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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/ 9/2010

Kids need work to do at home

By Valerie Strauss

I’m not likely to make any friends among kids with this, but teachers should give their students work to do while schools are closed because of the snow. If teachers can’t find a way to reach their students, it wouldn’t kill parents to make sure their kids pick up a book.

Some teachers have posted assignments on their school’s Web site for kids to complete and return either when they get back to school or before then, by e-mail. This is routine at many schools and there’s no reason they can’t do that now. One teacher at a private school in Montgomery County, knowing that all of her students have computers, is holding class online for two hours today and is letting kids off the hook only if their parents provide a valid reason.

One of my daughters offered that it might be difficult to give homework for a lesson that hasn’t been given, but I felt compelled to burst her bubble by noting that there were many exercises a teacher could assign to engage a young mind, including simply reading and writing. (She conceded defeat.)

That said, it is true that many families don’t have computers. The U.S. Census reports that about two-thirds of American households report using the Internet at home. But that leaves one-third that don't, even some families in the most affluent Washington suburbs.

It is also the case that some schools don’t have Web sites that make it easy for a teacher to communicate with students. And not all schools have functioning phone trees that can disseminate information.

Meanwhile, thousands of homes still don’t have power because of the weekend storm, and another one is on its way.

But there’s no reason for teachers not to try to reach as many students as possible. And parents ought to make sure that their children spend some time doing something academic. (Some kids might rebel but others may be secretly relieved; one 15-year-old I know admitted that four days of playing Bubble Spinner 2 has driven her a little crazy.)

Closing schools because of the mounds of snow still on the roads and sidewalks makes sense. Kids shouldn’t be asked to take risks to get to school. Adults shouldn’t either. Safety has to be the top priority.

I am not sympathetic to the notion that kids can’t miss “precious” instructional time in class because they must stay on a lesson schedule aimed at high-stakes standardized tests usually given in the spring. Work can be made up; the school year can be extended, spring break shortened, holidays canceled, lessons condensed.

But the empty days are adding up, and students don’t need any more time without an intellectual challenge.

Tell me what you think. And if you think they should get work, what should it be?

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 9, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Homework  | Tags:  homework  
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Next: New study looks at segregation in charter schools


My second-grader's teacher sent home this week's homework packet on Friday, so he does have work to do. But I don't know if all the teachers at his school did this.

Posted by: princessbuttercup | February 9, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

We've already e-mailed the teachers asking for something to do. We had planned our ski vacation around the President's Day holiday next Monday, so we could minimize the amount of time lost; unfortunately, we didn't plan on missing the entire week before due to snow! Math will be easy to do at home, as both of the textbooks, with quizzes and everything, are available through a website. Reading is harder, as they use one of those compilation books, and the books must be left at school. Still, I'm hoping the teacher can at least point us to something we can pick up in the library.

Posted by: laura33 | February 9, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

My son's first grade teacher sent this week's homework home last Friday. But in addition, at the start of summer vacation each year, we purchase a workbook for the next grade for our son. So we have a 400 page 1st Grade Workbook (which was only $7) for him to work in over summer and through the year. I have him doing at least four pages of it each day while he's out due to snow.

Posted by: sfurin | February 9, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

You're absolutely right. We had made sure our 2nd grader has read everyday and worked on math programs. We have also had discussions about science topics as well as government. It's fun for us and keeps him from climbing the walls! We hope when he finally gets back to school, it won't be a such a dramatic transition back into his routine.

Posted by: thuff7 | February 9, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Kids must do something - anything - that keeps their brains engaged. Hint - it won't be found on television. Obvious best choice is for them to read; I allow my kids to order any book they want from Amazon, so we always have some around the house that they actually want to read. And if they insist on being on the Internet instead, make them visit educational Web sites; there are dozens of fascinating museum sites for kids online, and a lot of the education sites do a great job of engaging kids. A lot of the very best sites are mentioned in this roundup article on keeping kids engaged when they are stuck indoors:

Posted by: markemoran | February 9, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

They could always practice math by figuring the cubic feet of snow they have shoveled! (AFTER the shoveling--it's too discouraging to figure it ahead of time.)

I always read these columns and wonder what's the matter with just reading? Snow days used to be when I finally had a chance to read history and biography and all the stuff that I never had time for because of all the busywork assigned as homework.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 9, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I agree that online assignments are great, however, it is important to remember that many students do not have access to computers and/or the internet to complete these assignments. A recent Washington Post article described the digital divide faced by students in affluent Fairfax county (Dec. 5, 2009 edition Educators must be mindful that many students do not have the ability to access online forums, even in the wealthiest jurisdictions, and these assignments should not be made mandatory. And, of course, the recent storm left many of us without power!

Posted by: TSP1 | February 9, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Always love our great educational system. Give children from the first grade on busywork homework.

The homework has to be busywork since it is geared to the lowest common denominator.

In the first grade there will be the children that can read while there will be the children that can not read. The teacher will of course "create" homework for the children that can not read.

I doubt any first grade class is giving children books with their teacher telling the children that their homework assignment is to read page 20 to page 25.

Americans have probably the worse ideas regarding education in the world. It would be difficult to design on purpose such a poor educational system.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 9, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

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