The Homework Industrial Complex

Burnout. It’s a word we typically associate with adulthood, or maybe late adolescence. It is not a word one often hears used to describe children, especially very young children.

And yet here we are. The Los Angeles Times published a provocative article a few years back called “My Kid, a Burnout at 5.” The piece struck a chord and became something of a rallying point for parents who were fed up with what they saw as the new grind: a growing trend toward homework in preschool and kindergarten, including frequent testing by age 5.

The author explains:

When I was in kindergarten, there were ABCs, finger painting, a nap, and mommy picked you up at noon. Now kindergarten is a 30-hour-a-week job. There’s nightly homework; finger painting is a rare treat; and as for naps, there just isn’t time.

Have the needs of 5-year-olds really changed that much? Not according to [my son] Ricky. When I asked him what he liked most about school, he said, “Recess.”

Who could blame him? Sadly, homework remains a mainstay of many Los Angeles kindergarten programs, and some parents have even told me that it’s slowly creeping into the world of preschool as well. The justification may sound familiar: everybody just wants a head start.

But there are two big problems with homework for preschoolers. The first is daily: this is a miserable way to live, not to mention an overwhelming burden to place on little minds. The second is long-term: once your kid hates school, good luck ever trying to get her back.

Those of us who are lucky enough to work in childhood education, in Culver City preschools and beyond, have a unique opportunity to instill an early love of learning. Priority One during these first few years should be to preserve the wonder and the delight that come with acquiring new knowledge. It goes without saying that anything that sucks the fun out of school and home simultaneously should be off the table.

Few kids will retain this passion all the way through high school, but a more measured, reasonable and exhilarating head start can go a long way toward developing into adults who champion curiosity over distraction, and engagement over complacency.

So let’s all get it right the first time. And leave homework for the homeschoolers.