There are some topics that society has deemed controversial in almost every scenario — politics, religion, income levels, whether Taylor Swift is the greatest artist of our time. But for parents, there’s one more topic that can be safely added to the list: homework. There is a big argument among parents, researchers, and educators on whether or not homework is beneficial or unnecessary. Should preschoolers have homework? Are there benefits? Does it make them “competitive” as students?
This article looks at both sides of the argument, but explains why the educators at Little Sunshine’s Preschool decide not to assign homework to preschoolers and those in our pre-K program.
Arguments for Giving Homework to Preschoolers
For context, preschools who assign homework aren’t sending home textbooks and asking for written essays.
For the sake of this article, “homework” and “worksheets” are synonymous. And there wouldn’t be an argument over preschool homework if there weren’t some perceived benefits to worksheets. Here are the reasons some parents and educators are saying preschool homework is important.
- Skill Reinforcement: Those who champion preschool homework say it helps reinforce the skills and concepts children learn in school and gives them additional practice that helps solidify their learning.
- Preparation for Elementary/Middle/High School: Many parents consider the long game when it comes to their children’s education. Homework is often seen as something that prepares kids for what will be expected of them in the future when take-home work becomes more common.
- Parental Involvement: Homework counts as together time … right? It certainly provides parents with a chance to engage with their children and offer support and guidance when it comes to their education.
Arguments Against Giving Homework to Preschoolers
Emotions run just as high for those who argue against giving homework to preschoolers. But for this group, there are more objective reasons that back their thinking.
- Lack of Evidence: There is limited empirical evidence that supports the idea that homework in preschool leads to a significant “leg up” when it comes to academics. And the research that does exist is a far cry from an endorsement for homework. If anything, it stresses the importance of play and the need for anything done at home regarding a child’s education to be exploratory and engaging. (More on that later.) According to education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, when it comes to assigning homework in early elementary school at all, “No research has ever found any benefit. It’s all pain and no gain.”
- Developmentally Inappropriate: Critics argue that preschoolers are still in a stage of development where play and hands-on learning are crucial for their growth. If a preschooler who isn’t developmentally ready for homework gets too discouraged, they might “… internalize that they’re not smart or that they’re not good at school,” says Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the author of “Rethinking Homework.” And if they think they’re bad at school, they may feel inappropriate levels of …
- Pressure & Stress: In a 2012 article “Should Preschoolers Have Homework?”, New York Times journalist Holly Korby did a survey of parents whose preschoolers were being assigned homework. Overwhelmingly, they all reported that the main change that homework made on their households was an increase in stress for everyone.
- Family Time: Preschoolers need time to bond with their families, engage in creative activities, and explore the world around them. Excessive homework could interfere with these essential aspects of childhood. In fact, teachers often underestimate the amount of time homework takes by about 50% — that’s time that families would be spending together and are instead struggling through homework. And a 2019 Narbis poll found that 65% of parents reported that the stress of homework had negatively affected their family dynamic.
- Inequality: For preschoolers, homework is a group activity. Parents have to be involved and help them with any assignment a teacher may send home. And if not all the children in a classroom have the same level of support at home, there’s an immediate jumpstart to educational inequality.
Is There a Compromise?
At Little Sunshine’s Playhouse, we feel strongly that homework is not appropriate for the children who attend our program. Our Reggio Emilia Philosophy believes in child-directed learning, which asserts that children are capable of learning and following their interests. Assigned homework is at odds with that concept. Instead, we work with our students in the classroom to create a rich learning environment that fosters learning and fuels their passion for education. Once that flame is lit, we have watched it carry on outside the walls of the classroom and into the lives of students — something that is arguably much more effective than a worksheet.
If your child’s preschool is assigning homework and you feel they shouldn’t be, feel empowered to have a conversation with teachers about the topic. At the very least, feel confident in making the argument that worksheets don’t accomplish much and, if the teacher insists on going the homework route, that the homework be exploring, playing, and listening to bedtime stories. Ultimately, the emphasis during the preschool years should be on fostering a positive attitude toward learning, curiosity, and social development.