Making Homework OPTIONAL Is the Way to Go!

Homework. It's a cringe-worthy word. The problem most parents complain of is TOO much homework (which I agree).  And the complaint from most teachers is that it's a lot of prep (I agree) and that much of the work is done by the parents. Students begin to hate homework starting early in their elementary years (yikes).  Here's how we make it work for parents, students AND teachers!

This year my teammates and I made our 1st grade homework OPTIONAL. Yes, you heard it. We don't REQUIRE our students to do homework.  We do ask that they read 20 minutes per day, but there are no math worksheets, no book reports, no reading calendars, no homework folders.
BUT- they do have a chance to do homework if they'd like! Many parents in our community are heavily involved and really would like their children to do homework each night to teach them things like time management, responsibility and to practice the skills we are learning in class. I agree that these things are important, but RESEARCH (John Hattie's research is great to look at) shows that homework does not really help in the success and growth in our students. 

What do I do INSTEAD?
Present homework as a choice.
Each week we have a newsletter that lists our optional homework. For each item the student completes and the parent initials, he/she gets a Homework High-Five (a raffle ticket). If they do 5 parts, they get 5 tickets!  I do not need any other "evidence" other than a parent initial. This keeps the work on my end limited, but students are able to bring in any work they'd like me to see. For instance, a student made an elaborate leprechaun trap last week as a weekly challenge and took a picture to show me! :) The students turn their newsletter note on Friday, regardless of how many tasks they've completed (even if it's zero) because at the bottom the parent signs off that their child did their reading each night...which is the only requirement.  NO READING CALENDARS. :) I do feel the need for at least that much accountability (signing a note)...especially when a majority of my students prefer video games over books. 

Take-Home Reading Folders (20 min. each night) or just reading any book before bed! I want them to LOVE reading and if they prefer their own books to read, they just need to let me know that. 

Spelling Practice (depending on the difficulty, they can earn up to 3 tickets for doing this 3 nights)
Math Website (i-ready for 30 minutes per week and I can easily log in to track progress)
Weekly Challenge (see below)
First Grade Goal (learn address, write birthday, write phone number, etc.)

Stapled to newsletter each week is always the spelling list. For math practice, my students all have accounts on i-ready math (paid subscription from our school) which is a differentiated, computer math program. It teaches the students lessons on their level and assesses them using animated games and activities. Our kids love it. 

Each week there is also one "weekly challenge" and we like to really mix it up with these challenges. They earn a ticket for completing it. Here are some ideas:

*play outside for 20 minutes each night
*check out a book at the public library
*help make dinner
*do the dishes
*listen to a song and make up a dance
*build a leprechaun trap
*play a board game with your family
*read a book in the dark with a flashlight
*read to a sibling or stuffed animal
*write a letter to a friend
*visit a nursing home
*Practice jump roping
*build a snowman
*teach your parents how to do the "Milk Shake"
*draw a map of your house
*with your family, take a walk around the neighborhood and count the stop signs
*Play four corners
*Draw a picture for a neighbor and deliver it (with the help of an adult)
*preform a science experiment from
*with help from an adult, research online about emperor penguins and write three facts about them

After students bring in their note, a parent volunteer calls them into the hall to fill out their Homework High-Fives. I like my students to sign their own tickets so they can feel excited about it! This motivates the students to do the homework, even though they don't have to, because they want to win a prize. W

I draw 5 names each week. The "extra names" get dumped into a larger tub and I draw one grand-prize winner each month. So, I have a huge tub of all of the tickets they've ever signed. 
There's always a chance to win!

What do my students win if their name is called?  COUPONS!  I love Proud to be Primary's Class Reward Coupons (and so do my students). They are obsessed with picking the coupon that allows them to switch seats and sit by a friend. Ugh. ;)

Everything you need to know about these awesome coupons can be found {here}.

Parents were SHOCKED when we said we have "optional" homework. There were some who jumped for joy and some who just could not believe we would encourage this craziness! We had to get them on board with it. HA! Before we started, we sent home this important note. The parents who "hated" the idea of getting rid of it were still pleased to see they could still make their kids do homework with this optional method.

 What have I noticed since doing this for the first time this year? I have noticed that parents are less stressed, families are more happy, and I have not seen a decrease in academic success! Who even knows who was actually doing that math worksheet I used to send home, right?

If you'd like to see examples of what I send home, click HERE
What are your questions? 
Comment Below. 

What about students who NEVER have help at home and then are never able to earn a ticket?
You can allow those students to take a few minutes of their class time to complete parts of their homework. These might be your students you're already holding interventions for, so why not give them a few minutes and work on their homework as well. 

What if a student does not practice their spelling and does horrible on their test each week?
I just sit down and talk with the parents about the importance of practicing at home at least once or twice. We practice a lot at school. We have a new phonics rule each week and we read books with that phonics rule, read poems and practice reading and writing those words each day in word work. 

How do you handle students who do not have access to a computer for your online math option?
We are lucky enough to have a class set of laptops for out grade-level and so I allow students to do i-ready math as a fast finisher in the morning. Before that, I'd let that student use my laptop when they finish their journal in the morning so that they can get the i-ready signed off. The students all know how to log in to their own i-ready account so it's very independent. 

If you don't do reading calendars, how do you know the students are reading?
Because I do take-home reading folders, I keep track of what books I send them and the dates they return them. If they are reading 20 minutes each night, they should be returning their books about 2 or 3 times a week (depending on the length of their book). I also send reminders home if I haven't seen their folder in 2 weeks. ALSO, a big indicator if they are reading at home is their progress in  reading groups. :)

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