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The boy across from me was fighting back tears. He was tall for his age, with long, sandy brown hair that grew over his eyes and hid his emotions in a way that was not entirely unintentional.


He wanted to succeed and – as a new teacher – I wanted to do everything I could to give him that chance. Now, as the tears welled in his eyes, he stood up and pushed the desk over. He hadn’t completed his spelling homework (again) and I, his teacher, had to administer a test we both knew he would fail. He’d requested more time to study but there was none left. The class had to move forward.

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This was a weekly dance for us and there had been days, though rare, when I could coax him into finishing his work at home through heartfelt pleading and thinly veiled bribes. Today was not one of those days and since I couldn’t let him skip the test while the rest of the class took part, he knew he faced another failure. The homework designed to support him was actually leaving him further and further behind when he didn’t do it. And I think a part of him hated me for it.

Five years later, I’m no longer a teacher but I’m now a parent and I have to admit, I cheered a little bit on the inside when I read the letter announcing that our local elementary school had done away with homework. Teaching at a new charter school that was attempting to assert itself as a balance between arts integration and academic rigor, homework had been a regular part of our routine. And just as regularly, I had students who did not, or could not, complete it. It was always a difficult balance.

On the one hand, there were students who were working hard at home to complete the tasks assigned, and on the other I had students who sometimes did not understand the work, had no help at home to complete it, or had a schedule so filled with extracurriculars that they didn’t even sit down at the table until past 8 p.m. The deck was stacked against us.

While there does exist plenty of research supporting the academic boost from homework in older grades, most of it also suggests that these benefits don’t begin in earnest until middle school. Even an overview of the studies revealing academic advantages of homework notes that for elementary students “the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement … hovered around zero,” meaning there was no relationship.

Other studies found that too much homework, in fact, can have negative effects. Opponents assert that homework can increase boredom with schoolwork and decrease the time that kids have for leisure activities such as sports, music, and playing outside – in short, the stuff childhood is made of. Another study reveals that homework widens the achievement gap and reinforces socio-economic disparities. 

But is homework always a bad thing for our youngest students? One study suggests that homework does in fact produce positive outcomes at the elementary level, but not specifically in terms of academics. Instead, it proposes that homework for elementary students is a good thing because it fosters positive work habits and responsible character traits, encourages parental involvement in school-related work, and reinforces simple skills learned in class.

This is also the argument from local parents in our town who were concerned about the shift away from formal homework. They echoed the lead researcher who notes that, “a little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits and learn skills developed through practice.” But can these skills only be learned through homework?

What’s a parent to do? Are there ways to reap the benefits of homework at the elementary age without actually subjecting your grade-schooler to potentially fruitless work? Of course there are! The benefits of homework for elementary schoolers are skills easily reinforced at home, without any actual assignments from school. Here are six simple ways for parents of grade school students to reinforce academic skills, foster good work habits, and teach responsibility at home without the help (or hindrance) of homework.

1 | Talk to your kids about what they’re learning

Make a habit of checking in daily with your children about what they’re currently doing in school. Go through their backpacks every afternoon or evening to find completed work and ask your child to explain it to you. Or start a family tradition of sharing over dinner one new thing they learned each day. It can sometimes be tiring to pull all of the details out of your child, but there are some good tips on how to get them talking here.

Also make sure to keep communication open and flowing with your child’s teacher. Most teachers can now be reached easily through email and will be happy to keep you updated on current curriculum and any skills that your child may need reinforced at home. Studies on academic achievement agree that high-achieving students have parents who work together with teachers to support learning at school and at home.     

2 | Give your children real responsibilities at home

It’s never too early for kids to start taking some responsibility at home. Even toddlers can be in charge of turning off the lights or wiping out the sink. In the beginning, share the work with your child by starting the task and then inviting them to help. Young children will initially be more willing to work if they view it as a team effort.

Also, make sure to model responsibility yourself and talk about it as you go. For example, when you come in the door, hang up your coat and put your shoes away while saying aloud, “Now I put my coat on the hook and my shoes on the mat so that no one will trip on them and I can find them when I need them next.”

A family is a child’s first introduction to community life and children who do chores learn to support a community and work towards common goals. They also experience higher levels of confidence and self-esteem. It may take more time to teach these skills now, but the long term benefits are well-documented.   

3 | Foster an appreciation for reading

Some schools may ask students to keep a list of books they’ve read or time they’ve spent reading at home. Even if yours does not, encourage your child to keep track of what she reads and how much she likes it.

Set reading goals together and support your child in her efforts to tackle them independently. Let her choose books that she’s interested in and encourage her to seek input from friends, teachers, and the librarian once she knows what she likes. Read together to tackle new subject matter or trickier chapter books. Talk often about what she reads.

Children who read for pleasure build vocabulary and are exposed to new ideas more frequently. While the link between reading and achievement in language arts is obvious, recent research shows that reading for pleasure is also associated with higher achievement in math and sciences. 

4 | Create a space in your home where your child can work

He may not have formal homework, but kids are naturally curious and by providing him space and resources to explore, he’s more likely to learn independently. Make sure your child has a desk, table, or counter space dedicated to him and keep age-appropriate learning toys and books available there.

Younger students might keep educational games, books, art supplies and puzzles in this space. Older students might have reference books like a dictionary, atlas, or thesaurus, and even a computer if there’s one available. 

Children who play with blocks and puzzles have been shown to develop better spatial skills than children who participate in parent-led activities. And beyond that, children who have more cognitive stimulation in early years have been shown to have a more refined brain cortex as teens.   

5 | Teach time management

Most children struggle with time management because the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning is the last to develop. While their brains are maturing, children will need support in grasping this concept.

To teach time management, begin with the basics of telling time on an analog clock. A child who cannot tell time cannot be expected to independently manage it. Keep analog clocks visible throughout your home and make a habit of noting the time and guessing the time throughout the day.

Once your child can understand the basics, practice estimating time through simple games. These can easily be played in the car or while waiting in line. Expand her knowledge by challenging her to estimate time spent on simple tasks. Children with a better grasp of time will naturally develop better time management skills.

You can reinforce basic time management skills through structure and routines. For example, your child should know that after dinner, he must put away his toys, take a shower, brush his teeth, and put on pajamas before he can watch a show or play a game on the computer.

Rather than using the screen time as a reward, it’s the positive end result of his actions. The logical consequence of not completing his after-dinner routine in a timely manner then becomes not having enough time to use the computer. Sometimes setting a timer or alarm can help to reinforce that time is not flexible.   

6 | Support organizational skills

Organizational skills are another concept linked closely with executive functioning. While their brains are still developing in the prefrontal cortex, children will need support in developing organizational systems that work for them.

On the small scale, help your child with daily organization by providing written checklists of the day’s activities, responsibilities, and commitments. Very young children might need pictures instead of words. Though you may need to fill them out for your child initially, keep him involved so that he can make the lists himself in the future.

Another way to support your child’s developing organizational skills now is to lay the foundations for daily routines that can continue when your child is older and does have homework.

Set up a filing system that is easily accessible to your child. It could be color coded folders, drawers, or boxes. Have one box for things your child wants to keep over the long term, have another drawer for works in progress, and have one last drawer for papers ready to be returned to school, like completed permission slips or reading logs, and completed homework further down the line.

Help your child to go through his backpack each night and sort any papers into the filing system. Keep a recycling bin handy so that anything that doesn’t warrant keeping can be efficiently purged.

Finally, keep a large monthly calendar accessible in your home. This will reinforce for your child that organizational skills are a lifelong process. Have your child help you to fill it in at the start of each month and add important deadlines, commitments, and responsibilities together as they arise.

Don’t let a lack of homework mean less responsibility at home; instead, let it be an opportunity for more meaningful, authentic responsibilities. Though the absence of homework might initially seem like permission to let skills slide at home, it’s really an invitation for parents to become more involved and invested in their child’s development.

Schools, especially crowded or understaffed ones, cannot possibly be responsible for teaching our kids everything they need to be successful in life. When parents and teachers work together to nurture well-rounded kids and to reinforce budding skills both at school and at home, everyone comes out on top, homework or no homework.   

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

I am currently 38 weeks pregnant with my second child and I hate everything. Okay, not everything everything. I only hate slowly falling apart as a person. And I miss running. I also miss sitting in hard chairs without back pain. Oh, and I hate how my boobs slowly suffocate me if I'm not lying down at an angle.

I only hate not being able to fully empty my bladder which means I run to the bathroom every 10 minutes thinking I'm about to pee my pants. And I hate how long it takes. I also hate being tired. I hate the super large prenatal pills I take because really, who thought giving a gigantic pill that smells horrible to someone who is already gagging every 30 seconds was a good idea? But really, that's it.

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I am supposed to be grateful and glowing and be excited to meet my baby. And I am. Excited and grateful, but most definitely not glowing. I'm more like sweating a lot, which I guess makes you kind of glow?

The thing is—no one wants to hear the real answer to "How are you feeling?"

I take the opportunity to be honest every time I am asked. And this has not once been received well. An example of how this goes. let's say, at a wedding...

SOMEONE'S AUNT: How are you feeling?

ME: My body is on fire and if I have to sit on this hard Chiavari chair for another 15 minutes I may murder the groom or dive headfirst into the cake.

SOMEONE'S AUNT: Yeah but only a couple more weeks!

ME: Do you know how many days make up two weeks? 14 days.

Do you know how long a day is when you can't put weight on your left foot because of how bad your plantar fasciitis is?

Do you know how long a moment is when you've hit your daily limit of TUMS and you resort to shots of apple cider vinegar which burns as it goes down your already burning throat?

SOMEONE'S AUNT: You should really try to enjoy it.

ME: Yes I should. Right after I figure out how to poop properly. I haven't done that in a couple of months. So I live life in this lovely limbo between constipation and diarrhea… It's been great chatting. Please pour a glass of wine out for me and have a nice night.

Everyone wants to see "the bump" but "the bump" better look small.

I never feel comfortable showing off my bump, so I wear a series of black tents that don't make me look that pregnant. And I am constantly rewarded for it. People are constantly telling me how good I look and how I am carrying well, and here's the thing, I am not.

I gained 50lbs with this pregnancy and 50lbs with the last one. I am fat-shamed and threatened with C-sections every time I go to the doctor's office. Naked I look like something out of National Geographic but if I cover it up, the people rejoice.

It's not cool. If it's not socially acceptable to comment on a woman's body when she is not pregnant—let's not open the floodgates when she is pregnant. I'm still a person. A 34-year-old woman with a buffet of body image issues. That all didn't stop when I gained 50lbs… if you can imagine that.

No. I am not excited about any part of maternity leave and "my time off."

At some point during my last maternity leave, I watched the movie "The Room"—the one where the woman is a captor with her child in some creeps backyard and I had never felt more seen. My company is giving me six months of leave, which is amazing by today's standards. And it's amazing for my baby. But I also feel trapped with someone who can't laugh at my jokes or commiserate on how hard the day has been for both of us.

AND CAN WE GET REAL ABOUT NIPPLES.

How the… what they… but how are they… what color are they… and HOLY AREOLA are they spreading? And what the… is my shirt wet? Are they leaking…? Why are they leaking? Should they be leaking? Cool. Cool, cool, cool. My giant brown areola boobs leak now.

If you are the type that grooms the, uh, ya know, you won't be seeing anything for a while.

I don't want to get too into this because people I know may read this and believe it or not I have a line I don't want to cross. But let's just say I lost sight of the "land down under" a couple of months ago. So what's going on "south of the border" is anyone's guess. I look forward to seeing her again someday so we can evaluate the damage and align on our approach to the situation together.

Okay, now if you'll excuse me, I have a cervix to soften and labor to induce.

So I have six dates to eat, some pineapple to cut, a TUMS and a Pepcid AC to take, a prenatal yoga class to go to, a birthing ball to bounce on, an Evening Primrose Oil supplement to swallow, some Red Raspberry Leaf tea to steep, an acupressure appointment to get to, some awkward sex to attempt right after I rub some Clary Sage essential diluted oil on my belly.

It goes fast, enjoy it!

Life

No matter our age or gender, hugs are the universal language of love. Hugging our babies when they are sad, hurt or disappointed lets them know they are safe and cared for, and can help alleviate some of their emotional pain.

But research has shown that hugs do more than just provide comfort. In fact, children need this type of stimulation to grow stronger and happier.

Studies show that hugs can enhance a child's physical growth by triggering the release of oxytocin—yes, that same hormone that your brain released to onset your labor and help you bond with your baby. When oxytocin levels in the blood are increased, several other hormone levels increase, too, promoting growth in cells, tissues and neurons. Other studies have shown that the absence of a nurturing touch can cause the brain to suppress cell responses to these growth hormones.

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Plus, those hugs a child receives in their early years are also important for their emotional development. When a baby is born, they have about 50 trillion synapses (the connection between two nerve cells) in their brain—that's about 100-times the number of stars in the Milky Way! This network of synapses grows rapidly during the first year and continues to do so up to the age of three when a child's brain will have 1000 trillion (!) of them.

As a baby grows, more connections in the brain are added based on daily life. But not all of the synapses will remain as the child grows. Life experience will activate certain neurons, create new connections among them and strengthen existing connections—and unused connections eventually will be eliminated in a process called synaptic pruning. During this pruning, the connections in the brain that are frequently used are preserved, and those that are not are eliminated. All to make the brain more efficient and boost brainpower.

Research has found that it is important to expose a child's brain to positive stimulation in order to preserve the right connections. For example, if we consistently show a child love and care, those related connections in their brain will develop and strengthen over time. Without love and care, the corresponding brain cells atrophy and eventually will be removed from the child's brain network, making it difficult for them to comprehend what is essential to create healthy, meaningful relationships later in life.

Bottom line: What we do during a child's formative years can have lifelong effects on their health and happiness. Keep those snuggles coming, mama.

Learn + Play

It was one of those mornings all moms know about. I was tired, my daughter was tired and we were running late for school. My daughter was in her school uniform, her backpack was organized for the day, and her snack box was filled with healthy treats to keep her fueled. Yet I was still in my pajamas. My hair was pulled up in a messy bun, and my glasses—the gold glittery ones that my girl says look like they belong to a grandma from Las Vegas—were sliding down my nose.

As I pulled up to the school's entrance, there she was: another mom dropping off her 3rd grader. She was dressed in heels and a form-fitting dress with her hair perfectly styled and cascading down her back. I felt like the biggest wallflower on the planet. Then my heart panicked. Dear God, please-oh-pretty-please make sure the principal is there to open the back passenger door. Please, don't make me have to step out of this car!

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Long story short, the principal met us and he opened the back door and greeted my girl. I inched out of the parking lot, pulled onto the street and headed home.

Then an unkind voice entered my head. It said that I wasn't enough.

I wasn't as good as the mom who, at 8:00 in the morning, was already perfectly outfitted for her day and ready to walk the runway of life. I pulled my car over, put my head on the steering wheel, and let out a long, hard sigh.

Have you ever felt this way? It's not uncommon that we, as mothers, can find ourselves living in black and white when it seems everyone else is living in full color. Life seems a little lackluster, at times. Where did that "together" woman go who once had time for wardrobe planning and long, warm showers? Moreover, when did the voice of insecurity enter whose sole occupation is to whisper of her inadequacies?

How do you silence that voice? Where do you go to remind yourself of your worth, while you're reminding everyone else—your kids, your partner, your friends—of theirs? How do you fall back in love with yourself and with your life? How do you return to the empowering sound of truth?

When it seems that I've fallen out of love with the woman I see in the mirror, there are two key things that I do to connect back with my true voice. The voice that speaks of my value and my worth.

These two keys help me tune into it:

First I initiate what I like to call irrational self-love. Irrational self-love is all about loving yourself without conditions. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to see their mothers as truly happy and in love with who they are. Our example of being comfortable in our own skin can help our kids grow to be real, whole, and joy-filled people who are comfortable in their own skin.

I cannot give and serve from a place of depletion. Irrational self-love tells me that I'm worthy and of value, whether I find myself in my jammies or in a sequined gown. That's the mama I want my daughter to know and see exemplified before her every, single day. We should be willing to love ourselves scars, flaws and all. That's irrational self-love and it will transform your life.

Then I rally back with radical forgiveness. I'm tougher on myself than on anyone else in this life. Sometimes I practice diminishing self-talk and hold on to limiting beliefs. Yet when I hold tight to pain and when I keep score of hurt, I ultimately imprison myself. When I forgive—with radical and wide-sweeping forgiveness—I set myself free. This freedom throws open the door to loving myself, and my life, again. And, when you're in love with your life, that joy spills over and buoys up everything and everyone you touch.

Who or what do you need to forgive, right now? Even if the person you need to forgive is yourself, please let go of the burdens inside that are weighing you down. You didn't clean the dishes after dinner last night? It's okay. You drove to your daughter's school in your pj's this morning? It's alright. Forgive. Let it go, mamas. Let it go.

It's amazing just how freeing forgiveness is. It will bring you back to what matters most and that's love for yourself, your life and for all those around you.

When the day has gone less than smooth, when it seems like motherhood has the upper hand on myself —I take action. Give yourself a good dose of irrational love and radical forgiveness. You're a beautiful and brave mama.

Sometimes, we all just need a little reminder.

Life

Finding the perfect gift for your loved ones can be a tough task, but if you have a beauty buff on your holiday shopping list, then Pinterest has you covered. The leading destination for inspiration just released their Pinterest 2019 Holiday Shopping report, where they curated the best of the best gift ideas. Digging into their data, they pulled some of the top-shopped and most-searched products of the entire year to curate the must-have list beauty lovers will want to open up this year.

Here's what's we're adding to our carts (okay, fine, buying for our best friends):

Boy Brow grooming pomade

boy brow grooming pomade

Think of this as a mini mascara. The brush-able, creamy wax thickens and shapes your brows, giving them a fuller appearance. If you're not ready to commit to a color, the clear works wonders for daily grooming.

$16

Deep condition + repair hair care

lus brands deep conditioner

If your favorite person has curly locks, this deep conditioner will be their holy grail. It nourishes dry hair with natural ingredients and doesn't weigh down bouncy curls.

$44

Subliminal platinum bronze palette

subliminal platinum bronze palette

A palette so good, it's practically sold out everywhere. The golden taupes and velvety bronzes look gorgeous on any skin tone and the pigment lasts forever.

$65

Maelove glow maker

maelove glow maker

A great vitamin C serum is a must-have in any beauty buff's cabinet, but there's a lot on the market. This one has a blend of vitamins C, E, hyaluronic acid and ferulic acid—the perfect combo for hydrated and brightened skin at a great price point.

$27.95

Pantene festival hair kit

pantene festival hair kit

Don't let 'festival' fool you when it comes to this kit—it's perfect to have on hand even if a night out isn't on your agenda. With dry shampoo, hairspray, a nourishing mask, rescue shot and frizz iron, no one will be able to tell you haven't washed it in a week.

$10.76

Balm Dotcom lip balm

balm dotcom

Aside from the cheeky name, this has an incredible formula that's made it a cult favorite for a while now. Pro tip: Grab the original and use it as a skin salve for the dryer months.

$12

ColourPop eyeshadow palette

eyeshadow palette colourpop

With rich pigment at an affordable price, you can't go wrong with one of these palettes. Use it as eyeshadow, liner or use a larger brush to add as a cheek tint or highlight.

$16

Mini MAC lipsticks

mini mac lipstick

The creamy best-selling shades in a mini version. Throw in each bag of yours so you're never without a quick swatch of color.

$10.20

L'Oreal voluminous carbon black volume building mascara

loreal carbon mascara

If there's one beauty product I can't live without, it's mascara. I've tried everything from budget-friendly drugstore buys to high-end name brand picks and this one is always on rotation in my makeup bag. Buildable color that doesn't flake.

$8.99

NYX sweet cheeks creamy powder blush matte

nyx sweet cheeks blush

Super-pigmented shades that has a creamy smooth finish. A little goes a long way, but it's buildable so start small and then add more as you need.

$7.50

CHI deep brilliance hair iron

chi hair straightener

My first hair straightener was a CHI and this brand hasn't disappointed since all those years ago. This one was created specifically for treated or textured hair, helping to maintain moisture even with the heat.

$79.95
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