Childhood is a unique experience when you grown up isolated in the mountains, off-the-grid, on 160 acres of forest. My children don’t suffer from the typical causes of play deficit as outlined by Kaboom, a non-profit trying to committed to “saving play for America’s children”:
- School recess
- Play opportunities in your neighborhood
- Helicopter parents
- Structured after-school activities
- Indoor screen time
We still have two recesses at our K-8 one teacher schoolhouse.
We don’t need parks or playgrounds in our neighborhood. Nature is our playground. Although there is a lack of peers due to our remoteness, it does not impede my children’s play, just their social development.
Mountain parents tend not to hover as much as city parents, letting children get the bumps, bruises, and scrapes rocks and sticks will give. Sure, we warn not to wander too far because of mountain lions and bears, but there’s always a dog around to bark a warning.
Structured after-school activities simply don’t exist. It’s a two-hour drive to the nearest soccer practice.
It isn’t exactly Little House on the Prairie here. We do have a Wii, satellite TV, and internet. We do not control our children’s screen time, and it has never been an issue. They want to be outside or doing creative projects inside (or both!).
Although we don’t suffer from the typical causes of play deficits in American childhood, there is one problem that does interfere with our freedom to play: homework.
Before I had children, I taught elementary school for five years. Yes, I assigned homework (lots of it). It was what was expected. Now, as a parent, my opinion on homework has changed.
Our family’s homework routine involves a short break right after school while Mommy goes on a hike, then we get it done before dinner and baths. My kids aren’t assigned an overburdening amount, yet I see the daylight hours dwindling as they sit at the kitchen counter filling out worksheets.
There are studies that say homework is effective at promoting student learning when assigned appropriately and parental support facilitates learning, but how consistently does that happen? Isn’t it more developmentally appropriate for children to have the freedom to simply play after having six to seven hours of structured activities at school all day?
There are studies that find homework can be harmful. As Penn State researchers explain:
More than that and there can be negative effects, studies suggest. Overburdened by homework, children may become disillusioned with school and lose motivation. And excessive homework can interfere with time otherwise spent connecting as a family by playing games, taking walks, or just talking about the day.
Even the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) found little support for homework after examining multiple studies:
With only rare exceptions, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement was found to be positive and was generally statistically different from zero. Thus, to conclude on the basis of the evidence in hand that doing homework can cause improved academic achievement would not be imprudent.
Homework can be effective and meaningful; however, teachers barely have time to create such lessons for the school day let alone for home. In a time of high stakes testing and pressure on teachers and schools to perform, homework amounts have been increasing for younger and younger students. The ramifications on play are significant.
If our children are suffering from play deficits, and homework has no benefit, why are we wasting our children’s precious time with worksheets when they could be playing?
Image credit: Some rights reserved by ianthes