There are many aspects of my more than decade-long career as a teacher that I'm proud of.

My reputation for giving lots and lots of homework is not one of them.

For most of my teaching career, I taught fifth or sixth grade. Sometimes I gave more than two hours of homework. Kids complained a lot, though parents rarely did — at least not to my face. I think parents mostly felt the same way I did: that homework was the best way to practice new skills, learn responsibility, develop a strong work ethic, and reflect on new learning.


I wasn't entirely wrong about all of that. But only for middle and high school students (and not hours of assignments). Not for elementary students, and certainly not for kindergarteners or preschoolers.

When I entered a doctoral program in education policy, I learned about the research that suggests that homework is not good for young kids.

Not only does it fail to improve the academic performance of elementary students, but it might actually be damaging to kids' attitudes toward school and to their physical health.

I became a parent during graduate school, and then I experienced for myself just how tired and overwhelmed kids can be after a full day at school. After hours spent sitting and engaging in mostly adult-directed activities, children's minds and bodies need other kinds of experiences when they get home — not more academics.

What are some of the things kids could be doing instead?

1. Jump rope.

An important part of how young kids' minds develop is through free, self-directed play.

"Through play," writes David Elkind, Ph.D., "children create new learning experiences, and those self-created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way."

2. Talk with parents.

Instead of nagging their overtired kids to do homework they're too young to do independently, parents should spend time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us —especially young children — to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.

3. Sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25% and 30% of children aren't getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability, and weight gain.

4. Independent reading.

Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. Homework can actually interfere with the time kids can spend on reading for pleasure.

5. Listen to a book.

Studies show that kids who are read to aloud do better in school and have better vocabularies.

6. Go up a slide backwards.

"Risky" play is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks, and to learn how to negotiate their environments.

7. Help with dinner.

Kids who learn about new foods and how to prepare them may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.

8. Walk the dog.

Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and more active.

9. Hang out at grandma's.

Multigenerational relationships can teach kids how other adult role models in their lives handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.

10. Participate in a community service project.

Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.

11. Do a science experiment.

Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.

12. Play dress up.

The significance of imaginative "pretend" or "fantasy" play for kids' creativity and future problem-solving skills is difficult to overstate.

When kids pretend they're superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they're learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don't engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.

13. Wrestle with a sibling.

"Rough and tumble" play is not the same as aggression. It's vigorous, free-form, whole-body, energetic, happy play.  Kids learn decision-making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardiovascular health.

14. Clean their room.

A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid's future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.

15. Write a story.

By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.

16. Zone out.

Just as important as play is down time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest, and reset their minds and bodies.

17. Meditate.

Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.

18. Create a collage.

"Constructive play" — building a fort or making a snowman — is goal-oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children's communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.

19. Listen to classical music.

One study found that that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills as well as self-discipline.

20. Learn to knit.

Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and help in developing longer attention spans.

21. Take pictures.

"Photography can help develop a child's voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community," according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.

22. Ride a bike.

Kids who are physically active have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.

23. Listen to a long bedtime story.

Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don't have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.

When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn't improve academic learning.

In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning. Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional — as well as rest.

Our kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.

This article originally appeared on Motherwell and is reprinted here with permission.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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