Last year, Miranda had a couple of pieces of homework each weekend: the red bookbag, where we were supposed to read some books to her and she was supposed to draw and write about them, and the yellow folder, where she was supposed to read to us. This year, the red bookbag continued, but the yellow folder turned blue and comes home most weekdays.

On the surface of it, this is reasonable enough – who could complain about having Miranda practice reading and writing at home? But the second night of the blue folder, we already ran into problems: the book was a little harder than her reading level, so while she could struggle through it with help, it took quite a while, and wasn’t something we’d want to go through every night. Fortunately, the next day was my classroom day (I got to meet the kindergartners in her class; fun), so I asked the teacher about it. The teacher said that she didn’t want it to be a big time sink – Miranda should either read the book three times or for 10-15 minutes, whichever comes first.

And 10 minutes an evening sounds pretty reasonable; who could complain about that? It turns out, though, that the answer is “I could”; here’s why.

We wake up around 6:45am. From 6:45 to 8am, we’re trying to get ourselves fed, dressed, showered, lunches packed, etc. Then we bring Miranda to school; she’s at school and daycare all day. We get home a little after 6; we have to walk the dogs, examine the mail, check answering machine messages, take tupperwares out of backpacks, etc., so assume it’s 6:15 by the time we’re done with all that.

Miranda starts getting ready to go to bed at 8:15. So, in a weekday, I have at most 2 hours of unrestricted free time to spend with my daughter. But it’s actually a lot less than that; for one thing, cooking and eating dinner take about an hour of that time. For another thing, I usually want to spend a little bit of time relaxing right when I get home, instead of playing with Miranda. And, for that matter, Miranda frequently wants to spend a little bit of time doing something, too. So 30 minutes a day is a more realistic estimate. (For weekdays; weekends are much better.)

And all of a sudden, taking 10 to 15 minutes a weekday to do homework looks flat out insane: who, in their right mind, given 30 minutes a day to spend just hanging out with their 6-year-old daughter, would give up half of that to homework? I for one am not willing to do so.

I’m sure that her teacher hasn’t worked through these numbers (she’s fresh out of school, for one thing). We have a parent teacher conference coming up, so I’ll talk to her about it, and it will doubtless be fine. And, even if it isn’t, this is a situation where we can simply say “no”. But it really scares me: for one thing, I doubt situations like this are at all uncommon, especially with the ratcheting up of “standards” that is infesting our country, and I can’t imagine that the results are good. And, for another thing, 30 minutes already sucks; I hadn’t realized the problem was so bad.

And school can already take some amount of blame for the latter. Of course, there’s only so much that can be done: Liesl and I are going to spend most of the day at work, so even if she didn’t go to school at all, she wouldn’t be hanging out with us. But if Miranda didn’t have to be at school right at 8:10 every day, then mornings could be a little more relaxed, bed time could be pushed back a bit, and bed time could be more flexible if we wanted to do something later in the evening some day.

Given the situation, I’m not even sure what the next step should be from a tactical point of view. At first I was considering asking that the blue folders be moved to weekends instead of weekdays, like last year, but, thinking about it, I think just working through the red bookbags is probably a bit more time than I’d ideally prefer to spend on homework even on weekends, though I’m willing to do so. So I’m leaning towards explaining that we simply won’t be doing the blue folders (at least regularly; Miranda may want to do them sometimes), and leaving it at that. Liesl and I will have to think about that before the conference.

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