Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer homework

I've noticed a trend in schools: assigning homework over the summer. Mostly this means tracking reading, journaling, summer reading lists.

I don't ever remember getting summer homework in school, so I'm not sure when this trend started. But I find it irritating.

I understand that the schools want kids to read over the summer. They are trying to prevent skill loss. That also seems to be the motivator behind so many 'balanced calendar' and year round schools, and the shortening of summer break.

But I contend that making reading homework can actually be counterproductive. Because reading, something that should be enjoyable, is becoming a chore. Homework is work.

Last year, we had to track reading minutes for both boys. The schools tracked reading minutes, with classroom goals. Some days, the boys wanted to play or draw or do something creative. And we had to make them stop so they could get their reading minutes.

For 1st grade, the teacher set a goal of 200 minutes per week. That's about 30 minutes every day. Not so bad. Except if even one day had 0 minutes it was pretty difficult to hit that goal. Which can be hard on a 6 year old.

(Oh yeah, these goals are for 5 and 6 year olds. Who aren't so good at tracking this stuff, meaning mom and dad are keeping track.)

Now, some days they were really into reading, especially with the right book. On those days, they would read for an hour or more. But other days they just weren't in the mood. And making them read made them dislike it.

This summer, I haven't used the charts to track reading minutes or books read. Looking at them, we maybe haven't hit the goals for each day, but have my boys been reading? Yes. Yes, they have.

Reading a Spongebob comic--on vacation!
They discovered a love of Spongebob and Angry Birds comics. They giggle at Shel Silverstein poems. They are in the midst of listening to Daddy read The Hobbit to them. And they are enthralled, waiting for the next chapter each night. They enjoy listening to audio books in the car, usually following along in the physical book. They discovered Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I find Dr. Seuss books strewn across their bedroom floor after hearing them laugh their way through Hop on PopThe Cat in the Hat; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; or Green Eggs and Ham.

Is it more important that they learn to love reading, learn to enjoy reading, or that they read a certain number of books for a certain number of minutes?

Now, there are kids who love the challenge of summer reading programs. And that's great. But I question the wisdom of making reading homework that has to be tracked, at least for new readers. Because I want my boys to want to read, not be forced to read.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A benign stranger

Last weekend the boys and I joined Chris at the Columbus (Indiana) Visitors Center, where he was participating in an outdoor, public practice with the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums. While he played, the boys ran around and played. They made friends with two young girls who were also hanging around the plaza, chasing each other around a giant sculpture.

The other mom and I sat on the low wall, watching the kids, listening to the music.

"Do you see that man over there?" she suddenly asked me, nodding toward a man leaning against a wall watching the kids play. "He's watching the kids and it's making me nervous."

"He's probably enjoying watching them play," I said, with a shrug. There were several people hanging around, stopping to listen to the bagpipers as they passed by. Some would stop on the steps to the Bartholomew County Public Library, right next to the Visitors Center, where this particular man was leaning.

"I hope so," she said, obviously not reassured.

I didn't really think much about the man, as he seemed to just be enjoying the music and watching the kids chasing and laughing. How many women do the same with no one noticing, much less commenting?

Then the kids ran back across the plaza to chase around the sculpture again. Mom followed them, keeping a vigilant eye on her girls. And a few minutes later the 'suspicious' man walked across the plaza, past the sculpture, and stood on the corner just across from the sculpture.

I admit I paid some attention at that point. He was a middle aged man wearing sunglasses and a slouchy hat. The timing of his changing position was... interesting. I didn't think anything was actually going to happen, but that did make me just a little... worried isn't quite the right word, but aware. Yes, aware. I'm betting Mom had alarm bells ringing. I'm actually surprised she didn't gather her kids and leave immediately.

Maybe ten minutes later, a city bus stopped at the corner and the man got on. He was just waiting for a bus.

I refrained from saying anything to the other mom, but I hope she noticed. I hope she realized that he was just someone who happened to be there and was enjoying the day. I hope she realized, at least later when she could think back without the panic of immediacy, that most people are good, that most people are just going about their day, and that most people who smile as they watch kids are just enjoying watching the kids play.