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There are many aspects of my more than decade long career as a teacher that I’m proud of. My reputation for giving lots and lots of homework is not one of them.


For most of my teaching career, I taught fifth or sixth grade. Sometimes I gave more than two hours of homework. Kids complained a lot, though parents rarely did, at least not to me.

I think parents mostly felt the same way I did: that homework was the best way to practice new skills, that it teaches responsibility, helps develop a strong work ethic, and that it’s an opportunity to reflect on new learning.

But most of all, my students’ parents and I were more than a little afraid that our kids would fall behind—behind their classmates in the next classroom, behind the kids in a neighboring school, behind the kids in other countries. Homework was considered one of many ways to prevent that from happening.

I wasn’t entirely wrong about all of that, and I still believe a lot of those things, but only for middle and high school students (though, not hours of assignments), but not for elementary students, and certainly not for kindergarteners or preschoolers.

When I entered a doctoral program in education policy, I learned about the research that suggests homework is not good for young kids.

Not only does it fail to improve the academic performance of elementary students, but it might actually be damaging to kids’ attitudes toward school, and to their physical health.

In a review of available research studies, Harris Cooper, a leading researcher who has spent decades studying the effect of homework, concluded that, “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

When I became a parent during graduate school, I experienced for myself just how tired and overwhelmed kids can be after a full day at daycare, preschool, or elementary school, often followed by more after school activities.

After hours spent sitting and engaging in mostly adult directed activities, children’s minds and bodies need other kinds of experiences when they get home, not more academics.

It’s not just that homework itself has no academic benefits for little kids (and may even be harmful), it’s also that homework is replacing other fun, developmentally appropriate and valuable activities—activities that help children grow into healthy, happy adults.

Try these ideas instead of homework:

1. Jump rope

An important part of how young kids’ minds develop is through free, self directed play. According to David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, free play is more critical now than ever, as recesses are shortened or eliminated and kids’ calendars are busier than ever.

“Through play,” Elkind writes, “children create new learning experiences, and those self created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way.”

2. Talk with parents

I’ve heard from countless friends about their daily battles with their elementary aged kids struggling to do homework, and the way it’s negatively affected their relationships.

Instead, of parents nagging their overtired kids to do homework that they are too young to do independently, families should spend much more time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us—especially young children—to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.

3. Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of children aren’t getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability and weight gain. But even small amounts of additional sleep can have big impacts. One study found that only 20 additional minutes of sleep can improve kids’ grades.

4. Independent reading

Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. However, homework can actually interfere with the time that kids can spend on reading.

5. Listen to a book

Studies show that kids who are read aloud to do better in school and have better vocabularies.

6. Work on a puzzle

Solitary play—being able to play on their own without adults—builds confidence in kids and makes them more relaxed.

7. Go up a slide backwards

Risky play—activities like climbing a tree—is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks and to learn how to negotiate their environments.

Researchers theorize that risky play, found across all cultures and in other mammals, has an evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.

8. Dig in the dirt

Sensory play is also critical for kids’ development. When kids knead clay or finger paint, they are stimulating their senses. “Sensory experiences,” explains one early childhood educator, “provide open ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them.”

9. Playing with a friend in a sandbox

Parallel play, or the type of play in which kids play next to each other, begins in toddlers. But even for older kids, parallel play can help develop critical social skills.

10. Help with dinner

Kids who learn about new foods, and how to prepare them, may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.

11. Walk the dog

Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and are more active.

12. Volunteer at an animal shelter

Even kids who don’t have pets at home can benefit from being around animals. The emotional and psychological benefits of being around animals can also be found when kids care for injured animals and take on care-taking responsibilities for other people’s pets.

13. Plant a garden

Kids who work in gardens may have higher achievement scores in science than those who don’t. That’s because they’re actively engaging in scientific concepts and practicing math skills as they learn about plants.

14. Practice an instrument

Kids who participate in musical activities—those who practice an instrument regularly and participate actively in music groups—may have brains who are better wired for literacy skills, according to one study.

15. Hang out at Grandma’s

Encouraging multigenerational relationships can yield many lessons for kids. They can learn how other adult role models in their lives who love them handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.

16. Participate in a community service project

Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.

17. Draw a picture

For kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, drawing can be a way for them to relax and communicate in a different way.

18. Do a science experiment

Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.

19. Play dress up

Pretend play—the significance of imaginative or fantasy play for kids’ creativity and future problem solving skills is difficult to overstate. When kids pretend they’re superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they’re learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don’t engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.

20. Wrestle with a sibling

Rough and tumble play is not the same as aggression. It’s vigorous, free form, whole body, energetic, happy play. Kids learn decision making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardiovascular health.

21. Clean their room

When kids are spending their afternoons working on homework, there’s often not time for them to help out with housework and other chores. A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid’s future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.

According to Rossman, “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy and how to take care of themselves.”

22. Write a story

By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.

23. Zone out

Just as important as play is downtime. The authors of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids argue that every kid needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to do literally not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest and reset their minds and bodies.

24. Meditate

Kids also benefit from meditation. Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.

25. Create a collage

Constructive play—building a fort, making a snowman—is goal oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children’s communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.

26. Listen to classical music

One study found that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills, as well as self discipline.

27. Learn to knit

Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and develop longer attention spans.

28. Take pictures

“Photography can help develop a child’s voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community,” according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.

29. Ride a bike

Kids who are physically active—as well as adults—have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.

30. Listen to a long bedtime story

Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don’t have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.

31. Play Simon Says

Cooperative play—During games, kids collaborate to reach a common goal. There may be a leader, and kids start to learn about social contracts and social rules.

When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn’t improve academic learning.

Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional, as well as rest. And in any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning.

Our kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.

Original story by Jessica Smock for Parent.co.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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