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Dear Teacher

Kindergarten Homework, Benefits of the PTA and the Importance of Correct Spelling

Your Questions of Teachers Answered

March 01, 2011
>What to Do about Two Hours of Kindergarten Homework

Question: My 5-year-old daughter has a lot of homework in kindergarten – as much as two hours occasionally. The work is on stuff that I am still trying to teach her how to do, so she isn't frustrated with learning. We have noticed a decline in her work attitude when it comes to school during the past couple of months. I truly believe it is because the children are forced to do and learn so much that the pressure gets to them when they don't understand it the first time. How can I improve her attitude toward learning? -Attitude Problem

Answer: No wonder your daughter is not enthused about doing her schoolwork. Two hours is way too much time to devote to schoolwork. You simply can't spend this much time in one session trying to get your child to do or understand her homework. At the kindergarten level, 15 minutes is the appropriate amount of time for homework, if any is assigned.

You have waited a long time to deal with this situation. Set up a meeting with your daughter's teacher right away so that you can find out how you and the teacher can help your child master the kindergarten work. Be sure to discuss in great detail your daughter's skill level with the teacher. The child may simply not be ready to handle the work that she is being asked to do. This could be a result of the trend of pushing first grade content into kindergarten.

In the meantime, put some joy back into learning for your child. When doing work with her, focus on areas where she will have some success to rebuild her confidence in her ability to learn. And try to use games, songs and computer activities much of the time when working with her. Because her kindergarten sounds very academic, you may need to spend time reviewing the work she has done this year during the summer to prepare her for next year.

The Benefits of Belonging to the PTA

Question: I wanted to tell you about my experiences in being involved with the PTA. Being a member of a PTA makes one a part of the oldest and largest organization that advocates for all children. The organization dates back to 1897! As the mother of three grown daughters, I have spent many years involved with the PTA, as my mother did before me. I now watch my oldest daughter's involvement at my grandsons' schools. It is a legacy to pass on.

My own involvement included several years as an officer throughout my daughter's middle- and high-school years. Often, this is the time we see parent/guardian participation drop off dramatically.

All parent/staff organizations set out to support the staff, students and programs of the school. They fundraise, they educate and they offer support in a variety of ways. As a member of a PTA, one not only supports your own child's school but also reaches out state-wide and nationally for all children. - PTA Supporter

Answer: Another great benefit to being an active member of the PTA is getting to know the parents of many children in your child's school. It also acquaints you with school administrators. Plus, you get a bird's-eye view of what is happening at the school. And there is no question that the collective voice of the members of this organization has more influence than that of one parent.

Is Spelling Correctly Still Important?

Question: Last year, my niece was a fifth-grader. When I was trying to help with a school paper, she told me she didn't have to correct her spelling on school papers. She only had to spell correctly on her spelling tests.

I was convinced that she was mistaken and made her correct all her spelling mistakes. The next day, my brother spoke with the teacher. To our astonishment, my niece was correct. The school assumes that in the upper grade levels all papers will be written on computers, and spell-check will take care of the spelling. What do you think? - For Correct Spelling

Answer: Fifth grade is a bit soon to throw in the towel and no longer stress the correct spelling of words. Each time a child misspells a word and it is left uncorrected, the misspelling is reinforced. We don't think the teacher should correct the misspelling, but circle it so the student can correct it.

There are several flaws to relying entirely on computer spell-checkers to catch spelling errors. First of all, you cannot rely on spell-checkers to catch all errors because they do not always catch homophone errors (war, wore). Admittedly, they are getting more context-sensitive. And relying on spell-check and grammar-check as well can lead students to abandon the important final checking of their work.

Furthermore, misspelling words can affect how teachers view students' work. Some students may spell so poorly that it is impossible to know what they have written. Furthermore, at the present time, plenty of handwriting is still done on classroom work and tests at most schools.

Finally, the experts weigh in on both sides to this question. Some think relying on computers leads to skill losses in writing. Others believe skills lost by spell-checkers are being replaced by other skills, such as better research skills.

Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or ask them on the columnists' Web site at www.dearteacher.com.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts have master's degrees in education and specialist degrees (Ed.S.) in reading. Peggy recently completed her doctorate in special education and educational leadership. Together, they have co-authored more than 70 books and in 2003, Peggy formed the not-for-profit foundation, Literacy Plus, to make literacy accessible to the homeless.

Tags: Education, In This Issue, Preschool, Toddler

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