Your Homework: Cook Dinner With Your Parents

You’re in the second grade. You’ve got your homework assignment sheet; it’s full of fractions and numbers you barely recognize; there are complex words you’ve never heard before; the good news is it’s hands-on, and you’ve set aside time with mom or dad to get it done; the only problem is, you’re out of brown sugar.

The Toronto Public School Board unanimously passed a groundbreaking new homework policy aimed at cutting back and reforming homework policies in kindergarten, primary, and secondary education. I found this information in looking through Sara Bennett’s blog, Stop Homework, which linked to an articlein TheStar.com, which detailed the major elements of the new policy. Among them were:

  • No homework on Holidays or “days of significance” at any grade level
  • Kindergartners should never have any homework, other than reading with or talking to their parents
  • Until the third grade, students should have no homework other than playing games, having discussions or cooking with their parents . . .

Let me break here for a minute because I really like this idea–wait, no, that won’t do–I freaking love this idea. Yes, that’s the emotion. First of all, how many of us have thought to ourselves over a disgusting bowl of Top Ramen, that we should have learned to cook at some point in our lives. I know I have. Secondly, it covers all kinds of subject matter relevant to second graders. Anyway, Karen Grose, the Toronto board’s Superintendent of Programs, said it best when she said;

“[cooking] involves the family, it involves mathematics, it involves literacy, reading, talking and nutrition,”

What else could you ask for from a second grader? Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important point, this is legitimate homework that doesn’t eat up any precious time out of already busy lives–not of the parents, and not of the students. Plus, it’s time kids and their parents can spend bonding in a meaningful way. But the thing is this: no worksheet or formal requirements can be attached that will be counted toward a course grade. I agree with this policy, because every student has a unique situation at home (some students don’t have conventional guardians, others have parents who work at night), and to put some sort of rubric to homework like this would defeat the purpose. Not that this type of homework should be marginalized or otherwise ignored, just, not punitively enforced.

Back to this list:

  • The ridiculous standard of 10 minutes per grade level of homework per night–No Mas!
  • Homework that is assigned will be assigned in flexible blocks, in advance, so that teachers and students have time to prepare.
  • Homework should only relate to materials already discussed in class
  • Grades 7 and 8 should have no more than one hour assigned a night
  • High school students no more than 2 hours a night

The policy is largely the product of thousands of consultations with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and all sorts of community members, whose input helped inform the goals of the document. Obviously, Toronto has plenty of individuals who care deeply about the issue at hand. Sara Bennett gave Frank Bruni, one such Toronto resident, a guest blog appearance on Stop Homework, where he made some interesting points I’ve never considered. On the subject of over-homeworked students and parents, Bruni had the following to say;

“this kind of workload, this kind of lifestyle is harmful, for both adults and children. We know that the incidence of childhood obesity and childhood diabetes is on the rise and the T.D.S.B.’s own research shows student stress alarmingly high. Indeed, a federal report in 2006 suggested that this is the first generation of children who can expect a shorter life expectancy than their parents”

Plenty of studies have been done to link stress and obesity, and perhaps too much homework is a part of the problem. Plus, Mom and Dad are too busy to cook a proper meal–what with all the extra homework–so the kids end up getting Tombstone and Tater Tots. Maybe I’m reaching, but it seems like the more I research this topic, the more it becomes clear to me that too much homework is somehow rotting society from the inside out.

To all you second grade teachers out there, listen up! Save this country by assigning your students to cook with Mom or Dad. At the very least, you might get some left-overs out of the whole deal.

 Rushowy, Kristin. “Cuts in homework proposed“, Apr 01, 2008 04:30 AM, TheStar.com, http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/407827

Bennet, Sara. “Proposal to Scale Back on Homework in Toronto Unanimously Passes Committee Vote“, April 6, 2008 at 10:06 pm, stophomework.com, http://stophomework.com/proposal-to-scale-back-on-homework-in-toronto-unanimously-passes-committee-vote/251

8 thoughts on “Your Homework: Cook Dinner With Your Parents

  1. I agree with you: these ideas are freakin’ awesome! To begin, the homework assignment of a second grader cooking with their parents is not only extremely clever, but as your blog states, it includes multiple subjects such as math and reading. For a second grade assignment, it’s genius. I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit shocked with the notion of high schoolers only having 2 hours of homework a night. To me, that’s ludicrous. Your comment about “tombstone and tater-tots” struck a chord with me; I remember coming home from school during middle and I would pop a box of pizza rolls in the microwave and sit down to do hours of homework. When I was a dishwasher I wrapped my textbooks in plastic and propped them behind the sink so I could study; when I was a cook I kept a book on the prep table next to me as I made lobster bisque and crème brûlée. There was no way I would have been able to make it through my classes without bringing my homework into my real work, and there is no doubt that this much pressure from school on top of working 40 hours a week increased my stress levels. It is because of this that I agree with Frank Bruni in that children living lifestyles such as these with such high levels of stress is unhealthy. No here comes the big question: how can we implement this idea of less homework into the current American education system? As much as you and I both agree with it, the American work-ethic of our school systems, I’m afraid, probably doesn’t support removing homework when it’s attempting to keep up with standardization and NCLB. Regardless, something must be done.

  2. Brad,
    I also think this idea is “freakin’ awesome!” I like the idea that students would be able to spend time with their parents when they could put to use real skills in the real world like reading, math, and communication. Cooking definetly is a tool to use at home that could help students become better at math for example. When students are assigned to cook with their parents, I think that that might be the chance for them to actually show and tell their parents about something they have learned rather than parents asking their children how school was, and the child responding with “fine” or “Ok”. (My brother was one those children.) I wonder though about students who do not have a parent or gaurdian who would take interest in the homework to cook at night?
    I also really like the idea that this cooking as homework could possibly help prevent obesity in children. I do think that children are lured into eating unhealthy foods due to parents lack of willingness to prepare a nutritious dinner. In the US we have so many foods available to us that are quick to prepare, that we forget about nutrition. I think there are definetly many positive outcomes from this type of homework assignment.

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  4. Cooking and baking are two things I learned early in my life. Both my mother and grandmother would be by today’s standards out-dated. The funny thing is, I am too. I cook from scratch, the way I was taught growing up. Yes, I loved to spend time in the kitchen. While my sisters were busy with Barbie and Ken, I junked the easy-bake for the real thing. Was that odd? Ask Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, or even Ferran Adria (if you speak Spanish). Food is a staple of life (sorry Gandhi). Some of my best memories are in a kitchen with the wonderful women of my life. Not only did I learn to cook and bake, I learned real world skills.

    How did all that help me? I was a cook for 3 years in several restaurants. I gave it up to become the personal chef to my wife and son. The best part is the thrill my son has when I call him into the kitchen to help. I have learned one of the best scaffolding techniques is being there for your kids. While Kyle may not be able to crack eggs one handed, know the exact tackiness of bread dough, or slice potatoes paper thin, he knows more than most kids his age (he can tell you the difference in reactions of baking powder and baking soda). Want to raise better kids, find a way to get them involved. Cooking and baking could be a learning experience for everyone in the family. Reading about healthy foods, how to eat better, and having a hand in food prep, are wonderful life long habits to build upon; in fact it might get a few members of the family off the couch.

  5. Ok Brad… I also LOVE this idea. I think it could be a great, great thing for students, families, and teachers. Before you quoted the author in saying that cooking involves math, literacy, reading, family time, etc., I was thinking about all the great bonding and family stories that would be shared during AND because of this “assignment.” When I did read about how great this could be for all sorts of educational areas, I just threw my hands up in the air, as in… “It’s about time!” I Love Love Love this idea.

    Thinking critically about it, in a not-at-all-critical sort of way, I think this could be great for everyone involved. It allows family time, while still being active and using the mind for both the parents, students, and teachers. Not only will teachers have more time at home themselves, but maybe they will also be able to cook at home with their spouses and children.

    Obviously, this can’t work all the time – but, I am one of those people that thinks sometimes, homework is ridiculous. I don’t mind a little bit here and there, maybe an hour a night, but when schools and teachers don’t communicate – students very often go home with several hours worth of homework to do. I can’t understand how it’s ok to send a student home from 7 hours of school, only to do 2 or even 4 more hours worth. There ARE other things more important. For example, FAMILY (cooking), exercise, etc.

    I have really enjoyed your blog Brad. You’ve also directed me in several direction from your links. I think you have some great ideas, and I’m willing to say your students are going to be very successful in learning 🙂

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  8. That is so cool. From every possible view point that seems like the most efficient way to approach homework. Of course students are going to be like that’s so awesome, no more homework! But it really is helpful for everyone. Teachers can then spend more time teaching and not handing back and going over homework or going over the assignment when it is handed out. Also, teachers have lives too. We don’t want to have a whole bunch of hours grading homework just to have to also eat Tombstone and tater tots because there is so much home work to grade. Then the parents obviously want to be able to spend time with their kids. I never saw this connection before but, these days I see more and more parents doing less and less with their kids. Maybe it is because they have so much homework to do.

    I remember when I was in elementary school, I had so much homework. One of the big concerns back then was if because we were assigned so much homework our backpacks were extremely heavy and it was messing our backs up. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the reason I have back problems. But besides that, I would be sitting there for sometimes 4 to up to 5 hours doing homework. So by the time you’re done it’s just late enough to take a bath and go to bed. Maybe more school districts will start to do this.

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