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31 things your kids should be doing instead of homework

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 my face. I think parents mostly felt the same way I did: that homework was the best way to practice new skills, that it teaches responsibility and helps to 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 (and not hours of assignments). 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 that 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 may be harmful for little kids, it's also that homework is replacing other fun, developmentally appropriate, and valuable activities—activities that help them grow into healthy, happy adults.

So, what are some of the things kids could be doing in those hours between the end of the school day and bed time?

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 critical now more 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 asking their overtired kids to do homework they're too young to do independently, families should spent much 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

Being able to play on their own without adults (called “solitary play") 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 a evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.

8. Dig in the dirt

Another type of play, 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 multi-generational 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

The significance of imaginative “pretend" 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 cardio-vascular 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 “down time." The authors of “Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids“ argue that every kids needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do 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"

During cooperative 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. In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of 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.

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

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It's a girl for Chanel Iman!

Iman and her husband, New York Giants football player Sterling Shepard, welcomed their daughter into the world on August 10 and called her Cali Clay Shepard. "You were worth every push [and] every contraction," the proud mama captioned an Instagram photo of the happy family.

The popularity of the name Cali has declined since the name peaked in 2014, when it was ranked 201 on the Social Security Administration's list of the most popular baby names. It's since fallen to 288. (The alternative spelling made popular by a character on Grey's Anatomy, Callie, ranks higher, at 188, but also peaked in 2014).

The popularity of her name may be waning, but little Cali herself is already very popular online. She's four days old and her Instagram account already has 7,600 followers.

It makes sense that Cali is already active on Instagram (well, her parents are active on her account) as her mama announced her pregnancy on the platform back on Mother's Day.

Congrats to Iman and Shepard on baby Cali's arrival! We can't wait to see more beautiful baby pictures on Instagram. 🎉

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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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Most moms claim to be wine's biggest fan but often admit to knowing little about what's what (or even how to buy wine they like). And while you don't have to be a sommelier to buy a great bottle of vino, having a few wine smarts in your back pocket can mean the difference between a substandard cork pop and the perfect sip.

That's why we partnered with the wine pros at Winc, a subscription service that creates and curates wine from all over the world, to develop this simple primer that will help you identify the flavors you like best—and get them delivered to your doorstep.

Where to start

The simplest place to begin is between red and white.

In general, most people have an idea if they prefer one or the other, which is why Winc lets their members start the selection process with that simple question. Red wines tend to be more full-bodied, higher in tannins (more on those later), and are typically served at room temperature or slightly chilled. Whites are often lighter, crisper, and are typically served chilled.

But the great thing about the wine world is that there are always exceptions to the rule, which is why Winc refines monthly suggestions based on user feedback. "If you enjoy the wine and want to understand why, go on our site and look at how earthy it was, where it's hitting on the flavor scale to help you learn more about your palate," says Brooke Matthias, Winc's Director of Product.

Light vs. Full-bodied

Remember those tannins we mentioned? They're a naturally occuring compound in grape skins, seeds, and stems that give wine a more dominant, heavy flavor. (Think about steeping a tea bag for too long. That bitterness? That's essentially the same effect tannins have.)

While some people dislike the drying sensation tannins cause when drinking wine, they also help create wine that marries well with food because the wine won't disappear on your palate after eating something meaty or fatty.

If you're looking for something lighter, reach for a wine with a higher acid content. Acidity can be compared to tartness (think of biting into a lemon wedge) and typically produces the same "puckering" response of drinking something slightly sour, like lemonade. In wine, it tends to give your pour a crisp, clean sip without a lot of aftertaste or heaviness on the tongue.

Sweet vs. Dry

Many newbie wine drinkers often prefer something with a sweeter taste until they've had a chance to diversify their palate, but sweetness in wine isn't the same as sweetness in dessert.

"There's a difference between residual sugar and something that has a higher fruit concentration," Matthias says. "A lot of people think their wine is sweet, but it's actually fruity. And just because it's high in fruit flavor doesn't mean there's residual sugar content in the wine."

Sweet-tasting wines often taste strongest on the front of the tongue (where the majority of sweet-sensing taste buds occur). Drier wines can be either higher in tannins (for a more bitter flavor) or higher in acidity and tend to have less fruit concentration.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Of course, the best part of figuring out which wines you prefer is experimentation! That's where Winc comes in.

When members first sign up, they take a flavor quiz to determine their current taste preferences. From there, Winc puts together a customized box of four wines based on your preferences—and delivered right to your doorstep. (Note: Someone 21 years or older must be present to sign for the box.)

With each monthly delivery, you can look up your wines to learn more about what you like about them (are they earthy? fruity? full-bodied?) and rate what you like best. Those ratings help Winc's experts to carefully select your future deliveries to cater to your specific palate.

Prefer to take charge of your own destiny? Winc also lets you sub in bottles of your choice (the perfect opportunity to try the wine with the cool label or the funky-sounding name).

With each delivery, you get a more and more personalized experience targeted to your own taste buds—and learn more about what makes your perfect pour. Now that's something we can raise a glass to.

And just for Motherly, enjoy two complimentary bottles (a $26 value) when you order from Winc. Happy shopping, mama!


Currently, Winc does not ship to Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah.

This article is sponsored by Winc. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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In many ways, having a baby in Alaska is much the same as in Alabama: All babies need food, love and care. And all parents are responsible for navigating the life transition. But the expense associated with welcoming a baby? That sure does vary widely based on where in the United States the baby is born.

After assessing 26 key metrics—including infant care costs, child care centers per capita, delivery charges and more—data analysts from WalletHub determined Vermont is the most ideal state to welcome a baby in 2018.

On the other end of the spectrum, parents in Mississippi were disadvantaged by the state's higher infant-mortality rates and lower distribution of midwives or OB-GYNs per capita. (Although folks in southern states generally saved the most on average infant-care costs.)

"If local authorities want to attract families in their area—and for a host of societal reasons, it would behoove them—they should continue to strive for greater public safety and more family-friendly environments," Jeff Wallace, a business advisor and assistant professor at Snow College, tells WalletHub.

To make the rankings as credible as possible, the experts at WalletHub divided the 26 measures into four categories: cost, health care, baby-friendliness and family-friendliness. Then each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing favorable conditions, such as low costs or better delivery outcomes.

While the list is focused on the best places to have a baby, experts who weighed in on the findings said there are much longer-term implications. "Children are more likely to be successful when they grow up in communities that feel safe, have families that are connected to each other, and offer support services if the family needs them," says Steven Meyers, Ph.D., Director of Undergraduate Psychology Programs and Initiative for Child and Family Studies at Roosevelt University. "Local authorities can establish these as priorities when they decide how to allocate resources."

Here are the 10 states we should look to for examples:

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