I remember sitting with my son in the evening after school as he did his homework. It wasn’t a happy time for us. Most of the work sent home was busy work. It was never fun and my son never enjoyed it. Maybe I should have pushed him harder to do it, but I just couldn’t get on board with the idea of giving up precious family time for busy work.
The problem, though, was that if he didn’t do the homework, he’d be punished at school or forced to do it at his recess (which the teachers never considered as “punishment”). More than a few times I had to go to the school and advocate for my son and my family, explaining why what the family was doing was more important than copying the same words over again and again or coloring in the sets of three (or whatever) on a math paper. As a working mom, I had only a small handful of hours a day to spend with my children and I chose to prioritize that time together over homework. The school had him for seven hours a day. I wanted the remainder of his waking hours to be spent playing games with his family, playing outside, learning how to help with dinner or help to change the oil on the car.
Of course, the school never agreed. Once I was on a committee to develop a new charter school and I pitched the idea of project-based learning and home being an extension of the school day, not for paperwork, but for active learning. The rest of the committee looked at me like I was crazy. They were fine with the concept of project based learning, but they wanted their children to have lots of homework. To them, lots of homework meant more learning.
Huh? That simply made no sense to me. As I continued to explore the idea of a charter school it became more and more clear to me that in many respects a charter school would be just smaller, friendlier version of a regular public school. That’s a good thing, but not what I wanted for my son.
So, after a series of events that sped up my plans by about 5 months, I pulled my son out of school and began homeschooling him. He was skeptical at first, but I wooed him with promises of learning the things he wants to learn and not the things that other people have decided are important for him. I sealed the deal with the “no homework” promise.
After three days he was sold. and I’m not sure I could get him to attend a public school now even if I wanted to. He’s picked up on what real learning is and how exciting it is when he directs his learning himself.
When I was a classroom teacher, I would sit through professional development sessions where they would tell us that the teacher should not be the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side. I knew what it meant, but I could never really figure out how to implement that approach operationally in a classroom with 37 children.
But now I really get it. I am the guide on the side. Learning takes place in a million ways during our homeschool days, and even though we do much of our work at home, there’s no homework here.