A few days ago, I asked a group of public school kindergarten teachers what they thought about homework. I wasn’t surprised when they said their kindergarteners usually had homework. And I wasn’t surprised when they said that kindergarten parents requested and even demanded homework. But I nearly fell off my chair when they talked about the time it took to correct homework. My first thought was, “What does homework at age 5 look like such that you can correct it?”

That evening, I pondered aloud writing my column about kindergarten homework. My teenage daughter looked at me, a bit startled. “I thought you wouldn’t think homework in kindergarten was a good idea,” she said.

“I don’t,” I replied. “But sometimes compromising on ideas is a good starting point when you disagree.”

Let me begin with two assumptions. First, if we are assigning homework to children, it should have the goal of promoting learning and healthy development. Second, homework takes the place of something else. It is a mistake to assume that homework trumps (fill in the blank) for optimizing a young child’s education. Homework is an active choice that will then take the place of another activity that a child might be doing.

Although I could write a novel on kindergarten homework, the following is a sampler of possibilities (written to teachers). After each “homework assignment,” I briefly state why it meets a learning goal for a kindergarten student.

Fine dining: Each week, send home a question or story starter that the children need to discuss at dinner with their family. Integrate the question into what the children are learning at school, so that they may have something to contribute to the discussion. For example, during a unit on weather you might ask, “Tell me a story about the biggest storm you remember.” Let parents know they can pick which night of the week to feature their child’s question at dinner, but that keeping a consistent night helps teach their child about planning and time. This activity builds vocabulary, listening skills, taking turns and being a contributor by sharing knowledge.

Do you see what I see? Collect a series of interesting pictures and laminate them or post them on your teacher Web page. Old calendars, magazines, post cards and art are all good sources. Each week, a child “checks out” a picture to take home (like a library book). The question is, “Do you see what I see?” The child can dictate a story or description of the picture, or create a story with other people at home (adults and/or siblings). If this project takes off with a particular class, put the picture in a Ziploc bag and send it home with a traveling journal. Have each family record its story in the journal. This activity promotes perspective-taking, breaking set (creativity) and core literacy skills.

Board game night:** Encourage families to play a board or card game with their children one night each week. Ask your PTA to create a board game lending library, or create one in your classroom. Yard sales are great places to quickly collect board games inexpensively. Have the children make a list of everything that belongs in the game’s box (literacy, math skills) so that it is returned intact after it goes out on loan. Board games build excellent math skills, sequencing, focus, perspective-taking (of the other players) and critical reasoning (winning the game).**

What’s that? The goal of this game is to find unusual objects that might stump others. This may work best as a “wild card” for homework, if you find an unusual object that satisfies your homework for the night. Have the child take a poll of the family members as to what it might be and then open the guessing to the class the next day. This promotes breaking set (creativity), communicating an idea and perspective-taking.

Mystery sort:** Collections are one of the most flexible, natural teaching tools for young children.** A collection can be anything that a child is interested in. You can also create classroom collections to check out (such as a library book).

Using collections to sort “same” and “different” teaches an essential reasoning skill that is fundamental to math and science. You can start by sorting socks into pairs. But once this skill is mastered, the fun begins thinking of unique sorts. Have your child take a favorite collection (i.e. trains) and sort them into two piles. Then you guess the rule for sorting them!

Just imagine. Someday you might ask your child, “Got homework?” and hear an enthusiastic “yes!”

*Julie A. Riess, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist. She is the director of the Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar College and is on the board of trustees of the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum.*

Source: Poughkeepsie Journal – http://goo.gl/Ovp8f