Think about Homework and Whether or not it’s Necessary

As a new school year begins elementary school teachers are often very busy with setting up their classrooms, learning students’ names, and developing a classroom routine that works. Once everyone is settled in and the first few weeks of review work is over, it’s time to get down to the business of teaching new material.

How will your students best learn their new, grade-level concepts? You’ll have countless strategies on hand to help your young elementary kids learn and you’ll likely incorporate group work and play time.

What about homework? Some parents expect it, some parents hate it and you may think that some students genuinely need the extra practice.

Just like adding more playtime to an elementary student’s day is currently a hot topic, the homework/no homework debate is one that rages off and on with various intensity. Sometimes principals or other administrators will set a homework policy that teachers must adhere to. However, it’s more likely that principals allow teachers to make that call on their own. If you’re struggling with whether or not you’re going to assign homework, consider the following questions:

  • Are the homework assignments more like “busy work?” You may believe that parents want to see homework, and some do, but nearly all parents can spot assignments that seem more like unnecessary time fillers.

 

  • Will parents need to help? Obviously, it’s ok to assign projects now and then that will require a parent’s help. After all, parents should be involved in their children’s education. But, if you regularly assign homework that parents need to help their child complete, it may be better to find a way to do those assignments in class.

 

  • Can you set up a “study hall” time instead? Use homework as a time management tool. Assign a few pieces of homework and then let students know there will be specific time during the day in which the assignments can be completed. Set it up like a study hall and allow only homework or reading during that time. Encourage kids to do the homework at that time to avoid having to take it home. Teaching kids how to manage time at an early age can only help them as they advance through school.

 

Many education experts believe that homework isn’t necessary in elementary school and may not even provide a single academic benefit. If you have the freedom to decide whether or not you’ll assign homework, consider adopting a no-homework policy, especially if you teach in one of the younger K-5 grades. Encourage kids to be active after school and save the academic work for the classroom.

If you must include homework in some way, consider assigning reading time. Probably one of the best all-time homework ideas is to require kids to read for 10-20 minutes at home. You can even include some kind of logging system, either on paper or on a device.

The point of homework/no homework discussions is really more about a student’s free time and less about whether or not they are spending enough minutes on academic work. A typical elementary student probably attends school for at least 6 hours per day. Factor in before school care and after school care for students that have working parents, and kids as young as 5 and 6 years of age are spending lots of time in a structured environment. So, try to ease up on the homework if you can and ban it altogether if you’re allowed. Let’s give elementary students more free time when possible.

Tips for Balancing Social Time with Learning

Most elementary teachers realize their 5-year-old to 9-year-old students are little bundles of energy. And, these kids need to move around. Unfortunately during the “No Child Left Behind” movement, it was popular to cut recess time and replace it with additional instruction and/or testing. Thankfully, the trend is now reversing with teachers, administrators and parents more on board with the idea that unstructured playtime in elementary school is an important part of learning.

In fact, as an elementary school teacher, you will probably notice that valuable life lessons take place during recess or other free time. Learning to share and compromise, taking turns and making friends are all activities that can happen during an elementary student’s free time. These experiences can help kids successfully navigate their academic career, as well as make it easier to manage your classroom.

So, how do you balance time spent on curriculum with unstructured play opportunities? Below are some tips that can help you create social and educational lessons in your classroom:

  1. Make morning work more social. Do you hand out worksheets during morning work time? If so, consider switching up the routine a few times a week with morning work manipulatives. Store sets of materials in easy-to-see cubbies or clear tubs and have students work in groups a few mornings a week. For instance, have 8-10 sets of materials available. These can be STEM items, card games like UNO, Scrabble tiles, art supplies, etc. Divide students in to groups and let 2-3 kids share one set of materials. This adds social time to their day plus forces them to work on sharing and negotiation skills.

 

  1. Board games. Set aside 15 – 30 minutes every other day for board game play. What better way to teach the “taking turns” skill than with a quick Chutes and Ladders or Connect Four game? An added benefit is that these types of games almost always include counting. Plus, kids can engage in casual conversation and friend-making during this time. Increase the educational value by adding on a quick math or writing lesson at the end. Kids can write a paragraph about which board game they like best or they can keep track of points during a game and add them up afterwards, work out an average score, etc.

 

  1. Cooking projects. Kids almost always love to help out in the kitchen but it can be hard for families to carve out that time at home. Use your classroom to set up a play restaurant a few times a semester. Assign duties like setting tables, pouring drinks, measuring ingredients, stirring, etc. Of course it will be easier to use recipes that don’t require a lot of stove or oven time like Rice Krispie Treats, no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, etc. Be creative, patient and know you may have to dash down to the teacher’s lounge to melt or boil something in the microwave.

These three activities have the potential to create academic lessons as well as important social interaction. Children learn during play so be sure to allow time for your students to engage in social/leisure activities during the school day.

How to Help Students with Attention Issues

Students in elementary grades often wiggle in their seats, talk during class and share rambling stories about things not at all related to the subject at hand. In short, most kids in the younger grades have trouble paying attention at some point. But what about the students that have chronic difficulty with staying engaged? Whether or not you have students with an attention-deficit diagnosis, it’s usually easy to pinpoint the children that just don’t have the same concentration abilities as most others.

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Ideas for Introducing Coding

Many schools have implemented tech lessons built around the “hour of code” initiative. In case you’re not familiar, the hour of code is a website that promotes the idea of teaching computer coding. For example, users can learn the “language” behind making elements move on the screen. Lessons build on each other and both kids and adults can progress to creating an entire video game. Anyone can take advantage of the tutorials and lesson plans on the site. Students learn the basics of coding, either individually or through an organized hour of coding event.

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Helping Students Develop Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a broad term that covers several concepts relating to a person’s ability to realize their own emotions plus recognize how another person is feeling. There are many benefits to developing emotional intelligence such as an increased awareness of how emotions affect and guide behavior, greater sense of empathy and the ability to adjust emotions to varying situations.

In terms of elementary school students, how important is it for a child to work on his or her emotional intelligence? Furthermore, how can elementary teachers help foster their students’ emotional growth?

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Test Anxiety in Elementary Students and How to Help

Test anxiety is real. Many elementary teachers discover that even when kids have mastered a certain concept, sometimes a number of them will still perform poorly on a test. The truth is that some kids aren’t as well equipped to handle test pressures as others. Poor concentration and general fears can be some of the reasons behind a student’s inability to consistently perform well on all types of exams.

As a teacher, what are some strategies that you can implement to help ease students’ test stress?

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Ideas to Encourage STEM Education in Elementary School

scienceSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is a hot topic right now. And, the recently released Hidden Figures movie is considered by many to be an inspiring example of women working as mathematicians for NASA. So, when thinking about adding STEM activities to your classroom, now is probably one of the best times in recent history to introduce the topic. Students of all ages can participate in STEM lessons, even those as young as 5 or 6.

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How to Encourage Divergent Thinking

elem-school-craftsDo the students in your elementary classroom ever attempt to change the subject during a lesson? Going off topic may put a damper on the lesson plan for that day, but allowing a student to steer a discussion in a different direction can produce interesting results. Kids in grades K-5 often “think outside the box” and may even introduce solutions to a problem before any questions are asked. These types of free-flowing discussions are often referred to as divergent thinking, and kids in particular are usually very good at expressing thoughts in this way.

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Holiday Ideas that Encourage Reading

promote readingPeople are busy during the holiday season. Teachers, parents and even students can feel harried during the sometimes frenzied mix of Christmas parties, music programs and gift giving obligations. Why not make your classroom’s holiday efforts center around reading this year? Promoting literacy is always in season. Plus, reminding kids to read during the extra busy time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can actually help them relax while improving their reading skills.

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