Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

First let me say thank you for all you’ve done for our children this year, I hope all parents are appreciative of your time and effort and consideration and compassion for children that you were handed (for better or worse).  I realize it’s that time of year again though – you know, when the weather is getting better, the sun is out longer, and the end of another school year is in sight? – and I have a bit of a request.

I realize how much still needs to be done in the school year.  I know how much homework still needs to be assigned and how much studying needs to be completed so our kids can learn what they need to learn, sit any tests they need to sit, and finish all that work that allows them to say they have finished yet another grade.  But (yes the but) the kids are heading towards that outdoor mindset making the next few months hell on earth as we parents do battle to make sure the homework is done, the tests studied for, and learning is complete because our kids want to do what any sane person does: Enjoy the outdoors.

Don’t get me wrong, we make sure the kids get their outside time after school.  After a day primarily spent indoors, I know they need to run and jump and climb and play, otherwise known as “having fun”.  The problem is when there’s too much work coming home, that time outside has to get shorter and shorter as families delicately try to balance studying and the all-important getting the kids outside.  As a parent, I’m afraid I can only do so much.  I could tell my children to ignore homework, but I don’t think that helps anyone, does it?

Before you think I’m here to suggest you just forfeit the whole homework thing, let me explain further (unless you’re ready to forget the whole homework thing, then feel free to and don’t bother reading the rest).  What I am asking is this: Instead of the tradition pen and paper homework that fills backpacks across the country, why not change things up a bit?  What if homework these days required being outside, at least for some of the days?  What if instead of doing division or multiplication on the paper, kids had assignments that involved being outside (e.g., ‘Collect just enough leaves/sticks/rocks/etc. such that you could distribute them evenly between 3, 4, or 6 groups in the class with no leftovers’, or ‘Find 3 different flowers or seeds and show how they represent Fibonacci numbers’)?  What if instead of science on paper, you sent kids out to search for the animals or plants they are studying and write up what they observe or find?  What if instead of reading any old book each night, you asked children to go out to nature and write a poem about what they are looking at and how it makes them feel or keep a diary of what they did each day to either turn in or turn into a longer story?  In short, what if homework became the outside time?

I know it means a lot of work and I know it deviates from the whole workbook mentality our school board officials seem to be in love with, but when the flowers are blooming, the sun is peaking through, and the kids are eager to be a part of nature, isn’t it our job to make sure they have those opportunities?  I imagine it might make the kids a little less surly during the day too, right?  So I ask, from a parent to a teacher, two people who want children to thrive and learn about the world around them: Can we not find a way to turn these beautiful days into other ways to learn?  Who knows, the kids might actually realize there’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered...

By Tracy Cassels

April 14, 2014