Reading Aloud for a Lifetime

When your child begins reading, it's NOT time to stop reading aloud.

When your child begins reading, it’s NOT time to stop reading aloud.

My first child learned to read early. Soon after, he announced, “I don’t need bedtime stories anymore. I can read by myself.” He made the same mistake many adults make: that reading aloud is only for the very young.

Reading aloud can be a crucial part of parenting – and you’re never too old. My mother read to me all the way through high school. I read bedtime stories to both my children. One is heading to middle school next year; he’s not too old.  Reading aloud is a beautiful way to share the world, and it gives kids a second level of literacy.

Children can read at one level. They can comprehend story and grasp vocabulary at a much higher level when being read to. Both are needed to get excited about books.

Being read to is a lovely and loving experience. My husband and I read to each other while courting. My parents still read books to each other after 50 years of marriage. At family get togethers, my children listen while grandpa reads them story poems. I hope they’ll always remember his resonant voice and love of language. You’re never too old to be read a story.

Reasons to celebrate reading aloud -

Joy and interest – Learning to read can be hard work. Reading aloud keeps stories pleasurable.  Kids who are working hard to master reading crave stories beyond “The bug is on the rug.” They also love stories with much more complex characters and plot than simple readers offer. Reading aloud lets kids fall in love with books at their listening age, not their reading level.

Expanding literacy -  Together you can decipher the vocabulary in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The learning level kids can handle when being read to is far higher than what they can read on their own. Five-year-olds can glory in complex story and vocabulary. Sometimes the rhythm of the words alone excites them. For teens, try reading a difficult-to-get-into book for the first few chapters until they get into the story and take off on their own.

Introduce new books – Kids love series partly because they feel comfortable with a cast of familiar characters. Rereading old favorites is wonderful, but reading aloud lets you introduce your child to new favorites. One good way is to read the first book in a series together, then let your reader explore the rest of the series on her own.

Complex topics – Reading aloud lets you introduce topics like facing death (Tuck Everlasting) and injustice (Bud, not Buddy). If you don’t know which books to choose, ask a children’s librarian. There are books on all sorts of tough topics.

Supplementing school – Schools fit in a lot, but they can’t cover everything. Reading aloud lets you add to your child’s world, say by reading a children’s version of the Hindu epic of the Ramayana.

Closeness – You loved snuggling with your preschooler on your lap as you shared a good book. Reading aloud to your 10-year-old or teen lets this closeness keep going.

There’s no upper age limit for reading aloud. It’s not just for children and not just for picture books and early chapter books. Reading aloud can last a lifetime.

Have you stopped reading to your children? Do you read aloud to anyone in your life? What age were you read to as a child?

Posted in Our Bedtime Story Book, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Reading Aloud for a Lifetime

  1. deidra says:

    Thanks for the reminder. I have kind of stopped reading to my 8 year old, mostly because he devours books on his own. I will have to start again.

  2. Shannon says:

    Thank you for this. My mom and I went through so many children’s classics — and later, adult classics — together. We read every morning before school all the way through high school. It’s very much a comfort activity for me now. We still try and get together around Christmas and reread some of our favorites.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, lovely. What a wonderful way to start the day, and what a wonderful gift for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing your family’s reading tradition. Inspiring!

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Of Blankies, Bears and Loveys


There’s no such thing as “too old” when it comes to teddies and blankies.

Sometimes we adults get worried about a child’s attachment to a favorite blanket or toy. “He’s too old for a blankie,” people say. “She’s got to stop carrying that old thing around,” or “It’s not the lovey I mind, but she sucks her thumb when she holds her lovey. We’ve got to wean her of it.”

Not every child attaches to a blanket or special object, but for those who do, the love is fierce, deep and necessary. Who are we to break up the relationship?

A child’s love for his teddy or blankie is indeed a relationship. The object is part of the child’s soul. For some children, they see little difference between themselves and the blankie object. They are both “me.” Taking a blankie or lovey away, for short times or forever, can be like ripping a piece of the child’s soul apart.

A child who needs a lovey is practicing two wonderful emotional skills – self-comfort and love. We should not get in the way. Instead of worrying about a child’s constant need for the love-object, we should rejoice. This child is demonstrating that she is capable of deep love and attachment. For now, the attachment is to a blankie. Years from now, the attachment will be to a person, cause or place on earth. A lovey can bring deep satisfaction and emotional grounding, especially in the early, wild years of swinging emotions.

IMG_1393Some grown-ups dislike blankies because they see it as a crutch the child uses to hide from fears. Blankies and loveys are often used when a child feels scared. That’s OK. Overcoming fears does not mean pulling a comfort object away. Overcoming fears involves taking risks in independent play. Overcoming fears also means trusting a child and giving him time to be ready.

What about thumb sucking? If thumb-sucking continues late into childhood, we legitimately worry about dental bills. It’s fine to encourage a child to put her thumb in the “thumb garage” or “thumb bed” (have her tuck her thumb snugly inside her fingers), but if she’s not ready to do that, don’t push it. A child will be ready in her own good time. If this means dental bills later on, so be it. Teeth are easier to fix than emotional chaos inside.

Meanwhile, don’t blame the lovey. Don’t tease the child about the lovey. Don’t steal the lovey. Don’t lie that “teddy had to take a trip.” Don’t cut the blankie down in size.

Talented children’s author Kevin Henkes, got it wrong in his picture book Owen, a story of a boy and a blankie. Owen loves his blankie and uses it for comfort or superhero cape as his mood changes, but adults in his life think he’s too old to bring a blankie to school. His mother comes up with a solution and cuts Owen’s blankie into small squares he can use as pocket handkerchiefs. Owen is all smiles in the end, but this is a false ending. Any solution should be the child’s. It is their soul we are talking about. A love-object should never be mutilated by cutting it into pieces – unless, of course, that is the child’s desire.

How old is too old? There is no upper age limit. Teens and twenties stop carrying their loveys out in public, but many treasure them at home. Gradually, the intense need will fade, and love can be transferred to future partners and family, but a first friend is always good to have around.

Instead of scheming to banish the lovey, respect your child’s deep attachment. Maybe you never found a soul-mate in a toy or piece of cloth, but support the child who has. Find and store away a second, identical blanket or object if you can, in case of loss. Label the lovey with “beloved blankie, please return” and give your phone number. We can’t keep physical objects 100% safe anymore than we can keep living beings 100% safe, but we can love and respect the relationship as long as it needs to last.

What about you? Did you ever have a deep love for a blanket or toy? Is your child getting “too old” for a blankie? Tell us your story.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Of Blankies, Bears and Loveys

  1. deidra says:

    My child has a lovey and as far as I am concerned he can get it for as long as he wants. It was a gift from my aunt and I am as attached to it as he is. I brought my lovey with me to college and it stayed on my bed until I got married. My best friend in college also brought her lovey to college.

  2. Briana Feinberg says:

    Thanks for this. My son has a monkey that goes everywhere with us (and we have a “deputy monkey” so I can occasionally throw him in the wash!) I kept my beloved bear with me through my whole life, and in October, I posted this anecdote on Facebook:
    Ellias has suddenly developed a friendship with Barney, the bear who was my constant companion through childhood. Barney was with me at home, during hospital stays, and later on my travels across the ocean. My family used to joke that he would be walking down the aisle with me… so it is very gratifying to watch Ellias asking him if he’s “been to the moon” (because the bear on his pjs is dressed as an astronaut) or if he’s been to the zoo, or the children’s garden, or the train station, and for Barney to reply, “No, but I’ve been to Paris, France and seen the Eiffel Tower.” Ellias asked Barney if he would come to his crib with him tonight, and as I closed the door, I overheard him saying, “Barney, do you like fish sticks?” This is some serious Toy Story stuff going on here, people.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I love the “deputy monkey!” Always good to have a stand-in. How heartwarming that your son is developing a relationship with your childhood bear. Sounds as if they will get on famously!

  3. Celine says:

    Thanks Heather for talking about it today. It comes just the day as I’ve been watching a French Nanny show, where there was a five-year-old with a pacifier in her mouth all day long (or so it seemed). Nanny obviously ordered her to throw it in the garbage, and… by the end of the show, the same little girl was definitely sucking her thumb. Just shows you there is not much you can do to avoid dentist bills.
    Interestingly, two of my hubby’s workmates shared how jealous they were of those who had braces at school, as they did not need them themselves…

  4. Sarah says:

    Recently on holiday in India our daughter’s “Baby” was forgotten at our hotel lobby when we set out for the airport, 2 hours away. We realised half an hour into the journey. We phoned the hotel & Baby was sent in a separate taxi to meet us at the airport! The taxi cost more than Baby had in the first place but thank goodness it was India & the cost was in rupees – negligible in £s compared to our daughter’s need for her Baby.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      What a lovely story! I can just picture the extra taxi rushing to meet you. Glad she has Baby back with her again.

  5. Pam says:

    I gave my 7 yo son a blankie when he was about 6 months old. He has loved it since, and he continues sleeping with is blankie. He also used pacfier, but that one we sent it to the pacifier heaven. As a result, my son started sucking his thumb and hasnt stopped since. I was very worried, until I read this article. I can understand my son a little more now. Thanks.

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New Year’s anytime

We're bundled up here for the New Year.

We’re bundled up here for the New Year.

My kids had fun counting down the New Year. By the time midnight came, one was in bed, but my older son stayed up to watch the ball drop and leaped and shouted “It’s 2015!  It’s 2015!”

We all need new beginnings. As I pointed out to my kids, January 1st is just one type of New Year in the world. According to our calendar, it’s 2015. Soon it will be year 4713 according to the Chinese New Year. Or we can go even older and say it’s 5775, following the Jewish calendar system, which celebrates New Year’s in the fall.

Give yourself a New Year anytime you need it. Refresh your parenting and your relationship with your child. If you’re like me, good intentions fall to the side when life gets busy, so declare today a New Year. Start afresh each month if you need to. Put a new parenting idea into action. Try something you’ve been meaning to try.  Maybe it’s renegade sharing – letting the child decide when she’s “all done” with a toy – or maybe it’s writing dictated letters summing up your child’s big, mad feelings.

New Year’s can be anytime. Children are constantly changing, and so are we. Let go of past parenting mistakes and forgive yourself. It’s time to move on. Today’s a New Year.

When do you think of the New Year?  Fall – during back-to-school time? Spring? Mid-winter? Are you hesitant about trying new approaches since your kids are so used to your old ways?  Happy New Year!

This blog is by Heather Shumaker, author of It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to New Year’s anytime

  1. I guess I think of New Season’s more than New Year. A new golf season in March or April is the start of imagining the possibilities of mastering the stupid game at least once.

    Fall is the season to refresh after a (usually) hot summer. Fall colors, blue sky days with billowy clouds, and cool nights with windows wide open make for invigorating sleep (which is NOT an oxymoron. :-) )

    Jan. 1 is the start of my fiscal New Year, which is the time to evaluate spending and savings goals and adding up last years income and expenses to see if we gained or lost financial ground.

    And of course there’s the start of baseball season around April 1 and hockey season around November 1 (college of course–go Gophers!)

    I try to avoid specific “resolutions” and just do what needs to be done when I evaluate what needs fixing or improving. Don’t need a specific date for that.

    I’m sure school-aged kids’ new years revolve around the first day of school in the fall, not Jan. 1. I based my life perception on that, exclusively. Jan. 1 was just a day to celebrate starting a new calendar, eating good food with family, and watching football all day.

    Good topic, Heather


  2. Heather Shumaker says:

    Love your idea of New Seasons. Very true, it’s how we live our lives. So many new starts and seasons of life for everything.

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Announcing a New Book

A sequel to "It's OK Not to Share" is coming in 2015.

A sequel to “It’s OK Not to Share” is coming in 2015.

There’s been a bit of silence on the Starlighting blog lately. That’s because behind-the-scenes I’ve been tapping away on my keyboard to create the sequel to It’s OK Not to Share. A new book is being born!

This book – untitled for the moment, but maybe called It’s OK to go UP the Slide – includes three chapters that were cut from the first book because the book was too long. Those restored chapters include making mistakes and teasing/ mean words.

Up the Slide is about risk and independence. It’s about screens and young children, princess play, verbal aggression (“you can’t come to my birthday party”) and talking with children about tough topics like school shootings and more. This book is for parents and teachers of kids in preschool, but also a little older, venturing into the elementary school years. It targets ages 3-10.

With elementary school comes new issues. Kindergarten, and options for alternate kindergarten. Increasing homework for young kids. Dwindling recess. It’s OK II addresses these topics head on and helps sort out what’s developmentally appropriate for elementary-aged kids and what’s not. Come join me for a renegade look at homework, video games, stories with sad endings, talking to strangers and more.

The book is with the editor now and will be available in Fall 2015.

Meanwhile, what’s your input on the title?

  • It’s OK to go UP the Slide: more renegade rules to protect children’s rights to risk and recess
  • It’s OK to go UP the Slide: more renegade rules for the digital age
  • Renegade Rules: the Sequel
  • your ideas

What title do you like? What are you hoping to see in this next book? Revisions are still going on for a few weeks, and your input is welcome.

Posted in Agents and publishing, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

14 Responses to Announcing a New Book

  1. Can’t wait. All my young friends are raising their families as we speak, and so I find myself interacting almost daily with these little ones. Yes, going up the slide.

  2. Catie Hill says:

    I love the new name! I especially like the first one, though that may be because I’m familiar with your “movement.” (met you a couple times in Leland.) The one with “digital” might appeal to a newer group, which would be fantastic. Regardless, I look forward to being able to actually read myself (17 mo, 4 1/2 yo, 15 yo) and when that happens, I’ll be stoked to read your new book! THANK YOU! Keep up the good work and the good word!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Catie, so good to hear from you in Leland. Thanks for your title input, and many thanks for your kind words! Good luck with all those busy kids.

  3. Maggie Lesoing says:

    I love the title for the new book. My kids are now 17 and 21 and I so wish your book(s) existed when my kids were little. The common sense (which, as they say, is not so common!) you spell out in the first book would have helped me to stand strong to my beliefs and be an advocate for my kids. Any chance you’ll have a book for parenting “older” kids at some point? That would be fantastic!

    Love your work, thanks so much for being here!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Maggie, thank you. I’m glad the title resonates with you. Older kids? I felt I was going “older” with topics for elementary school, but I see you’re looking for even older ones than that. I wonder how many books there are about parenting kids in their twenties?

      You touched on exactly the right word – advocate. “Up the Slide” is all about helping families gain courage and respectfully advocate for kids’ needs as the children enter the world of school.

  4. Love the title. Good luck with the book. I hope it sells twice as well as the first one.


  5. Kirsten says:

    Thank you for all you do and all your encouragement to us parents who are renegades! I like the second title option best. The first one says it all, but it’s a bit long.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your title input! Glad you find my books helpful for your own renegade parenting. All the best.

  6. Deborah says:

    The first one!
    “It’s OK to go UP the Slide: more renegade rules to protect children’s rights to risk and recess”
    Yes it’s long but I like the alliteration and I prefer it to “digital age” – digital age IMO would have been appropriate in the naughties (2000-2009) – just my opinion though!
    And I’d love an email to let me know when it’s ready to order or even pre-order.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Great! Thanks for your excellent input, Deborah. Yes, I suppose we’ve been in the digital age for a while now…good point.

      I’ll be sure to let you know when the book’s ready to order and pre-order. Thanks for your interest!

  7. katrin says:

    I just discovered your first book and the discussions on, and I’m hooked. I wish, I had read your book earlier, but maybe I can still turn this parenting mess around…
    Anyway, I just wanted to say, that I find the first pay of your suggested title awesome, but the second part about risk and recess seems not to cover all you are taking about in your new book.
    Please disregard my comment, if I’m wrong. I’m looking forward to reading the new book!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      So glad you’re hooked! Kids are forgiving – they do fine as we adults change and grow. Best of luck trying out new habits and hope you find some that work well for you.

      Thanks for your title input! My current thought for a subtitle is: “More renegade rules for home and school.” Glad to have you on board, Katrin.

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Allies for Outdoor Time

Kids need kids to get outside.

Kids need kids to get outside.

It’s 8am and my kids are out sledding with the neighborhood kids. They scurried out of their pajamas when a neighboring 8-year-old knocked on the door, sled in hand.

There’s lots of talk about getting children outside to play. I’ve seen books lately that give parents tips for how to play outdoors with their kids. Anything that gets kids outside is good, but nothing beats another child.

Sometimes it seems like the 1950s on our block. Children 5 and up ride scooters and bikes up and down the sidewalk. This is a neighborhood where kids congregate in neighbors’ yards and knock on each other’s doors to go outside to play. The young ones (5-6) seek each other out, but often the play becomes a mix of ages, 5-12, whether it’s a game of mud and sticks, baseball or leaf piles.

What does it take to get kids outside? Indoor screens can be so enticing. It’s hard to compete. Swings and play structures are fine, but that’s not what really draws kids out. All it takes is a child outside. Children are magnets for other children. All it takes in our neighborhood is three families who are comfortable with outdoor community play.

It starts with us. We need to loosen our reins and schedules and let kids outside. Start by finding a few allies, a neighborhood family who shares your goals of outdoor play. Maybe your neighborhood doesn’t have this mindset yet. You can be the leader. Send your magnets into the world and draw other children outside.

Do you have allies in your neighborhood? What is your neighborhood mindset? Do you have a place where the children congregate?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Allies for Outdoor Time

  1. says:

    We have no snow (yet) but leaf piles are still intact and will get kids away from the screens for a long time!! Taylor came over and played in the giant leaf pile with the dog for 2 hours! Jan

  2. 10-12 years ago, our neighborhood was pretty good for all the kids hanging out together outside. When most of them were under age 10, it was common to see 4, 5, or 6 of them outside playing some sort of kids’ game. But when they get to junior high and high school, all the organized activities such as sports get in the way of neighborhood fun. But I see glimmers of hope around town with spontaneous groups of kids out in neighborhoods making their own fun.


  3. Yes! Children often inspire other children. There is no need for an adult to say, “why don’t you try climbing that tree?” or “wouldn’t it be nice to go sledding?” When they see other children doing it, that inspires them to try or to go out and play. Love this simple post.

    - Angela Hanscom

  4. Linda says:

    Great post – this is so true! We live in the country, so unfortunately we don’t get any kids knocking on our doors spontaneously, but I do try to encourage outdoor play dates whenever I can. It’s not easy, because few parents in our area share my enthusiasm for outdoor play in all weather.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I grew up in a similar area, so I know it’s not always possible for kids to fall into play by knocking on doors. Good for you for encouraging good old play when you can!

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In the Dark

Taking kids outside at night builds wonder and joy.

Taking kids outside at night builds wonder and joy.

Last weekend we hosted a party to celebrate the dark. It was ostensibly a Halloween party, with costumes and bobbing for apples, but the main ingredients were simply nine kids running around in the dark.

Kids love to be outside at night. Whether it’s the glow of street lamps in the neighborhood, or spotting the moon, darkness gives children a thrill.

Besides standing at early morning bus stops, however, kids rarely get to experience the dark night. We stay inside with lights on. Darkness is linked to fear. But darkness is a wonderful way to explore the world and feel connected to nature.

As a camp counselor, I used to take night hikes with groups of 12-year-olds. Most had never taken a walk at night. At first they clung close together in fear. As we played games in the dark and gazed at the stars together the fear wore off and was replaced with wonder.

Darkness connects us to our deepest roots. Darkness gives us a sense of infinity. Darkness sparks questions and awe. Darkness makes us come together for friendship and companionship. Darkness in nature reminds us we are not the only ones living here. Darkness, combined with a pack of excited children, leads to chase games and delighted squeals of fun.

If you haven’t taken your kids for a nighttime walk, try it. Many kids are scared of the dark when it comes to dark rooms and spooky closets, but holding your hand in the dark is a companionable adventure. Darkness isn’t just for Halloween. Share fun in the dark year-round.

What are your favorite memories of the dark? Have you taken kids outside at night?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to In the Dark

  1. I was briefly frightened of closets and unlit rooms and basements as a child, but I loved being outside at night; on a farm, outside at night was, ironically, a safe place. Just this week, I felt that shiver of energy when the dark came on with howling wind, and I felt that same embrace of the night as exciting and thrilling. But also safe. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Heather Shumaker says:

    Yes, it’s funny how closets and basements are the “dark” that scares kids, but the real dark doesn’t so much. Thanks for sharing your love of night!

  3. Marisol says:

    The darkness is mistery, is does not have adjectives of color. Everywhere wacht the dark is interesting. Good idea

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Kids need Good News

Share wonder and good news with kids. Too many problems can be paralyzing.

Share wonder and good news with kids. Too many problems can be paralyzing.

I stumbled on a bit of environmental good news this month. Amid tales of climate problems, declining honeybee populations and invasive carp it’s rare to hear good news stories about the environment. Since 2004, Americans are driving less. Much less. In the last ten years, every measure of driving distance has significantly dropped: per person, per vehicle, per household and per licensed driver.

What good news.

Whenever we share big topics with kids – taking care of our planet, caring for people, stopping injustice – we need to be sure to share buckets of good news. Children need a chance to approach their world with a sense of optimism and change.

It’s easy to impart the bad news. But too much bad news can be paralyzing. As a child growing up in the 1970s, my schoolmates and I were bombarded with messages of destruction: environmental destruction and cold war nuclear destruction. I grew up convinced the planet I lived on was doomed and there was nothing I could do about it.

All the topics we care about – racial, environmental, inequality or other – are complex, on-going challenges. We can make progress in our lifetime, but we’ll need the kids to make progress, too. Share the problem, but share the good news, too. We all need a dose of both to make things better.

Good news environmental stories make us all realize we can change our direction.

Curious about the study results? See pages 4-5 here.

Have you shared wonder and good news with your kids lately? How’s your outlook? Have you been ingesting too much bad news media? There’s both good and bad out there.

Posted in Good News Stories, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Kids need Good News

  1. Cari Noga says:

    At 6 and 9 my kids are both still quite insular, so my priority is presently increasing awareness of the world around them, taking the good with the bad. So I like to simply draw attention to the newspaper as I’m reading it, usually at breakfast. I’ll often show a picture and try to engage them on the subject. I do like the idea of helping kids feel they can make a difference, too.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Sounds as if you have a great breakfast balance. The first step is just noticing all that’s going on around us, as you say.

  2. I’m in this for my grand (!#!) nieces and nephews, and I’ve learned that when I’m around the house, if I don’t tell their parents, my nephews and nieces, the good things that happen, cynicism tends to abound about everything from government to compost. Yup, the children need to hear some good things because honestly, it’s a challenging time for this coming-up generation. But if they are fed on fear and darkness and the resulting helplessness, that’s no good either. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad you’re putting those good words of optimism in there! Serious problems need optimistic people to help solve them. Your grand nieces and nephews are lucky to have you.

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Homework Letter Update

Update on banning homework in favor of play and family time.

Update – building log forts and banning homework worked.

First, thank you to the folks who have read my controversial post “Why we say “No” to  Homework.” I must admit, I was blown away by the thousands upon thousands who read that post.

Many of you have asked excellent follow-up questions, but since there were so many of them I didn’t know how to respond at first. Now I know. I’m incorporating “Homework” as a major topic in my next renegade parenting book. Meanwhile, I’ll answer one of your burning questions here.

What happened after our family wrote the “we ban homework” letter?

The letter sparked a good conversation with my son’s third grade teacher. We talked about how we supported his education at home. We talked about her goals for the class and her goals for him. We agreed to no homework and that it was still his responsibility to master what kids were learning in class. Thanks to her flexibility and understanding of individual needs, the year went by without a glitch.

It seems more teachers are willing to be flexible in the younger years, especially if parents show they care and are involved. My child’s first and second grade teachers also agreed to no homework for our family, but each year the pressure increased. This school, on the whole, believed in homework for elementary students and had the common “10 minutes a grade” policy. By 4th and 5th grade homework was expected to be 40-50 minutes long each night (though many families will attest it took much longer) and became more serious. We were heading into a true clash of education cultures.

So last year we changed schools. This is difficult in our small town because there aren’t a lot of options. We now send both our kids to a charter school that basically has no homework until middle school. They encourage reading every night at home.

The individual approach — the “no homework” letter — is a difficult path that gets harder as children grow older. What really needs to happen is mass change and education of educators. For my next book, I’m digging into research that shows that there is no evidence that homework at the elementary school age helps at all.  Many scholars dispute its worth at the middle school level, either, and that any homework over two hours a night for high school has a diminishing return.

So it’s a happy ending for us. My son is in 5th grade now and tells anyone who will listen that he goes to a “really cool school!” But the problem is immense. Every day people find my blog by typing pleas on the internet like this: “my 7-year-old is in tears with three hours of homework” “homework is ruining my family” and “it’s past 10pm and my 4th grader is still working on homework.”

What’s your update? For those of you who have tried to buck the homework system, what was the result? I’d love to hear from you.

What happened? Did it work for you? What’s your homework story?

It's OK Not to Share coverHeather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. New book coming in 2015.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Homework Letter Update

  1. Marta Zeegers says:

    Hi Heather,
    As a Pre-K ECEer, I was rather stunned last year when a parent approached me to find out why her just-turned-four year old daughter wasn’t reading yet. She was baffled as to why we weren’t doing worksheets. I tried my best to explain my classroom, and that I would not be asking any of the children to do worksheets or pressuring them in any way to “learn to read” but rather providing a literacy rich environment within a larger child-rich environment.
    Don’t know if my message got through to her, but I hope so!
    I love your book, my copy has so many dog-ears and creases… I share bits of it with whoever will listen! Thanks for making the language so easy to use!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Good to hear your story, Marta. Yes, I’ve heard from many teachers that parents ask for worksheets and homework, even at a young age. The process of education goes both ways. So glad the book is serving you well. Those kids are lucky to have you.

  2. Robbye Edwards says:

    Love to hear others who have the same opinion on homework. My 17 year old is an “Out of the box” learner. He makes all A’s, other than Algebra 2. When trying to speak to his teachers about his learning style all of them agreed with my opinion except his Algebra teacher. He would rather spend his time at home building computers, websites and Apps., riding dirt bikes and rebuilding his 73″ Duster. We are blessed to go to a private school that has an understanding of learning styles:)) He is being moved from that class to a teacher who supports our decision. He still has homework but he is not up until 2 AM( seriously) like his classmates. I’m pretty sure he is going to grow up to be a healthy, happy, productive member of society!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Good for you for speaking up and finding a teacher that was a better match. Wonderful – thanks so much for sharing your story.

  3. Lisa says:

    Heather, I’ve been fighting the homework battle for over two years. I have 7 kids – my oldest is now a high school senior, and I am sad to say that when he was in elementary school, I just didn’t know better, and I would fight with him daily over homework, taking on the role of drill sergeant/enforcer, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. It wasn’t until my fifth child was in first grade a couple of years ago that I had kind of a revelation. She was coming home from school every day with a packet of worksheets to do, and she would cry and dawdle and complain that she was tired, and I would sit there and make her do her homework anyway. Then she started complaining of tummy aches and saying she didn’t want to go to school, and that’s when it hit me: this is all just too much for a six-year old. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about homework and realized that as a practice, it’s not evidence based and has no intrinsic value, especially in elementary school. I tried to reason with my daughter’s first grade teacher, but I was met with “My way or the highway.” I ended up telling the teacher flat out that I just wasn’t going to make my daughter do homework anymore and I really didn’t care if her grades reflected it, and that teacher and I had this huge falling out over it, drama drama drama, blah blah blah. Anyway, my daughter didn’t do any homework for the rest of the school year and did just fine academically. But since then, I’ve taken it to the district and the school principal, trying to get the homework policies changed, and nobody will budge. So I fight individual teachers about it, and sometimes they are receptive, and sometimes they are not. I now have a high school senior and a seventh grader, both of whom manage their own homework pretty well. I have two fifth graders (twins) who have daily homework, but I’ve made clear to their teacher that I will only support homework to the extent that it doesn’t create stress and tension in our house, and that it doesn’t interfere with other activities/pursuits. My fifth child is now a third grader and I’m actually pulling her to homeschool her because she’s falling through the cracks at school. I really feel like her first grade teacher did her a huge disservice with her inflexible authoritarianism and turned my daughter off to school, rather than instilling in her a love of learning. In second grade my daughter was placed with a teacher who was counting the days until her retirement, and this year she’s gotten placed in a 3-4 combo class with a teacher who is teaching full time for the first time – AND she’s very committed to homework as a necessary practice. So I finally realized that if I don’t do something a little drastic to try and turn things around for my daughter, she’s going to have years of misery ahead of her.

    Anyway, you’re right that the problem is a big one. The whole thinking surrounding homework needs to change, but I’m really not sure how that is going to happen. I am really losing confidence in the public school system, what with overcrowded classrooms, Common Core, and homework policies that are not supported by evidence.

    I write a blog about school and homework if you’re interested:

  4. Lisa says:

    Also, I meant to address your point, too, about your son remaining responsible for mastering the material even without doing homework, and I just wonder how a child can do that when so often, teachers do make mastering the material dependent on homework. So often, it seems that teachers rush through lessons (I’m sure due to time constraints) and then expect the practice and application of the lessons to take place at home. How do we deal with that?

    • Kim Dunn says:

      Good question Lisa! My son (a 9th grader) has wanted to only learn it in the classroom. When I have let him slack off on homework on and off through the years, my assessment is that he still doesn’t know as much as I would expect. This shows up clearly with the scores on his math tests. Of course his math teacher would say he needed to do the homework for practice. They are on a block schedule, meaning there are chunks of classroom time that could be dedicated to math practice. I can’t imagine the teacher talks the whole time. The end result is that the output is poor, time is wasted at school and at home. Unless I completely jump in and teach it to him, much understanding gets lost. When he is home sick, I do the teaching and get better results with less effort in a shorter period of time. A lot about life today is just pushing through the volume of things in our lives instead of truly learning and absorbing and appreciating life.

  5. Good for you, Heather! I opted to homeschool for the same reasons. I hope your bravery has an impact on the public school system. Hooray for teachers who are willing to listen with an open heart!

  6. Pingback: Why We Say "NO" to Homework - Starlighting MamaStarlighting Mama

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Recess is as vital as Lunch

Taking away recess is the same as taking away lunch = bad for learning, health and education.

Taking away recess is the same as taking away lunch = bad for kids and learning.

What if you heard a teacher say: “Your assignment is late. You can’t eat lunch today.”

Preposterous, we say. Lunch is essential for giving kids energy. It boosts brain power, helps focus and concentration, and gives kids a social break. So does recess.

More than 30% of U.S. schools have little or no recess. For schools with scheduled recess time, teachers commonly hold recess over kids’ heads as a disciplinary threat. Restless behavior? No recess. Late homework? No recess. Missing parent signature on reading log? No recess. Didn’t finish a class assignment on time? Stay in for recess to finish it.

Recess should never be taken away for any reason. Recess is as essential as lunch.

Cognitive work (school work) takes enormous amounts of concentration and mental energy. Recess restores it. Simply looking at academics, recess is vital to improve memory, learning, concentration, creativity, problem-solving and other executive functions. Recess also refreshes the spirit, it improves children’s attitude toward school, and gives them an emotional and social break. It’s a chance to see friends and do your own thing. Recess is break from being told what to do all day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says in its 2013 policy report that “recess is a crucial and necessary component of child’s development and…should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”

Like other forms of corporal punishment, depriving kids of recess is a misguided practice that has to go. Yes, recess deprivation is corporal punishment. “Corporal” = of or relating to the body, and “corporal punishment” includes physical imprisonment.

Can teachers manage without this particular management tool? I have confidence they can. Teachers once thought they couldn’t manage their classes without swatting kids with wooden boards. Bad practices seem convenient at the time, but they have no place in quality education.

Taking away recess – whether by schedule or as punishment – deprives kids of the chance to learn at the best of their abilities.

Besides, those restless kids? Their bodies are telling us a simple message: we need recess the most.

Find out if your child’s school has a protection policy about withholding recess. If not, try addressing the issue with the classroom teacher with a preventative note:

Dear [teacher's name],

We feel strongly that recess is an essential part of the school day for optimal learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child should be deprived of recess time for any reason (behavior, missing classwork or any other). If you need to discipline [child's name], please do so in a way that does not compromise recess. We’re happy to discuss this more with you at any time that’s convenient. We’d like to do whatever we can to support you in the classroom.  Thank you for all you do for the students.

Sincerely,  [your name]

Has your child ever been deprived of recess? What was the cause? What other methods work well for educators?

It's OK small coverHeather Shumaker is author of the book It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.  Her new book, coming out 2015, includes chapters on recess and homework. See more at

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Recess is as vital as Lunch

  1. deidra says:

    My son’s old school withheld recess for kids who did not complete their work. When I complained and said it was a punishment, the principal wrote back and said it was a consequence and not a punishment. It happened to other kids in his class and other kids at the school. I am really not sure how she was able to get away with it, because the NYC DOE Wellness Department had a policy prohibiting the use of physical as a punishment or reward and a policy against withholding recess as punishment.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wow – a school violating its own policy about not withholding recess. A true educational and cultural gap there. Glad he’s at a new school!

      • deidra says:

        We are very happy too. His day is a little longer, but the trade off is 30-45 minutes for lunch and 45 minutes for recess. A much less hectic and more humane lunch/recess period.

  2. Jaime Havard says:

    The school my son attended was usually the #1 school in our state and they stopped having recess for classes 3rd grade and up a few years ago. For years I thought the principal just wanted to keep that top position and I blamed her. When I started investigating Common Core and related testing issues I realized it was not the ranking…. it was the growth. They are under an incredible amount of pressure to continue to grow even though the scores are already knocking on the ceiling. Testing begins in 3rd grade so a regular recess period vanishes – to squeeze those last percentage points out of successful students. There is no finish line in the “Race To the Top”.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Third grade is far too young, as you know. My next book is compiling research that shows academic performance and even test scores tend to go UP when kids have recess. Sometimes school officials will be swayed by the logic of the data.

      Perpetual growth is impossible to maintain no matter what you are measuring, especially humans.

  3. Tammy Alcorn says:

    I am a mom that has a 9 year old with high functioning autism and ADHD. He is constantly in at recess time for not finishing his assignment he was working on before the recess time. The teachers ar see always using recess as a disipline and punihment for him. I have finally reauezted to the teachers to please use another method of discipline ecause my son needs recess to ge out his full energy. I beleive parents need to help their children and stand up for them.

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Kindergarten Crash

Is your kindergartener crashing after school? There's a good reason.

Is your kindergartener crashing after school? There’s a good reason.

If you have a new kindergartener, perhaps this scene happens in your family: Sudden crash when you get home. Screams. Tears. Droops. Falling asleep in the car or on the sofa. You know something’s not right. What is it?

Kindergarten Crash. It’s an extreme message that something’s not right. Listen.

Last year I sent my youngest off to kindergarten. He was the first one in the family to go to all-day, every day kindergarten, and he rebelled with every inch of his 5-year-old little body. The long day wiped him out. When I picked him up from the bus he collapsed on the sidewalk, shrieked and dissolved in tears. At home, he had no energy to play. He just sat in a chair and stared, day after day, his toy pirates untouched.

He fell asleep for the night at 5pm.

Kids across the city I knew in other schools had the same reaction. One girl fell asleep in her car seat at 4:30pm. Another girl cried in the parking lot and screamed when she came home. Another kindergartener cried every day before school for 8 weeks. These are signs of kids showing extreme stress and exhaustion.

What was happening? These were the same kids who had been at all-day daycare or preschool for many years quite happily. It wasn’t an issue of separation. They were used to being away from home all day. They were used to being in groups of young children. So what was so different?

Adult expectations. Daycare gave them naps, playtime, outside time, stories, songs and free play. The pace fit the child.

Kindergarten used to include naps and free play time. It used to be half day. Children haven’t changed, but adult policies and expectations have. Kindergarten children are now expected to sit still most of the day, perhaps have one 20 minute recess, and focus on academics all day long.

What was different? As a fellow mother said “Less play, less food, less rest.”

“They’ll be fine,” said one kindergarten teacher. “They just need a few weeks to build up their stamina.” Build up their stamina?? No, we need to reset expectations to match the child.  Kindergarten should be an in-between year between early childhood and grade school. Expectations need to shift accordingly.

If schools can’t do it, parents need to take charge. There are alternatives to kindergarten. If it takes too long for school policies to catch up, families need to create new spaces for 5-6 year-olds now. What can you do instead of all-day, every day kindergarten?

  • Don’t go. Kindergarten is not mandatory.
  • Pay for another year of daycare or preschool. You don’t have to redshirt. Go directly to 1st grade next year.
  • Homeschool the kindergarten year. It can be spent mainly in the sandbox.
  • Search high and low for a kindergarten that still allows half days.
  • Try a “Young Fives” program – but beware, these do not tend to be play-based, just mini academic kindergarten programs. However, many Young Five programs do allow half days.
  • If you need more daycare, supplement Young Fives with after school care – this tends to be more relaxed and social and full of play.
  • Find a charter school or alternate school that fits your child better.
  • Pull your child out.  Give him rest days, pick him up early for half days, or only send him 3-4 days a week. Some principals and teachers will support you with this.

Whether you work full-time or whether you are mostly home with your kids, there are kindergarten alternatives that can work for you. If your child is stressed and overly exhausted, her needs are not being met. Find a way where your child can relax and be the age she is today.

Avoid the Kindergarten Crash.

It's OK small coverRead more in It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.

What is your experience with long kindergarten days? Did they differ from preschool and daycare? How did your child cope?

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14 Responses to Kindergarten Crash

  1. says:

    I totally agree with you Heather. Many elementary teachers don’t know child development which I would think would be a requirement of their teaching position. A professor in my graduate school class asked me what I thought early childhood education was missing in their curriculum some 20 years ago. I said social and emotional development which is the most important in preschool. Lots of preschools have caught on. Too bad most elementary educators haven’t learned this! What is wrong with the system??? Jan Waters

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I’ve heard from many kindergarten teachers who know kids need something different – yet they are part of school systems that require a set curriculum. It’s heart breaking for these fine educators who feel their hands are tied and can’t give kids what they most need.

  2. I observed with mixed emotions yesterday the beginning of all-day kindergarten as mandated by my home state of Minnesota. I don’t know if it’s required for the children to attend or just required of all schools to offer ADK, but I wasn’t aware that kindergarten is optional. Perhaps that fact is conveniently hidden from public view by those for whom controlling children longer each day is in their best interest. If ADK is optional, I’m sorry that most parents leap at the chance to dump their kids into the hands of “the system” at such an early age.

    At the same time, I am mollified by the fact that many kindergarteners in my town can now spend a full day, five days a week, away from their godawful home situations. We have a sizeable share of free- and reduced-price-lunch eligible families in town. As a former Big Brother to a Little who came from a poor home with little discipline, supervision, and parental guidance, I’m glad that maybe a few more kids can be influenced positively by more exposure to a safer, saner environment than they get at home.

    But on balance, no kindergarten, or home schooling if school attendance is required, is the way to go. Most kids can easily be taught at home what they learn in school, outside of some social graces. But as you say, the vast majority of kids grow up in day care, so socialization is no longer the issue it once was.

    Great post as always, Heather


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, yes, it’s often presented as “of course you have to go to kindergarten.” Minnesota’s new law seems to similar – kindergarten is still OPTIONAL, but it’s presented as the start of school. Ex: “Thanks to a law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May, all Minnesota families will have the option of sending their young children to all-day kindergarten free of charge.” The previous law was that parents had “the option” to send their kids to half-day kindergarten.

      The other issue you bring up is frequently used to advocate for early childhood programs. Especially for kids from dysfunctional homes, kindergarten and preschool need to be a time for social and emotional learning and processing.

  3. Erika Cedillo says:

    I wish I had read this last year! I feel you because we went through the same and you put it in clear words!! And after this year I totally agree with you, the adults’ expectations from a kindergardener are way too high, we need to readjust to their real age. My story has the twist that my girl has a developmental delay and all they could see were her behaviours. It was really hard to make them see further that she was really communicating, with her actions she was trying to tell that things were not good for her. I also agree with you that we need to read the signs and advocate strongly for our kids, that’s what I did. In addition, I have decided to hold her back and do KG again, but this is related with her being born in the fall and her delay. Thanks so much for your blog!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Erika. Yes, all behavior has meaning, and your daughter was certainly communicating. So glad you stood up for your child and found a solution that works for your family. All the best for this year.

  4. Mel B says:

    Interesting. I have twins currently in ADK. One thriving, one in melt-down mode. I have lots of thinking to do. The “twin” issue complicates it even more. Leave one in and allow the other a shorter week? What does that do to the sibling dynamic? How will my 3rd grader and the twin Kindergartner react if I allow a shorter week for the melt-down Kindergartner? I’m quite positive they would ALL like to stay home 1-2 days/week. Hmmm…will be a good discussion for my husband and I.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah yes, the sibling question. Thanks for writing. Sounds as if you will have good discussions with your husband about this and I’m sure you’ll come up with a good solution. Here’s some ideas you might find useful or could help other families in a similar spot.

      It’s certainly easier with older siblings – acknowledge what you’re doing and why. “This is what a 5-year-old needs. When you were 5, we made sure we met your needs. Now Jacob’s 5. He needs more time to rest.” You can tell your older child stories about when s/he was 5. Describe what her kindergarten year was like, what you did to meet her needs.

      As the parent of twins, you certainly are used to navigating the extra challenges of fairness between twins. Besides fairness, there’s individual needs. “You were both born on the same day, but different people have different needs. It’s my job to support each of my kid’s needs.” There’s no harm in giving both kindergarteners a rest day sometimes, but if one is truly thriving and loving ADK, you might try giving the thriving twin an option at early pick-up time. If s/he’s already happily engrossed in class when you come along with an option to go home, your child might say “Oh, no, I want to stay and do this.”

  5. Helen Rubin says:

    31 years ago I bought the book of Florida school laws! There I discovered that my rising age 6 in Nov son was only required to attend 4 hours per day thru age 6 (he was placed in an experimental pre-1st class so technically skipped K because of his age and school convenience). The principal was mad that we even asked for our rights, more upset when we wanted to continue the 4 hours throughout the year! The children had compulsory nap time for most of the afternoon so he may as well have been home with me and his younger brother.
    Thank you for this post Heather – it is so sad to read of the same issues in early schooling around the world when ‘all’ academics know that play is best!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Four hours a day sounds perfect. Good for you for being a sleuth and standing up for your rights and what you knew was right. Love this story.

  6. Tawn says:

    I love this post in many ways; parents have so many rights to decide how to educate their child, and many 5yo are NOT ready for a full academic day. That being said my daughter did great in full day kindergarten last year; but it was set up well. Three recesses (without the older elementary school students running over them at the playground), lunch after recess, snack, PE and music alternating days, as well as computer labs a few days a week, reading groups, math groups . . . lots of action built in and good quiet time corners in the classroom.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Three cheers for three recesses! Maybe that made all the difference. So glad your daughter had a good experience. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Liz says:

    What do you do if this is your 6 year old in 1st grade? The teacher says she’s great at school but the minute we’re home she melts down. She’s in an awful mood the majority of the time no matter what I do or say and she’s mean to her younger sister. I’m at a loss.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Sorry to hear your daughter is struggling. Many kids can hold it together in public but show their real stress for you at home.

      As you know, she’s sending you a signal something’s not right. The first step is to observe her class. That may help you understand what she’s reacting to. Sleep is another biggie. For her age, 10-11 hours of sleep is recommended, though my nearly 7-year-old still sleeps 12 hours. She may need more sleep than normal to avoid meltdown stress. Third, if you see nothing wrong in the observation, and she’s getting 11+ hours of sleep a night, then you might want to start pulling her out for shorter days in the afternoon. Some kids can’t take full school days, even in first grade. If teachers protest, ask your pediatrician for a doctor’s note for “rest.” Finally, I would ask her. In a calm moment, ask your child. Sometimes kids are very good at putting their finger on what’s wrong. Good luck!

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