To Do Homework, or Not to Do Homework?

Posted Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 @ 11:16 am by Kathryn
Categories: Education, Journal, Motherhood

It’s the beginning of the school year. Several friends on Facebook posted laments about homework and their children’s resistance. So I thought I’d write my thoughts down. Some of these were extracted from a letter I saw on someone’s blog awhile back. But first, our history of homework:

In TK, the teacher assigned two double-sided pages of worksheets each week: a total of 4 pages weekly. Students took them home Monday and submitted them Friday. I stood over Claire’s shoulder and made her do them. This was a struggle. They also took home picture books to read and were required to do something creative (a drawing, a re-telling) for class. Claire did those willingly. We had to keep a reading log as well, which I managed.

In Kindergarten, the teacher sent worksheets home daily, two double-sided pages, Monday through Thursday: a total of 16 pages weekly. The teacher never looked at it, because I and other parents did homework check-in and corrected it. Claire resisted doing homework, and I began to question its necessity. By December, I decided I was sick of the fight and of being the bad guy, so I stopped pushing her to do it. Her learning didn’t suffer. The teacher chided her for not doing it, but I no longer felt a responsibility to enforce it. There was also a book project similar to the one in TK, which she enjoyed, and a reading log, which I filled out.

In 1st grade, on Tuesdays her teacher sent home a packet of 12-13 double-sided pages, which were due the following Monday: 24-26 pages a week. I told the teacher my position on homework — it’s unnecessary and busy work. She accepted that. However, I wanted to be a good class parent, so I started the year by pushing Claire to do it, and if I sat with her and scribed, she would. But there were still fights. About a month in we stopped doing it. Twenty minutes of reading daily was expected (but not a reading log), and Claire did this, as well as an online reading program called Raz Kids. With Raz Kids, her reading took off. She loved earning points to decorate her Raz Rocket, and that love flowed over into regular books.

This year in 2nd grade, Mrs. L sends home one double-sided page Monday through Thursday: so far, 8 pages a week. If there is class work that is not completed in the alotted time, that is sent home as well. Claire has done them willingly, without prompting or help. They are “busy work” sheets — tracing and printing letters, simple math, connect the dots. Teacher also sends a spelling word list with a menu of activities to do with the words to help them learn. I like the menu: there are options to write stories using the words, spell them with scrabble tiles, cut out letters and tape them, write the words with your finger in rice, etc. We’ll see how the homework progresses through the year. There will be a reading log, which I have decided to let Claire manage as well. If Claire begins to get frustrated and not want to do the worksheets, I’m inclined to let it go, unless she is struggling with the material.

I’ve become aware of something: parents have power and choice. Just because the teacher sends homework home (in the form of worksheets), doesn’t mean we have to force it. No one will give us a failing grade as parents; it won’t go down on our permanent records. And our children won’t fail, either. As long as they are making progress with what’s being taught in the classroom, there is no need to add to the school day with more worksheets. Enough is enough.

And here is the body of the letter I have at the ready, just in case. Feel free to adapt and use this.

Dear Teacher,

My daughter is excited to be in your class. She loves learning and looks forward to what the year holds. Each school year brings new routines, and I’d like to address homework. I’m reluctant about its use in elementary school for a number of reasons.

  • From the reading I’ve done, for young children (under around age 14-15 years) there is no scientific research that supports the inclusion of homework in their extra-curricular activities. Indeed, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of [primary school] elementary students” (Cooper, 1989, p. 101). Cooper (one of the most respected homework researchers in the world) indicated that while he was personally pro-homework, there appears to be no academic advantage for children to do homework. In many studies the relationship between homework and “learning” (often defined as grades or standardized test scores) is negative.
  • My child is involved in a number of after school activities — chorus, art, and swimming — that enrich her life, teach skills, and generally make for full days. I would prefer she do these activities after a six hours of didactic learning and not stress over additional homework. We also believe that playtime and outdoor time is a form of learning and very necessary.
  • We have found that homework in the form of daily or weekly worksheets is a source of stress and strife in our home. Since she does worksheets at school, as long she is making progress, we haven’t pushed this. I have not seen evidence to support the belief that homework helps students develop the characteristics it is often suggested will be useful, such as ability to organize time, develop good work habits, think independently, and so on.
  • There are two types of homework we do encourage and require. First is daily reading. We read daily as parents to Claire, and Claire reads on her own. We don’t require a minimum time limit on the reading or dictate the number of pages to be read. This removal of autonomy turns reading into a chore rather than a pleasure. Nor do we push for her to record pages read or summaries of what she read. Reading is for leisure and enrichment.
  • The other form of “acceptable” homework is related to projects from school that interest Claire. We actively encourage research, projects, writing (stories, poems, essays, and speeches). This helps children in information gathering, critical thinking, logical formatting of content, and presentation skills. Plus it gets them actively “discovering” in their learning, and sinks much deeper than much other “busy” work.

We hope you understand that our position on homework is meant to encourage our daughter’s love of learning. Let us know how we can support this process at home.


For a suggestion on how to handle worksheet homework, read this post as well.

From this:

reading brown bear brown bear

To this!

more reading

Phoning It In

Posted Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 @ 5:13 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Journal

I’ve been doing the bare minimum for the household recently. And I feel like I’ve checked-out in the mothering department a bit too. Escaping into good novels and such. It’s the doldrums of summer. I spent today going through my cookbook, sorting herbs and spices, and taking inventory of the pantry. This way I can get my mojo back when school starts next week.

“Planning complex, beautiful meals and investing one’s heart and time in their preparation is the opposite of self-indulgence. Kitchen-based family gatherings are process-oriented, cooperative, and in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful. A lot of calories get used up before anyone sits down to consume. But more importantly, a lot of talk happens first, news exchanged, secrets revealed across generations, paths cleared with a touch on the arm. I have given and received some of my life’s most important hugs with those big oven-mitt potholders on both hands.”

— Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

broccoli quiche

Our First Wildlife Rescue

Posted Monday, August 10th, 2015 @ 12:31 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Education, Journal, Nature

Late Sunday morning, I was wiping the kitchen counter and thinking about what I would do with Claire that day. We were getting a late start and had not gone to church. In my left eye’s peripheral vision I noticed motion. I looked over, and there sat a little Western Screech Owl on a table next to Claire’s play house. Our neighbors have a huge evergreen tree, and at night I’ve heard owl hoots on occasion.


I gasped a little. He was tiny! And gorgeous. I grabbed my camera and carefully moved to the screen door. I took photos through the screen. He lifted his wings and flapped once, going nowhere. I crept closer and slid the screen door open. He didn’t move. I snapped more photos. I took a step closer. He just… sat. I said hello. One wing hung a little askew. I thought: He’s injured or sick.


Then Claire came out, and I said, “Be very quiet, and look! Watch the owl while I get the pet carrier.” I hurried to the garage to fetch it, and when I returned, he was still there. Claire talked softly to him, telling him how beautiful he was. I grabbed leather gloves from my garden chest and put them on. Then I moved slowly to him, expecting him to fly, or try to get away, or fight. He didn’t move a feather.


So I gently lifted and put him into the cat carrier. While I called the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley to learn their hours, Claire crooned to and told him stories. She named him Tecolote. We arrived at the center and they took him in, saying we could call the next day to learn what happened. Claire was very proud to help rescue the owl.


I called this morning. He has no injuries or illness. He’s just young! Barely past fledgling stage at 146 grams. He’s gripping with his feet, has good tail control, is eating, is pecking at handlers (good defenses). They’ll keep him awhile longer to ensure he has the skills to survive and release him!


The Risk of Assumption

Posted Tuesday, August 4th, 2015 @ 4:06 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Community, Education, Journal, Motherhood, Social Science

Last year in first grade, Claire adored her teacher. Her teacher was wonderful, warm, funny, and had high expectations. She loves kids.

At the end of the year, though, Claire began saying that her teacher hated her. This total 180 in her perception startled me. She also said she didn’t love her teacher anymore. Claire even told strangers — while being sworn in as a Junior Ranger, for example, when the ranger asked her if she liked school — “Yeah, but my teacher hated me.”

I met with her former teacher today for coffee, because we also became friends over the past year. This teacher was assigned to teach second grade next year, so there was a possibility that Claire would have her again. I told Mrs. G about Claire’s story, and she was surprised, puzzled, and concerned. Now, my girl can hold a super glue grip on a grudge, and I was puzzled too but had made a shoulder-shrug peace with it.

This afternoon I told Claire, “Hey, I saw Mrs. G today for coffee!”

Claire: “Why?”

Me: “Because we’re friends. I mentioned to her that you think she hates you. She was sad about that, and surprised. She said, ‘I love Claire!’ What could have I done?'”

Claire: “Well… I’ll tell you what happened. [pause] I told Mrs. G, ‘Next year I really hope I get a different teacher.’ And she said in a stern voice — but maybe it was just her accent — ‘Well, then I’ll make sure you’re not in my class next year.’ And so I thought she hated me.”

Ohhhhhhh! Wow! So I had the opportunity to clarify, and say that Mrs. G was actually giving Claire what she wanted. Claire said yes, she understood, but it was the stern voice. And I pointed out that sometimes people have a serious tone of voice but that it doesn’t mean they are mad. Claire is very sensitive to sternness — it makes her anxious and then she becomes defensive, or even goes on the offense, to protect her feelings. (Her assumption is similar to the phenomenon of bitchy resting face. Sometimes women are assumed to be angry, unfriendly, or bitchy because they aren’t smiling and sparkling. Here is something women with BRF would like you to know.)

After this, Claire said, “Tell Mrs. G I must have misunderstood. And that I think she understands that sometimes you have to move on.” I asked if she thought Mrs. G still hates her. “No,” she replied, “I think she feels loving to me. When can we have a play date with her daughter?”

claire presentation

The Face of a Miserable Student

Contented Dazzlement

Posted Tuesday, August 4th, 2015 @ 1:13 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Spirit

I sit on the chair with the cat, Smokey, a soft gray comma curved against my leg. I notice cool air skimming my bare toes. I feel sleepy, hypnotized by the steady march of the wall clock’s second hand. What should I write? What does the world want to hear?

I could be, should be, doing chores: vacuuming, laundry, culling unnecessary plastic objects from the closets.

To an observer, I’m doing nothing. Yet I feel so full, like the Mississippi river, fluctuating underneath with powerful currents of possibility.

In the past few months I’ve been following the still, small voice within. It’s as though I am knitting a complex lace shawl with many colors. I knit the pattern for a few repeats, and then I pause until the next part of the pattern becomes clear and knit that. When I look back, I see the design more clearly. The question is which color thread to pick up next, and how to weave it into my life.

“Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.”

–Lewis Thomas



Posted Monday, July 13th, 2015 @ 7:43 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Nature

In Yellowstone, we stopped for lunch by the roadside using the provided wood picnic tables. This plant was our companion. Life takes root anywhere.

Car Talk – But Not the NPR Show

Posted Saturday, July 11th, 2015 @ 11:57 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Nature, Recreation

The other day Claire and I were headed to Popeye’s for supper. The car started, but it wouldn’t shift into gear. Hub was able to override a safety mechanism to force it into gear and drove it to our local Honda dealer. They thought it was a switch failure, and since the car is warrantied, they replaced it. Car didn’t work. So they replaced another part. Car still didn’t work.

This morning, we found out what’s wrong. Somewhere in Wyoming, a little critter like the one below managed to crawl under and into our car, probably to sleep in a warm spot. And then it proceeded to chew all the insulation off the wiring on the transmission harness. This is causing systems to short out all over the car. We are lucky this didn’t happen until after we got home.

Because a problem like this is fairly rare, the dealer has to order the part. It might take a week to arrive — the day before our next camping trip. Then they have to take the entire transmission out to replace the harness, and there is no estimate as to time yet. However, we did get an estimate for the repair: roughly $2,100. Ouch!! Thank goodness for car insurance.

Between the trailer part falling over on the way to Wyoming — which Hub rigged a fix for since he’s that kind of guy — and this, I chuckle. So much for camping as a budget friendly vacation! Oh, but it was worth it.

golden mantle squirrel


Posted Friday, July 10th, 2015 @ 7:30 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Nature, Quotes

“One of the strangest things about life is that it will chug on, blind and oblivious, even as your private world – your little carved-out sphere – is twisting and morphing, even breaking apart. One day you have parents; the next day you’re an orphan. One day you have a place and a path. The next day you’re lost in the wilderness.

And still the sun rises and clouds mass and drift and people shop for groceries and toilets flush and blinds go up and down. That’s when you realize that most of it – life, the relentless mechanism of existing – isn’t about you. It doesn’t include you at all. It will thrust onward even after you’ve jumped the edge.”

-Lauren Oliver

The other day as I trimmed a twisting vine that had wrapped around my young maple tree, I marveled at the persistence of life. How did the vine know, or perceive, the tree branches in order to wrap around them? Some vines entwined in the fence lattice. A few tendrils hung loose, waving in the air, uncommitted. They had not found their destination yet.

I relentlessly pulled all the tendrils to free the tree. I did this knowing that at some point I’ll do it again. Life creates itself and follows its own expression. In the form of plants, it expresses the vine and tree. In the form of my own body and soul, it expresses in writing, art, relationships, interaction, all filtered through the consciousness that’s been shaped by this body and its experiences.

When I die, and the consciousness that is specific to this body and its life leaves, where does it go? I don’t know. But I find comfort in the fact that life itself continues, and I tell myself a story that this “me” will join a bigger consciousness capable of witnessing dimensions I cannot conceive. Or maybe there is nothing. What a mystery!

At Home

Posted Friday, July 10th, 2015 @ 6:57 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Meditation, Nature, Quotes
tetons in the morning

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!

–John Muir

Enlightenment Through a Cat

Posted Friday, May 1st, 2015 @ 1:11 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Arts, Buddhism, Community, Humanities, Journal, Meditation, Nature, Poetry, Science, Social Science, Spirit, Technology

God has come into my life. Now, don’t click away. Don’t let that word shut you down. I might not mean what you think I mean. It’s not a word I’ve used in my life for years. Stay with me while I meander through my story.


This is Smokey. He’s been around a long time. He was in the neighborhood when we moved into the house five years ago. He belongs to no one and everyone. For years, I would scratch behind his ears and say hello, and then I’d go on with my life. Someone fed him. Someone gave him shelter in bad weather. But he was just around, and I did not seek him, nor did he seek me. (Of course, my Stella cat was still with us until January 2014.)

In January, Smokey began hanging out in our back yard. He would sleep in our garden. He liked to pop bubbles with Claire. He starting sitting on my lap. He allows me to trim his nails. Even though we didn’t feed him, he stuck around. Last month, I began feeding him. I did this after he brought me a live bird he’d caught and delivered to my feet. So now he gets two meals a day.


I made him a little shelter when rainstorms came. But mostly, he likes to sleep on me or the mulch.

He was injured in early April, so I took him to a vet. He didn’t want to go, but once there he chilled in the exam room waiting for the doctor. I’ve never seen a cat so mellow at a vet’s office.


My husband is not open to having another pet, so for now, Smokey is not permitted in the house. He strides right in the front door some mornings, though, clearly telling us he wants to be ours. I usher him out.

The other day as I sat on my patio with Smokey on my lap, this thought arose: “Every afternoon, God takes a nap on my lap.”


Where did that come from? I don’t know, but it felt true and real. Last Saturday morning after I fed him, I reflected on the morning. And one sentence that came was, “I fed God breakfast, and now he has gone to stroll the neighborhood, looking after all the world.”

Oh my goodness. Yes. God sought me out. God has chosen me. God loves me, and I love God. This word — God — is loaded with so much history for me. It evokes vastly different meanings for people, and so I avoid using it. But this is what IS in my life. This cat. His arrival, his presence, is a call to sit and be quiet. An invitation to intimacy. I recognize God in my life. THIS is what it means to have a relationship with God!


Extending that metaphor, I experience God everywhere. In every person, animal, plant, and rock. God is everything and everywhere. God is found in acts of care, and God is found in simple being. My goodness! Now I get what namaste means! Yeah, yeah, I’d always known what it meant, but now I experience it in my being.


I have used many words to suggest what is divine in my life: Presence, the Mystery, Buddhamind, Spirit, Being, Ground of Being, Life, Chi, Love. They allude to what I mean; they can only suggest. Just as the a photo of the moon is not the moon, a word is not the thing it references. Something as multi-faceted as the Universe can be explored through science, math, literature, and art, but it cannot be totally integrated by the human mind. So we need shorthand, a word or a number, like X, to represent the holy mystery of All That Exists and our relationship with it. Lately, that “something” is the word God. So, God it is.