We don’t assign formal homework to our students. It’s actually a district policy, but we also don’t believe that homework serves any real purpose other than causing frustration at home and making work for students. Instead, we assign a list of activities students can do at home instead of homework. We get WAY more engagement and everyone loves it.
Why not traditional homework?
When you go to work all day, do you want to come home and do three more hours of work? Of course not. We look at homework like overtime hours. We want our students to use their time at home to recharge and then return to school to do some serious learning.
Some students need the practice, but when a student doesn’t understand how to do something, sending it home to cause frustration isn’t going to help. Not all parents are able to help teach their children how to do a concept. This can be due to language barriers, their own lack of knowledge or for practical reasons like having the time. Some parents teach their children a different procedure which further confuses the student.
Some students don’t need to practice. They have already mastered a concept, so making them do more at home seems like a punishment.
Some children are involved in other activities or sports. While we don’t want any student to be overscheduled, having interests outside of school is important. Students should have hobbies or activities they feel passionate about.
It takes work to make up homework. The time spent planning, collecting, and marking the homework is not worth the time. That time could better be spent planning for specific lessons that can help students grow and develop. Homework cannot be assessed because there’s no guarantee the student did it. It’s not possible to identify the level of independence when it’s done away from the teacher. It just becomes a big make-work project for everyone.
What Activities Can Students Do Instead of Homework?
Reading For Pleasure
We try to encourage a love of reading. Reading comes in many forms and we try to encourage students to read with their parents. This can be just sitting in a room where everyone is reading their own book.
We tell our parents not to worry about what their child is reading or if their child is reading correctly. Instead, we ask them to let us know if they have any concerns and we try to address that at school. Our reasoning is that we want reading to be loved at home. We can be the bad guys at school and that takes a lot of pressure off parents.
If a student it struggling with reading, we don’t want reading at home to make the problem worse. We try to work on the problem at school. Parents want to help, but sometimes they don’t always have the tools to help.
We are morally opposed to reading logs because it only works for the students that love to fill out paperwork. Sometimes reading logs are a requirement by the administration.
To counter this, we created these bingo-style reading challenges. It’s not about counting words, pages, chapters or books. Instead, we encourage students to try reading a variety of styles of texts. You can find a copy of Reado in our Resource Library or we can send you a copy when you join our email list. There is also a French version in the Resource Library.
Cooking or Baking With Family
There are so many skills involved in cooking and baking. Working with measurements helps with math. Reading directions helps with reading. Problem-solving happens naturally. It’s a big life skill. Sometimes students will bring you treats at school. It sounds like a win-win.
Over the years, we’ve had students who started to help make dinner or their school lunches. When it’s done for “homework” it doesn’t seem like it’s a chore.
Building or Creating Something With Someone
If there is someone in the student’s family that can share their knowledge, this is a great way for a student to spend their time. It’s doesn’t have to be a big project like building a treehouse. It can be a simple as making a bead necklace.
We often have an oversupply of crafting materials that get donated to schools. Sometimes we’ll let students make little kits of supplies that they can use at home.
When I was young my dad taught me how to hammer a nail. I wanted to put nails in everything, but that’s wasn’t really a possibility. To appease me, my dad put a giant stump in the backyard and bought me a bag of nails. I would hammer all those nails into the stump for hours on end. When I ran out of nails, my dad would tell me to pull all the nails out. It kept me busy for hours, but more importantly, I remember sitting there for hours telling my dad all about my day while I pounded nails into the stump.
The stump lasted a few years and we eventually threw it in a campfire. We found hundreds of nails in the ash when it burned away.
While many tools are unsafe to use without parent supervision, there are lots of things children can make. They can sew, knit, crochet, bead, glue, cut (with scissors), draw or colour. The idea is to do something together. The child can teach the adult or the adult can teach the child. The finished result is completely irrelevant.
Playing Board and Card Games
Board games are relatively inexpensive. These have been a staple in our household for my whole life. When my kids were younger, we played board games every weekend together. We keep several games in the classroom to use for indoor recesses. Sometimes we have students ask to borrow the games and we let them. Just make sure all the pieces are in a small zippered bag and have a list of what is included (or missing) so all the parts come back.
A deck of cards can be found for about a dollar. There are hundreds of games to learn and most have instructions that can be found online. We encourage students to try out new games with their families and then let classmates know which ones they’ve enjoyed. Sometimes we’ll even print out instructions to send home so everyone can try.
Games are a great way for families to spend quality time together. Learning to take turns, share and sportsmanship are skills that transfer into many other parts of life. Most games include an element of reading or math.
Playing Games Outside
Spending time outside is more important than ever. There are lots of games to play outside. We always share the site Push2Play with families because it’s full of ideas.
Our school owns several sets of outdoor game equipment. Some of these are more expensive than others. We try to teach students games they can teach their families.
Some games need equipment like Bocce Ball, Bolo Ball or Croquet. In the winter, students can go skating or snowshoeing. We have a whole list of winter activities in this post: You’ll Love These Exciting Winter Classroom Activities. Less expensive games are frisbee, hula hooping or anything with a ball. Sometimes you can find plastic hoop toss or horseshoe toss games that you can lend to students.
Remember lawn darts? We’re not sure who thought they were a good idea, but we had them when we were kids. The neighbourhood bully happened to be over at our house one day, picked up a dart and threw it at my house. We had cedar siding, but that dart was stuck in the side of the house and he couldn’t get it out. My dad was so mad. He made the kid come and help him remove the siding, sand it, stain it and replace the piece that had a giant dart hole in it. Never had a problem with that bully again.
Spending Time in Nature
Our school is in the city which means most of our students are city dwellers. There are several big parks near the school and the city does have many park and trail systems to enjoy.
We send home a link to all the parks and trails in our community. Families are encouraged to visit as many as they can during the school year. Most communities have similar websites, so we recommend you find one for your location.
Spending time hiking, biking, or walking in nature helps students learn about the environment. They learn how to protect and conserve the environment. Physical activity is good for the body and the mind. It helps regulate emotions, stay healthy and encourages quality sleep.
Families can pack a light lunch and spend some quality time together. We give our students this Nurturing Nature Activity they can do with their families. You can find it in our Resource Library or we can send it to you when you join our email list.
Students that help with chores are often more adjusted at school. They know how to clean up after themselves and are sometimes more organized than students who have parents that always pick up after them
When children help with chores, it has two benefits. Students learn independence. As they gain responsibilities, they earn more independence. It’s natural for growing up and chores are important life skills. If the children are doing their share of the chores, it frees up more time for families to spend quality time together.
This doesn’t mean there should be a list of chores that students have to go do. It means that families should do their chores together. Students can sort laundry, fold laundry, sweep, vacuum, dust, shovel snow or mow lawns (with supervision). They can rake leaves or weed gardens. Children can pick up toys and empty the dishwasher.
There doesn’t need to be any special incentive, other than getting to spend time together because the chores are done.
Learning Something New
Whether it’s learning to play an instrument, working on another language or using a YouTube tutorial to learn to make something, the process of learning something that students are passionate about is good. We encourage our students to do passion projects. There is nothing formal about these projects. The student decides everything about the project including what they’ll do, how long it will take and how they will show what they’ve learned.
We let out students bring these projects to school (sometimes it’s just pictures or video) to share with the class. One of our favourite projects was a student who wants to own a bakery for pet treats. She tried out several recipes, testing them all on her dog. The best part is that they were made with ingredients that were also safe for humans so we all got to try them.
Have a Conversation
Sometimes it’s as simple as “tell your family what you learned today.” We assigned sitting and eating together to have a conversation.
We try to encourage parents to ask better questions of their children to help foster better conversations. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” we tell parents to say, “What are you reading in class these days?” After a while, parents get really good at asking questions that get big answers.
Eat Well, Get Your Sleep, Recharge Your Brain
Sometimes students just need permission to be kids at home. The night before big tests or assessments, this is our usual homework. We ask students to do something they enjoy to relax and just have fun. We send study guides home for families about two weeks before any test, but we remind students that they shouldn’t be cramming information into their brains the night before an exam. Sometimes we need to remind parents that studying for hours the night before a test isn’t the best thing for the brain. It can cause anxiety, so we focus on ways to help learn to take tests.
It’s elementary school. We already know where students stand before they take any test. While it’s important to learn how to study, long-term test-taking anxiety takes much longer to unlearn.
Do you assign homework? What kinds of assignments do you assign? Let us know.