Homework Zone Montreal

Every year, kids at all levels are being sent home from school with a growing mountain of homework, and it’s an issue that has many parents worried.

But Quebec mom and author Bunmi Laditan had enough and decided to take a stand against her 10-year-old daughter’s teachers by penning an email, which she later shared on Facebook in a post that has since gone viral.

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READ MORE: Parents struggling to help kids with homework

“Maya will be drastically reducing the amount of homework she does this year,” the email reads. “She’s been very stressed and is starting to have physical symptoms such as chest pain and waking up at 4 a.m. worrying about her school workload.”

Laditan explained that Maya was not behind academically and actually enjoys school.

“We’ve consulted with a tutor and a therapist suggested we lighten her workload,” she continues. “Doing 2-3 hours of homework after getting home at 4:30 p.m. is leaving little time for her to just be a child and enjoy family time and we’d like to avoid her sinking into a depression over this.”

According to Laditan, her daughter loves reading on her own, regularly does research on topics that interest her, takes coding classes and loves painting.

But over the years, Laditan has noticed a change in her child – one that she doesn’t like.

“She’s in school from 8:15 a.m.-4 p.m. daily so someone please explain to me why she should have 2-3 hours of homework to do every night?” she asks. “Children need downtime after school the same way adults need downtime after work… Children need time to just enjoy their childhoods or is that just for the weekends? (although we do homework on Sundays also).”

Standing firm on her decision to limit her daughter’s homework, Laditan says she’s ready to explore homeschooling as an option if the school doesn’t agree.

“We all want our children to grow up and succeed in the world,” she says. “While I believe in education, I don’t believe for one second that academics should consume a child’s life. I don’t care if she goes to Harvard one day. I just want her to be intelligent, well-rounded, kind, inspired, charitable, spiritual and have balance in her life.”

Adding, “I want her to be mentally and emotionally healthy. I want her to know that work is not life, it’s part of life.”

Laditan’s decision was popular among both parents and teachers.

“As a fourth grade teacher, I fully support this,” Katie Chavarria wrote on Facebook. “In fact, I have not given my students the first night of homework this year, and their academic growth has been just as much or more as I’ve seen from other classes in the past. Not to mention the fact that they seem much less stressed and ready to learn when they walk into my classroom.”

“I made the ‘Nope, not doing homework’ declaration to my son’s teacher this year, and guess what? It was fine!” Nancy Gardetto said. “And he has had a great and successful year.”

“Our home is also a homework-free zone,’ Kirsta Madden wrote. “They bring home work EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Starting in Kindergarten. No five- or six-year-old needs to sit and do work after spending six hours sitting and doing work. I just tell the teachers that homework is optional in our house and that there will be no consequences for missing work.”

Parenting expert Ann Douglas also agrees with Laditan.

“It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your child’s school if you feel that the amount of homework is overwhelming or causing undue stress for your child,” Douglas says. “Learning doesn’t happen when a child is feeling stressed and anxious, so piling on too much homework is actually counterproductive when it comes to learning.”

READ MORE: Why this mom is telling her son he doesn’t have to share with others

And if kids don’t experience that downtime their developing brains need, then it can actually hurt them in the long run.

“The child misses out on the magic of unstructured play, which helps to maximize creativity while also giving kids a chance to work on their social skills,” Douglas says. “And the child misses out on time to spend enjoying the company of other family members – a key pillar in supporting a child’s emotional health and well-being.”

If a parent feels their child is being overwhelmed with homework, Douglas suggests parents encourage their kid to talk to them about their struggles, and then have a frank (but collaborative) conversation with their teacher.

“Tell the teacher what you’ve noticed, and let the teacher know what you think your child can – and can’t – handle,” she says. “Keep the channels of communication open. Suggest a solution and then express your willingness to revisit that solution in a couple of week’s time.”

There’s little data on the amount of time primary school students spend on homework. However the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 15-year-olds in Canada tend to spend an average of 5.5 hours per week on completing homework.

One 2015 study published in the American Journal of Family and Therapy concluded that, in fact, kids are given three times as much homework than they should be getting, and it’s hurt their social skills, confidence and quality of life.

According to a 2006 study by Duke University, researchers found that students who were assigned homework often performed better in school. The association was stronger for students from grades seven to 12. For kids in younger grades, however, researchers said there was little evidence homework improved performance.

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University students help youngsters learn to enjoy homework

The SEDE Homework Zone program sees McGill students helping to instill good study habits and a love for learning in younger pupils

By Kamila Hinkson

Ask university students about what they develop while doing homework, and they will likely respond with "a headache."

But one program at McGill uses homework as a way to help university and elementary school students develop mutually beneficial relationships while instilling good study habits and a love for learning in the younger pupils.

The Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office of McGill  Homework Zone program started in January 2012. It pairs McGill student volunteers with elementary-school students who have difficulties academically and/or socially.

The program operates in three Lester B. Pearson schools – Verdun Elementary and Riverview Elementary in Verdun and Orchard Elementary in LaSalle – 90 minutes a week for 10 weeks in the fall and again in the winter. It's offered free of charge to the kids who participate.

"The homework gets them there, but it's the relationships that are built and the tools that are learned along the way that impact school success," said Anurag Dhir, SEDE's community engagement coordinator.

Students who are selected to  participate in the program are children who could benefit from having a mentor in their lives and who might not be able to participate in similar initiatives that aren't free, explained Matthew Albert, community liaison with the Lester B. Pearson board.

The program is funded in equal parts by the school board and by Montreal Hooked on School, an organization that works to keep kids engaged and interested in school.
Mentors come from all kinds of academic backgrounds and include first-year undergraduates to graduate students, which provides an opportunity for McGill students to forge new connections with each other, said coordinator Gabrielle Jacobs.

Before they start, mentors are taught basic techniques on how to help students with their homework. While the school year is underway, they periodically get together to share tips they've picked up with their fellow mentors.

Most children are tutored one-on-one, but since the mentors are usually outnumbered, the ratio often rises to one mentor for two or three kids. For last year’s fall semester, there were 55 mentors for 96 students.

The first 45 minutes of each session are dedicated to doing homework. The last 45 minutes are for workshops  and less structured  educational activities.  Previous activities included origami,  a demonstration of how to make “comets” with dry ice by McGill astrophysics students and a visit by an artist  who shared his passion for calligraffiti, the combination of calligraphy and graffiti.

Many of the mentors are from other provinces or different countries, and the program allows them to see a part of the city they may not otherwise visit while giving the kids a chance to meet people from outside their usual circles.

And being affiliated with McGill means the program's mentors and coordinators are able to consult members of the university community for help if they need tips on how to deal with certain students or to find guests to lead workshops.

Biochemistry student Lucy Li is entering her third semester as a volunteer with the program. She's worked with younger students and said she notices the impact the program has on them, even though they can't necessarily express it.

"In the beginning you don't know them, they don't know you, they're shy and it can be awkward, but I think towards the end they're more comfortable with you, they're more willing to ask for help and they really trust you," she explained, adding it also gets easier, as the weeks go by, to convince them of the merits of completing their homework.

While academics are a major part of the program, the coordinating team can't yet say if the program raises grades.

What they do know is that students who participate in the program are more socially engaged in school and these kids are often more willing to engage in similar programs throughout their academic careers.

"We're trying to instil study skills in the children ... but at the same time we're trying to engage them socially. That's the beauty of the program. It's not just ‘Do your homework,' it's more 50-50," Albert said.

For more information, visit sedehomeworkzone.com.


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