A Little Rant on Homework

I hear it all the time:

“Trying to get my son/daughter to do his/her homework every night is DRIVING ME CRAZY!”

And I totally get it.  Though my kids are pretty young, the bit of work they do bring home can bring them (and me) to tears.

My question is why? WHY? Why do they need homework?  And why do we as parents need to tie ourselves up in knots trying to get it done?

As I was thinking about writing this post, I started adding up all the things we as parents and kids “need” to do to stay “healthy” according to the experts (like, um….me).  And in thinking about all the advice I have heard (and given) about raising healthy kids, I have put together a little bit of a schedule of what might be a typical day for a “healthy” kid.

3:30: Get out of school

3:35-3:50: Transport home from school.  This might the bus, a scooter, or a mini-van.

3:50-4:05: Snack time.  No Cheetos and Coke for this kid.  Sliced apples, peanut butter, and organic milk is a better bet.

4:05-4:10: Unload backpack. As so much paperwork and books come home each night, our healthy kid should use only a rolling backpack so as not to cause skeletal problems down the road.  And all these papers take time to sort through and organize  – with the help of a parent of course.

4:10-5:10: Physical Activity.  As many schools have either cut out or drastically decreased their physical education courses, kids now need to get their exercise during non-school hours.  Whether it’s an organized sport or riding bikes around the block, experts tell us that kids need 60 minutes of vigorous play everyday to grow up to a healthy weight.

5:10-5:30: Bathe.  With all that activity, our healthy kid needs to get clean!

5:30-6:15: Cook dinner.  Healthy living doesn’t end with exercise, it also means eating a healthy diet.  And experts tell us that one way to instill healthy eating habits in kids is by teaching them how to cook.  So forget about going through the McDonald’s drive-in or throwing some hot dogs in the microwave – our healthy kid needs to learn how to cook healthy, from-scratch (preferably organic) meals.  All this teaching might mean that dinner prep takes a little longer – but it’s worth it!

6:15-6:45: Eat together.  We all know that eating dinner as a family is one of the best ways to encourage communication and family cohesion – family dinner time is also associated with better adjusted kids and teens.  Definitely don’t want our healthy kid to skip this.

6:45-7:00: Be responsible.  We all want responsible kids, and responsible kids have chores.  Clearing the table, doing the dishes, feeding the dog.  Our healthy kid needs to spend at least a few minutes each day helping keep the family and the house running smoothly.

7:00-8:00: Hobby time.  One of the things I often encourage kids to do is be involved in something outside of school.  Whether it’s Boy Scouts, church youth group, community theater, Lego club, or 4-H.  We know that hobbies can be a great stress reliever.  I also believe that spending time with kids who AREN’T part of a kid’s regular peer group (school friends) is important.  Gone are the lines that separate the “popular kids” from the “nerds” when you mix children from lots of different schools – our healthy kid surely needs time for this.

8:00: Eek! Where did the time go?  It’s 8:00 and our healthy kid hasn’t had a moment to relax and enjoy unstructured time – something the experts also warn us not to forego.  And don’t forget that many American children (and adults) suffer from too-little sleep.  So if your elementary school aged child needs to wake at 7:00am, then she should probably be going to bed around 8:00pm.

So where does homework fit in, in the life of a healthy child?  My imaginary schedule just doesn’t leave room for it – and I think that is exactly the spot in which many families find themselves. With all the other things that we need to accomplish in the precious hours after school, is it really necessary, or productive, to spend more than a few minutes of it doing school work?  And as many of you probably noticed, I made some assumptions in my schedule, namely: our healthy kid has at least one stay-at-home parent, no siblings with their own crazy schedules, and not much time is spent driving from one activity to the next – further issues that complicate many families’ lives.

What am I missing? Where and how does homework fit into a healthy lifestyle?  And what does doing hours of homework each week accomplish?