School Age

Homework: What is Best for the Child?

Six- to 12-year-old children sit in school for six hours. They listen to lectures, read, calculate numbers and compose sentences. Hopefully, the children of working parents then go to a quality after-school program. Once there, the question is what is the best use of a school-aged child’s time from 3 to 6 p.m.?

Parents’ Perspective

Parents often say that with the school year come dreaded homework conflicts. The long school days begin with drop-off at child care at 7 a.m. and arriving home in the evening around 6:30 p.m. Bedtime is at 9 p.m., leaving just a 2 ½ -3 hour span of time for the child and parent to be together at the end of the day. In that short time, dinner has to be made and eaten, chores (like cleaning the kitchen) have to be completed, baths have to be taken, clothes have to be selected and laid out for the next day AND homework has to be completed.
Elementary schools expect homework to take students no more than an hour, but in reality it often takes longer. According to parents, children are regularly up past their bedtime, trying to finish an assignment. The combination of tiredness and hunger (or fullness from just having eaten) is not conducive to effective studying. If a child doesn’t do their homework right after school at child care, it means the parent spends less time with them learning about the child’s day.

Consequently, parents may want their child’s child care program or provider to instruct the child to complete their homework before the parent picks up the child. This simple request presents a not so simple conflict for the provider.

Provider Perspective

Educators and child care experts believe in developing the “whole child.” Children need time to practice their social skills, space to exercise their physical needs and the environment to enrich their cognitive abilities. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), an appropriate after-school program offers a wide variety of activity choices for children and nutritious snacks. “A quality program features private areas, good books, sports, expeditions, clubs and home activities like cooking and woodworking.” Of course, programs can also “provide help with homework, tutoring and other learning activities” but not as their only function.

A quality after-school program should offer children the chance to have fun, feel comforted and be excited by learning. Children should look forward to going to after-school care. According to the After-School Programs for Urban Youth digest, programs should “foster the self-worth of each child and develop the children’s self-care skills.” Quality programs include recreational activities that promote individual and team sports, help children develop thinking and problem solving skills and spark their curiosity and love of learning.

Solution

Andy Strauss, Assistant Director of Vista Grande Kid’s Country in Danville and Los Medanos College instructor, says it’s all about “finding a balance”. Strauss believes the homework policy at any program should reflect the needs of the children and their families. Kid’s Country developed a “Homework Contract” in which the children and families make an agreement about where homework is to be done. “We felt the value of the contract allowed families to make this important decision together. This takes the staff out of the role of policing homework and makes the child responsible for choices of what to do at the program and what to do at home. It also serves to remind families to check their child’s homework and keep in touch with the school.”

Academics are important, but putting on plays, kicking a ball and deciding on a community service project can also enhance children’s performance at school. Parents need to find a quality after-school program that agrees with their parenting philosophies and care givers need to work with families and promote healthy environments for school age children.