Is Homework Essential for Preschoolers to Get Ahead?

By this fourth daughter, the one who now at age three executes diving somersaults off the couch rather than mere rolling somersaults, I really have fallen from the scheduled activity wagon. I know she’d enjoy music or dance or gymnastics (and in the fall, solemn promise, she’ll do something movement-oriented and this summer, she’ll receive some swimming instruction) but she’s been two until a little bit ago and we have so much busy in our lives it seems like Herculean scheduling efforts to attend a class that might last 45 minutes or less.

Under things I’d never orchestrate her doing: Junior Kumon. Apparently, it’s catching on, though, according to one of those pressure-cooker-things-parents-nowadays-are-doing articles in the New York Times (you know, the articles meant to make parents feel nervous about what they are not doing for their precious children clearly bound for somewhere other than the Ivy League).

Am I biased about this? I’ll ‘fess up: absolutely yes. I cannot imagine wanting additional rote learning for any of my kids. I surely would not seek out additional rote homework for my kids, especially at age three. The idea of kids accomplishing incredible academic feats at very young ages strikes me as a terrible thing to actively encourage in one’s child. I’m much more interested in my daughter playing outside, pretending, enjoying books and hanging with her pals and her brothers. I’m interested in pretty much anything but trying to make her a “good student.”

A reader of my blog, in response to a piece I wrote about toys (and gender) wrote this:

I have this theory on the five essential things of childhood.

Any time these things are available, they will be played with before other, less essential things. Those things are water, sticks, dirt or sand and rocks. I know, it is only four – bear with me. Those things will be picked up, put down, rearranged, stirred, mixed and transformed by the power of imagination into other things. For each kid, there is a fifth thing. For my older daughter it was Something To Climb; trees, climbing frames, railings, it was all fair game. For my younger daughter it was a stuffie; some fuzzy friend to talk to and tell stories to and about. The fifth thing changed over time for both girls, but the basic impulses are still there, for Aerin to move and move big, for Alice to shape a narrative and relationships out of what is in front of her.

So what is the fifth thing for each of your kids?

I have never heard Kumon homework sheets cited as the fifth thing. And I feel confident I never will.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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