew we wouldn’t be taking the time each night to complete any amount of homework, I politely put the piece of paper and his composition notebook back in his backpack, knowing it will stay blank all year. If anyone has something to say about it, I’ll have to explain that regardless of what the school believes is reasonable, I do not consider homework to be a productive use of our time. Therefore, my son won’t be doing it.
Instead, he’ll be enjoying his very limited free time by playing outside with his neighborhood friends until dinner, having a bath, and going to bed early so that he can meet the already very high standards of his increasingly academic preschool.
I’m not trying to be a rebel. Honestly, if I could find a single good reason why a 4-year-old should do homework, I might attempt to have him do it. However, more and more often, we’re seeing schools drop homework altogether. One analysis even suggests there is really no academic benefit to homework at all.
Call me crazy, but I’m also not overly concerned with my young child’s academic abilities right now anyway. I’m far more interested in his emotional and mental health, as well as his ability to make friends and keep marching into that classroom with confidence. Saddling him with homework each night isn’t going to help achieve any of those things. In fact, I know from experience that forcing very young children to complete academic tasks they may not be ready for only makes them despise school, rather than achieve any real gains, academic or otherwise.
Allison Slater Tate, a mother of four in Orlando, Florida, agrees. She says she, too, opted out of making her oldest child to homework when it was given at the age of 4.
“I decided not to have him do it because frankly, I am against homework for kids through elementary school, and it was a burden for us at home,” says Tate. “I had younger kids and he had a 7:30 bedtime. It just was not a priority for us.”
On top of that, Tate says she believes homework is counterproductive.
“I think homework for younger kids kills their love of learning and … gives them a negative association with schoolwork,” she says.
While she may have been right on, her son’s teacher wasn’t so forgiving when it came to his report card.
“His lack of homework completion was duly noted on his report card, which I duly threw in the trash without a second thought,” says Tate.
When it came time for Tate’s youngest to go to school, she picked a school that had a no-homework policy instead.
While homework for the youngest learners might be the new standard, that doesn’t mean it’s beneficial. Even though I believe parents should try to get on board with school policies, we are also parents first. We aren’t walking advocates for our children’s schools. We have to advocate for our own kids — and sometimes, that means breaking a rule or two. Especially when the rule is nightly homework for 4-year-olds.