Is Homework in Kindergarten Appropriate?
We get this question frequently. The answer is sometimes and it depends!
In this episode, Deedee and Adam share ideas that allow students to practice essential skills as homework, but it feels like play… because it is!
Instead of homework, try these instead:
Homework? No, Home Play! Transcripts
Homework? No Home Play
Hey, everyone, welcome back to the Classroom Collaborative Podcast with me, Adam Peterson.
Hi, I’m Deedee Wills.
And I feel like we’re going to say it again. We are finally back. We all just like–
Let out a whole, like collective oy.
I know. I think there’s not a teacher out there who doesn’t understand being in the spin cycle of life, right? Right now we’ve been in a spin cycle of life.
It’s nuts right now and I’m not even full-time in the classroom but seeing the stress through Tricia’s eyes and her busyness and then if you’re a parent listening to this, you understand the busyness of kids’ schedules as well.
We’re never home. We are constantly running something which I love. I love being a fan. It’s my favorite thing in the world but it leaves very little time for at-home time and downtime and whatnot, which is leading into what we’re going to talk about today. Piles and piles of homework that kids get when there’s no time to do that homework but how are you?
I’m good. I’m really well. I’m thinking though about teachers out there who are really struggling with having maybe not as much support staff, being understaffed, not enough teachers, not enough subs and one more thing on top of their plate feels like, it’s just– That expression, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I mean, that’s just one more thing and we were going to talk about homework and whether or not that’s something that we want to even do with primary grades but then also, for a teacher to gather resources for homework and send them home and then when they get them back, what do they do with it? All of those things feel like just one more thing and we wanted to talk about homework. What– We understand best practices to be surrounding homework and then maybe giving teachers license to let go some things may be that they have done historically.
Yes, we started this conversation, you and I with a post that I saw that got a lot of attention from a mutual friend of ours on Instagram that posted something about– I won’t quote it because I remember it. There’s something along the lines of stop sending home homework that you’re not going to grade.
And there was a lot of support from both sides of that argument and I was reading the thread and I don’t know how many hits it got. It was a popular post about the teacher community.
Yes, it got a lot of attention, right?
Totally did. Yes and it got me thinking like– I mean, we can put it on the table. I completely agree with that statement. I am not a fan of busywork. People that know me know that I think I’ve preached that on here before and on my own podcast before and when I speak. I don’t like busywork. It doesn’t serve a purpose to me. I also don’t like work that is work for the kids to teach themselves like they shouldn’t have to go home and not know how to do it. It should be practice and review or definitely something you’re going to look at as a teacher, right? Otherwise, it is just that busy work.
Right. Yes. We– I understand our audience that listens to this podcast, primary teachers. K one, two teachers typically are the people who are listening and we want to make sure that we’re not really talking about high school teachers, right? They’re probably not here. They’re probably like those two people. They just play with babies.
What podcast? Yes, who? [laughs].
We’re really talking about those primary teachers out there.
But I saw even at that– Even with colleagues I’ve worked with on my own kids, I saw busy work at the primary level. I don’t know about you but saw it come home. I don’t know if you saw it with the perfect son or not but–
There were those times where it’s just like– As a parent and teacher, I tried to be supportive but in the back of my mind, I’m like, what is the point of this? What is going on?
Why are we doing this?
What do we do instead? And I love that you mentioned. Sorry to cut you. I love that you mentioned just one more thing to add to your plate, right? Because there is– If you’re prepping stuff to send home every day or you’re having to look at that when it comes back and it does. It adds another step to your process.
That’s a huge process. That’s a huge step because if you’re sending something home– If you’re like, well, we’re required to because I’ve heard that before too, you’re required to send things home. If in order to send things home, what I imagine would happen is teachers have to be really thoughtful in the types of things that they send home. Right? Am I sending– Is this really practice or is this busywork? That kind of thing and Yes, that’s one more thing that they’re having to plan in the 30 minutes that maybe they have for planning but they don’t because it gets taken away because there’s nobody there to cover their class or whatever. They’re covering other people’s classes and what research is telling us as educators are that homework really doesn’t make much of a difference in what students’ abilities or skills turn out to be. Right?
Assigning homework isn’t the thing that makes a difference between the students who achieve. Not just assigning but let’s assume students do the homework, right? It just not going to make much of a difference whether a student achieves or does not.
And we wanted to talk about, if you want to send home practice work, there are certain skills that we are looking for, as teachers and as learners, we’re looking for automaticity. We want them to be able to have speed and accuracy and that’s usually around numeral identification, letter identification, sounds, sight words, and operations of adding, subtracting, right? Those are the things that not once we’ve learned the process and we understand what it means to add and subtract. I’m not saying send home in November to kindergarten students two plus two, with the numerals right there.
Although, there are some students who are asking for that. You always had that one kid, when do I get homework? I’m like, what?
You got your whole life full of homework.
Yes, slow down.
But just getting into the way that your students should be learning operations. It shouldn’t be with the numeral to the symbol plus the numeral to the symbol, right? We want to make sure that we’re teaching them not in that abstract way. You could be doing– Sending home subitizing cards instead, right?
I’m glad you mentioned that the automaticity of the students as well but it’s also bringing up such a good point about parents. Not only parents being busy but we have to remember, there’s a lot of kids in our classrooms whose parents don’t know how to help them at home. I had so many parents who just would look at me and be like, I don’t. I don’t know.
Either they have a lack of education themselves or it’s something new, right? I know when common core math came out that was a big one. What do we send home? Because Yes, where does this brand new way of teaching math, right? Parents didn’t know what to do. One of the programs we used in my kindergarten class when I was there, it was our phonics and writing program. There was a lot of specific instruction that went along with it and keywords and phrases and if I would have just sent home a worksheet or a work page, the parents wouldn’t have known what to do, regardless of their level of education. It was one of those things that you had to be– You had to know the program to teach it the way it was supposed to be taught.
It goes kids and parents, I think and I think that’s why it’s so important that we’re sending home stuff- Listen, I said I’m not a fan of busywork. I’m OK with sending stuff home. Right? Like practice and fun and things like that and that’s why I love– I’ll tell you what, I’m so glad you introduced me to Edna from Boddle. We had her on here a few episodes ago, I’ve been using Boddle nonstop with two of the little boys that I’m working with, in my tutoring sessions and it’s amazing because they can both sign in and I can track their progress and they’re going back to automaticity. Their automaticity of math is growing so fast because it’s such fun.
If you haven’t watched that or heard that episode, go back and its last episode, Boddle B-O-D-D-L-E learning is free which is crazy how big this is.
I don’t know how it’s free.
I don’t either. I mean, because AT &T and I think Google was helping sponsor them but it’s a free online game-like website that students can get on and it’s just– It’s huge and as a teacher, you can determine what goes home and how much freedom you give them to play. You set up the parameters I guess is what I’m so eloquently trying to spit out of my mouth. I mean, you set the parameter so that you know you’re having them get the carrot and the skills at the same time. Being a reward. [Crosstalk 00:09:54] because we don’t want to talk about stick.
Stick on carrot on a stick is what you– I get it. Is that what you wrote? I get it. I’m with you on that one.
But Boddle is a great one but also, Adam and I both love games and that was something that we wanted to also mention is take a look at your classroom games that you have and figure out which one of those could go home with students for practice. I know Adam has a bunch of game suggestions in his book that he wrote. I know that you have some games that you have on TPT. Right?
I do with Kim. Yes but also, I love it that you mentioned closets because I know that’s where I– That’s where I started. I started going through when I transitioned from this because let’s be honest, if you’re a new teacher, chances are you’re doing what your mentor and your team are doing. Right? It’s the pattern we fall into. I was doing the same thing and nothing against my team. I had an amazing kindergarten team that I worked with but when I first started, I did what my neighbor mentor teacher did. I sent home stuff because that’s what she was doing and as I transition to this pattern of purposeful homework, or what I call home play. I first started by looking at my closet and now teachers have it, I think so much easier than I did. What was that? 16 years ago because Dollar Tree wasn’t a thing and like Five Below wasn’t a thing.
Now you can get games for super cheap, like off-brand board games that you don’t mind sending home because you’re not afraid of a piece could be lost, right? Cause it’s going to happen inevitably.
It’s going to happen. Yes.
But there are so many just little things like that you can purchase for super cheap or get donations for. If you don’t have every board game in your closet that the benefit of that is some kids don’t ever get to do that. Right? Like it broke my heart when a kid would come to school and say, I don’t know how to play Candyland. I’m like, Oh my gosh, you’ve never played the easiest game in the world with your family at home.
Can I tell you a funny story? When–
Are you going to say [Crosstalk 00:12:03].
I don’t even wait for you to answer I just go ahead and start telling you this my story but when perfect son was in kindergarten, the teacher sent home like this page. That was a game. It was like a paper page and you cut it out and had the game pieces in there. Well, we at the time, we had a dog named Hooper who loved paper and he went into– Literally went into Matt’s backpack, pulled it out, and shredded it. I was like, Matt, we’re going to have to send a note to the teacher and I put all the pieces in a baggie that like literally. Anyhow, I mean, so those things happen.
Are you saying that Harriet and Ozzie are reincarnations of Hooper because they did that to teach play hard when you first got yourself?
I know they did. They love to shred but sending things home that you think, OK, if this comes back in pieces, will I be– Will there be a part of me that dies a little bit inside? Right? You want to make sure you send things home that you’re OK with if it does get eaten by the dog or somebody gets sick on the bus with it. Has happened. You’re– It’s OK. You’re going to let go. Use some games that you have. I know you and Kim have some games. I have some games.
You can find– You can search on TPT for free games and you can support parents by one– You could have a couple of parent game nights which might– May or may not have anybody who comes. Oftentimes, the ones who need to come can’t come because they’re working seven jobs to put food on the table or you can record yourself playing the game so that the parents understand how to play it and you know what to do at the point of difficulty because a student is going to have something that pops up that they don’t know what it is and then how you’re going to coach them through that. I think there’s not a teacher out there now who is not familiar with how to record themselves because of–
Everything we’ve done.
I know. These are things I wish I could forget but you could record yourself. Just set up– Even if you set up a– If you don’t know just set up your phone. Prop it between whatever and record your– You don’t have to even show your face. Just record your hands doing what they are going to do and then send that video home as well as a way for them to have some support on how to play the game.
Yes, let’s talk about some of the games. I know one of my favorite ones to send home of things I learned from you was Bump. It’s such an easy game to send home because it’s one sheet that you can laminate so it doesn’t get ruined, right? There are so many different variations of this, you can easily differentiate.
Yes. Send home a few dice and some counters right? And God knows teachers have a treasure trove of counters laying around their classroom somewhere from every math curriculum that’s been sampled. So can you explain bump a little bit for the teachers that aren’t and where to find it because it is such an easy one to send.
It’s such an easy one. What you’ll do is– Let’s imagine that we are practicing sounds, beginning sounds. You set up a game board, a single sheet of paper with, I usually try to have 12 landing spots and on each of those landing spots you may have, let’s say, we’re doing sound, you’ll have a picture of a kite, a dog on another one, a pancake, right? You’re going to think about like maybe five or six sounds that you want to focus on for that game board and you’ll have things that are really clear pig. Let’s say you’re doing p and k and d and M, you’d have monkey and a moon. Right? You have your letters there.
Each spot will have a letter, a picture for the beginning sound and you’ll have two spots for each sound. There’ll be one that has a monkey, one that has a moon, there’s two, and one that has a dog, and one that has a doughnut, that’s for D, right? You have 12 pictures where people can land, kids can land. Then you can have a spinner. Spinner is one thing that you can do. The other thing you can do is, if you want to not have a spinner, you can have a dice, and then you can have like a key for it. A one would equal d, a two would equal p, three would equal m, right? You’d have a key for that and the way that they play is they roll the dice or spin a spinner and they land on a D, they’re going to look on the board for something starts with the D and they put their marker cube. I use like serial– Different colored serial that you can stack so you have like honey nut cheerios and then the chocolate Cheerios, which by the way, are delicious. I might have the honey nut ones, you might have the chocolate ones because they’re different colors.
I’m going to put my color on there and then my partner’s turn and the goal is you start– Each person starts with 10 counters. The goal is to use up all of your counters first, whoever uses them all up first is the winner. I go, you go, I go, you go. If it’s your turn, and you roll on something or spin on something and I already have one marker on there, you can bump me off and put your marker there. If your marker is already there when you roll again, you can put something on top of it and now it’s like kinging in checkers.
Basically, that’s how you play but you can play that for any skill. Imagine, addition facts, subtraction facts, 3d shapes, 40-40, shapes, all of those things. That’s basically how you play bump. You teach them the structure of the game and then you just swap it out for whatever skill you want to play and it’s easy, breezy.
Yes, that goes back to a quote I talked about all the time in the book, never change the game, just change the content and it’s one of those that is perfect for parents too because once you teach that game, or like you said, create a little video showing how to play it. They never have to relearn. It’s so easy for little ones because we don’t have to reteach the rules because it has those simple pieces, laminated cards, or dice or counters, whatever it may be, or like you said, serial, they may have a home. It can be done in no time at all and there’s no grading for you. It’s just fun for the kids to practice.
Can I also tell you I have a game called Clean Sweep that has been on my computer for– Oh, since June.
Is it new?
I just have to put it out but basically, it’s kind of the same idea it as it’s in a circle pattern. You put a marker on each spot before you play. You play with a partner and you go around forward or back trying to collect as many pieces as you can but when they take them off [Crosstalk 00:18:40]. They try to collect as many pieces as you can. It’s really fun if you do them with those erasers that you get at target.
Yes, right. Yes, I am. [Crosstalk 00:18:51]. What I love too is the–
Also, I recorded videos to show how to play each game. Those are like scanning on the QR code. I know why don’t I have this out because–
No, but look at you. You’re– Everything you just told teachers to do you doing it yourself. That’s good modeling, Deedee Wills. Good modeling.
Made a model. Anyhow, there’s a QR code that people can scan so they would be able to send that home as well.
That’s awesome. Yes. When I transitioned to doing stuff like that. That’s what I started with was sitting home just paper games that either was something I created or something I had laying around the classroom and then it turned into what you mentioned, Kim and I put together. We have this entire year-long bundle but there are also monthly packs that we call home play instead of homework. I put that little twist on it. I started doing it in my classroom. I think I put a video up and Kim reached out to me and she’s like, Hey, I want to make that with you and I was like, all right, let’s do it.
We went through skills starting in August and they build throughout the year but the same type of thing. The clip art and the content of the game and the skill of the game change but the way to play it never really does. In each of the months we have 10 games, we have five ELA games and five math games, and then like you said, with the videos, we put in direction pages for the parents. We also– Because we didn’t want this to be like we said, we want to be home playing. Playing this at home isn’t work that you have to complete any certain given day. Some kids would keep these a home for the week and then bring it back on Friday but we also put a page in there for the parents that said, something I’m not going to remember off top of my head but it had a line for them to fill out like, is there something your child did well with? Please tell us about it. Is there something your child struggled with? Do you have any questions about what your child was doing during this game or learning?
It was an awesome way that when we’d get those back, we didn’t have to grade anything. It wasn’t to enter scores but on my own time or what used to be called downtime in education, I don’t think we have that anymore. I could look through and I could see, all right, this child started with this, let’s go back and send home this game. It also turned into an informal assessment almost because I could pull that child during centers and I could say, hey, let’s play this game together and I could see where they were making the mistakes or whatnot. Right?
Those are 10 games for each month, themed around holidays or monthly themes that grow with the child as they go through the year and all we would do was– Kim has a whole direction page about how to set these up but they sat in my room, they were a file folder crate, and they were labeled each game and I would go through and I had, I think I made like five copies of each one just so multiple kids could take at home at a time. They each had their own baggie, their own folder with all their parents’ sheets in it, and then their giant Ziploc. I would just drop in that game and I would keep a record of who had what game and when I came back and said, all right, go drop it in the folder, grab another one, and because they were all review the things we had done, I didn’t have to worry about, OK, great. He needs to take this one home and make sure that Deedee takes this one home because it’s her level. They were all on-level games just for review practice. There was no teaching at home. Did they challenge some of the kids? Sure, but that they were easy enough for them to figure out or the parent to figure out.
What we know about when students engage in a game is that the amount of time spent on that skill goes up a lot and I was going to use a big word but I’m not sure if I had enough caffeine yet to use it. It goes up a lot.
Yes. A lot. We know that students will spend more time on tasks, they’ll stay engaged in practice work that is a game for 15-20 minutes. No problem. I mean, think about how long they’ll play UNO. Think about how long they’ll play all of those games, right? And way– And their brain is activated versus how much longer. I have to go through this drill and kill exercise. Whenever you can swap out drill and kill activity for a game-like activity, do it. Whether it’s in your classroom or sending home, your parents will thank you because they’ll have students who say, my mom and dad sat down or my mom and dad or my sister and I or my grandmother and I or my babysitter and I sat down and played this game, and we had a lot of fun.
The best thing too– Sorry to cut you off.
No, that’s OK.
The best thing along with that too is to and why I preach all the time buying cheap things for your class like that. Not because they’re cheap and broken but is– The kids are going to want to do this more. Right? When you have these games out and they’re prevalent in your classroom and you’re playing these all the time. I cannot tell you the number of times kids said, can I take this home and play it? And because I didn’t invest a ton of money as either like you said stuff you created on your own or I bought some cheap board games. Every time they said, can I take this home and play it? I knew that they needed to take it home, right? That showed me that they didn’t have these at home and I was like, sure, let me put it in your– The home plate bags that I was talking about, didn’t always have the home play activities that Kim and I created to sell and for teachers to use.
Sometimes their home play bag was a box of Go Fish cards, right? Because we played it during stations and a little one said, can I take this home? I’m like, sure. Go throw it your home play bag and because we had those bags ready to go, any game they took home just went in that bag and the parents sent it back whenever they were finished with it. I think it’s important to remember that– We know the word equity came a lot with technology, right? During the pandemic and but there’s a lot of equity issues as far as just kid things too, right? Not all kids have games and not all kids have access to dice.
Not all kids have parents that are available to play with them. They can have a sibling play with them as well. It’s much– You just get so much more out of it than a sibling watching them recite their sight words or whatever.
Or fill in a worksheet for them.
I know right. You’re like, strangely looks like so-and-so’s handwriting. Your handwriting is so much better at home. I was going to say one other thing. Oh, I was going to say that one– I think we talked about this before but my parents probably are not going to get the award for this but they’ll play blackjack with me and that was how– I mean, you just so much addition with blackjack.
And if I won, I got to eat dinner and if I didn’t– I’m just– I’m kidding. I had great parents but Blackjack was– Is one of those games that you can play that you are constantly doing addition and it’s really great if it doesn’t become a habit, right?
I can’t wait till I visit you again and I’m totally going to ask them if they can play blackjack?
I know my parents. The other one is cribbage but that’s an older game and that one’s tough too but there’s a lot of addition in that as well.
I think it’s one of those things that– You had those parents that did that and we do that all the time. When we’re sitting around the dinner table, we’re playing Euchre with our kids, we taught our kids how to play Euchre and it just be– It’s become a family thing to that. Every night when we sit down for dinner, the cards are on the table, and we play that sound like I was going to start a country song or some– The cards are on the table. [Crosstalk 00:26:27]. We play a game and I think if you’re a parent listening to this, that’s also a teacher. That’s something that I know it’s a stress reliever for both of us too. We’re working on skills with our own two kids but also just taking that time, carving out time. I love it that you brought up Blackjack, that’s amazing.
Blackjack. Yes, it’s– I mean, it’s– Let’s not pretend when I would sit down in Las Vegas to play blackjack, I’m still counting on my fingers because I don’t want to be wrong but just there are some games in there that you can sit down and play and all of a sudden you turn and look at the clock and you’ve been there for a while doing it and that’s what we want to mirror at home for children.
Well, and when you change the skill, like you said, with bumps when you do and talk about changing the skill or the content, not change the game. It never gets old. You can do these things over and over again. I have two little boys that work with the boys that are using Boddle right now. When we’re working on ELA activities, we play board games, and we read sentences and we read sight words, we read letter sounds, and we played the same game almost every time they come to see me. The same exact game.
It’s a version of Chutes and Ladders called ramps and rails. It’s like a skateboarding game and I have so many games like this closet right here is full, ceiling to floor but that’s the one they keep going back to. Do we get to play ramps and rails? I’m like, yes, but today we’re going to work on sight words. When you roll the dice before you do that spot, you read the sight word. When kids are having fun, like you said, there’s something to be said about the amount of knowledge they grasp and their attention span their engagement, but when they’re having fun learning the learning sticks too and they just want to do it more.
Yes. All right, don’t forget to grab games. Things that you might have, things that you can find online and–
We’ll put some links in there.
You’re going to send homework home. Yes, we’ll send them links. If you’re going to send homework home though, make sure that it’s appropriate but make it fun–
I love that.
All right. Thanks, guys.
We did it.
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About the Podcast
The Classroom Collaborative Podcast is a show about teaching, classroom, and education. We tackle new classroom tips and tricks in every episode.
About Your Hosts
Deedee Wills is an early childhood educator, instructional coach, and international educational consultant. She is also the author of the award-winning blog, Mrs. Wills Kindergarten.
I hope you enjoyed this episode! See you on the next one!
Deedee & Adam