1 Meztim

Do Instead Homework

As children are getting ready for the start of the school year, parents are likely prepping the kitchen table's inevitable transformation into their kids' homework station. With the amount of homework currently assigned to students, it seems kids spend most of their waking hours reading, studying, writing, memorizing, analyzing. When are they supposed to spend time outdoors to run through the grass, ride their bicycles, or climb trees? When do they just get to be kids? 


Homework’s feeble start can be traced back to days when children of every age were grouped into one school room, all learning at a different level. (Remember the schoolhouse in Little House on the Prairie?) During an era when children worked on the family farm and were depended upon to complete important household tasks, relatively little time was spent at in the classroom. So when children were expected to recite lessons at school, they had no choice but to prepare at home.

The current debate on homework is not a new topic among parents. Believe it or not, there was an early movement to ban homework that began back in 1900; by the 1930s and 40s, many schools had eradicated homework altogether for grades K-6.

“The first backlash began in the early 20th century as repetitive drilling came under attack, and by the '40s, homework had lost favor.”— NY Times

So why the ebb and flow of homework? If you take a quick look at American history, it’s easy to identify issues that motivated our country to hit the books past school hours. An article in The New York Times shares:

“The launch of Sputnik in 1957 generated hysteria that we were losing ground to the Soviet Union, and more homework was one response, but the practice again waned in the 1960s. Homework came roaring back after “A Nation at Risk” in the 1980s as Americans again feared their children were falling behind.”

Sure, it can be beneficial to continue practicing math equations and to read literature assignments at home. Applying concepts learned in school to situations outside of the classroom is essential, but how much homework is too much? According to the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, the standard is 10 minutes of homework for every grade, meaning 1st graders get 10 minutes, and high school seniors should have a total of 120 minutes. But children are being assigned much more work than that. Some kindergartners are getting as much as 25 minutes of homework a night, the same amount meant for 3rd graders.

Is all this homework actually helping our children, or is it a disservice to their physical, mental, and social development?


Research shows an obvious increase in both mental and physical health issues that relates to the amount time children spend on homework. Kids are suffering from anxiety, depression, ulcers, migraines, sleep deprivation, and weight loss, all that can be attributed to the decline in the amount of time children spend playing.

“One hundred years ago, rather than diagnosing children with attention deficit disorder, pediatricians simply prescribed more outdoor exercise. Homework was blamed for nervous conditions in children, eyestrain, stress, lack of sleep, and other conditions,” states the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kids who spend a large amount of after-school time on homework don’t necessarily benefit from the extra work. Stephanie Donald-Pressman of The New England Center for Pediatric Psychology shares: ”The data shows that homework over this level is not only not beneficial to children's grades or GPA, but there's really a plethora of evidence that it's detrimental to their attitude about school, their grades, their self-confidence, their social skills and their quality of life."

When children spend multiple hours on homework after school, they're apt to miss out on playing with friends and family activities and have less time for extra curricular activities, which in turn results in less physical activity each day. Complex at-home projects can often require parental assistance and often computer work. Too much time spent on computer screens directly before bed actually makes falling asleep more difficult, which in turn leads to being tired at school, less attentive, and less engaged in their lessons.  

Image via Venspired


Child psychotherapist Katie Hurley emphasizes the importance of play: “We are conditioned to believe that pen, plus paper, plus books equals learning. Truth is play equals learning.

An article in the The Atlantic written by an American educator teaching abroad describes the Finnish tradition of giving school children frequent breaks—15 minutes for every 45 minutes spent in the classroom. While the American teacher first viewed the practice as excessive, he began to see the benefits. Freedom from structure allows the children to recharge, and when they return to the classroom, they’re more attentive. “It’s free-play that gives students the opportunity to develop social competence. During these times, they not only rest and recharge—they also learn to cooperate, communicate, and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.”

Children don’t need worksheets to apply lessons they’ve learned in school. When they spend time outside running around, engaging with other children, they learn social skills like problem-solving and decision-making, co-operation, helping to enhance their social-emotional development. Play is beneficial to teenagers, too, helping to develop independence and perseverance.

Play offers children a break from structure. It gives them opportunities to apply their skills on their own terms, to make decisions, experience the consequences, and learn from their choices. Play is their homework, essential in cultivating creativity, in growing strong and thoughtful minds. A better balance of homework and play should be stuck in an effort to most effectively educate our children--to help them grow into well-rounded, intuitive, inquisitive, and thoughtful adults. 

How much time does your child spend doing homework each day? Do you think it’s a fair amount? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

President Obama’s pick for Education Secretary, John King, Jr., is headed for confirmation Mar. 9. King’s track record shows he loves standardized testing and quantifying learning. If he loves numbers and research, he should welcome what some teachers and families have known for years: that homework at young ages does more harm than good.

Click here to get Time for Parents, a roundup of the week’s parenting news that doesn’t feel like homework.

We’re currently enmeshed in a high-pressure approach to learning that starts with homework being assigned in kindergarten and even preschool. Homework dominates after-school time in many households and has been dubbed the 21st century’s “new family dinner.” Overtired children complain and collapse. Exasperated parents cajole and nag. These family fights often ends in tears, threats, and parents secretly finishing their kid’s homework.

Parents put up with these nightly battles because they want what’s best for their kids. But, surprise, the opposite is more likely to be true. A comprehensive review of 180 research studies by Duke University psychologist and neuroscientist Harris Cooper shows homework’s benefits are highly age dependent: high schoolers benefit if the work is under two hours a night, middle schoolers receive a tiny academic boost, and elementary-aged kids? It’s better to wait.

If you examine the research—not one study, but the full sweep of homework research—it’s clear that homework does have an impact, but it’s not always a good one. Homework given too young increases negative attitudes toward school. That’s bad news, especially for a kindergartener facing 12 more years of assignments.

Read More: Why You Shouldn’t Do Your Child’s Homework

Children rebel against homework because they have other things they need to do. Holler and run. Relax and reboot. Do family chores. Go to bed early. Play, following their own ideas. Children have been told what to do all day long at school—which is mostly sitting still and focusing on the academic side. Academic learning is only one side of a child. When school is out, kids need time for other things.

Some schools are already realizing this. New York City’s P.S. 116 elementary school made news last year when its principal Jane Hsu abolished homework and asked families to read instead. Individual schools and teachers from Maryland to Michigan have done the same, either eliminating homework in the elementary years or making it optional. But schools also report that if teachers don’t give it, some parents will demand it.

Believers in homework say it teaches soft skills like responsibility and good study habits. That’s another problem with homework in elementary school. Young kids can rarely cope with complex time management skills or the strong emotions that accompany assignments, so the responsibility falls on parents. Adults assume the highly undesirable role of Homework Patrol Cop, nagging kids about doing it, and children become experts in procrastination and the habit of complaining until forced to work. Homework overtakes the parents’ evening as well as the child’s. These roles aren’t easy to shake.

Read More: How Hard Is Too Hard to Push Kids?

When homework comes at a stage when it can academically benefit students, it can also be a student’s responsibility. That means a high school student should be expected to do her homework without being reminded. It may take a year or two of practice in middle school, but it doesn’t require years of practice. Before age 11, responsibility can be taught in other ways. For a 6-year-old, that means remembering to feed the cat and bring home her lunchbox.

If we want students to improve memory, focus, creative thinking, test performance and even school behavior, the answer is not more homework, the answer is more sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that our children are suffering sleep deprivation, partly from homework. If we pride ourselves on a rational, research-based approach to education, we must look at the right facts.

Parents often feel stuck with homework because they don’t realize they have a choice. But they do. Schooling may be mandatory, but homework isn’t. Families can opt out. Parents can approach the teacher either about homework load or the simple fact of doing homework at all, especially in elementary school. Many teachers will be more than happy with the change. Opting out, or changing the homework culture of a school brings education control back down to the local level.

That’s another thing the new Education Secretary has promised: to turn more control for education decisions over to states and local school districts. That could spell good news for students – if local teachers and principals do their own homework and read up on what the research says about making kids do school work after school is done.

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