Raise your hand if your elementary-aged kids come home with more homework than you ever did as a child. That’s a lot of hands. Now raise your hand if homework completion has become one of the most dreaded times of the evening with your family. OK, you can put them down now. I can see it’s getting quite tiresome for everyone.
If it seems like homework has increased dramatically since your tenure as an elementary student, you’re not imagining things. That’s because it really has. According to research conducted by the University of Michigan, students’ homework load has more than doubled since the 1980s:
In 1981, students ages 6 to 8 did about 52 minutes of homework a week. That increased to 128 minutes in 1997.
So what gives?
At its core, the concept of homework is based on good intentions and theoretically serves several beneficial purposes. According to the National Education Association:
Homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension. The purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students’ existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child’s learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement.
But however well-intentioned those homework assignments may be, the reality is that they are often fraught with more problems than advantages, particularly when we’re talking about elementary-aged students.
For one, according to analysis by neuroscientist and social psychologist Harris Cooper at Duke University, while homework completion by middle and high school students yields improved school performance, “elementary kids who do homework fare no better in school than kids who do not.”
Furthermore, homework, as most of us are all too familiar, can contribute to pressure at home and disrupt what might otherwise be a pleasant family dynamic. Low-income and disadvantaged students, for example, may experience increased stress as a result of limited resources and adult support at home. Additionally, according to early-childhood education specialist and author Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, homework intensifies tension in the home, both for kids and their parents:
I’ve talked to parents—a lot of parents, actually—who feel very burdened by the fact that kids have to do homework at night, and the parents feel responsible for getting it done, and that starts to dominate the home life.
And let’s not forget about the fact that more time spent doing homework equals less time spent participating in other activities that are equally as important as school, including sports, art, music, and FREE PLAY, to name a few.
All this adds up to what has become one of my driving principles as a parent of 3 children: My kid is probably not doing that elementary school homework, and I’m not sorry about it. It’s just too much.
Kids are already spending far too much time sitting and studying to meet the demands of high-stakes testing and standardized learning objectives when they should be playing and creating. My own children, for example, spend 11 hours of nearly each weekday either in school or traveling to and from school. ELEVEN HOURS PER DAY. So if my first grader fails to whip a math game out of his bag (which ultimately becomes MY responsibility to play between cooking dinner and tidying up the house and doing the laundry and bathing the 3-year-old after my own long day at work) or my fourth grader doesn’t finish the entirety of his research project and diorama (which, you guessed it, I’m stuck holding his hand through completing), so be it. Sometimes it gets done. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sorry not sorry, Teach.
And before anyone jumps down my throat for implying that the teachers are at fault here, know this: I AM A TEACHER MYSELF. I’m not blaming the teachers. The teachers have their backs up against the wall, trying desperately to meet impossible educational targets in not nearly enough time. They’re educators, but our legislators expect them to be unicorns capable of magically performing superhuman feats. Trust me, I know ALL ABOUT it because I live it daily.
No, I’m not blaming the teachers. I’m blaming the system.
And just because I refuse to throw my family into nightly fits of despair over homework these days does NOT mean I’m not teaching my kids about responsibility or reinforcing their education at home. I most certainly am by reading to and with them; by answering questions they have and engaging in impromptu research about things they’re interested in; by playing our own games with educational value together; and by giving them opportunities to relax, to explore, and to participate in activities that reach the whole child.
My husband and I may have failed the homework portion on our kids’ last report cards (Because let’s be honest here: who is that standard really grading? The students or the parents?), but the fact that they performed well in all the standards geared toward academic improvement tells me we must be doing something right.
And I can handle failing the elementary report card homework standards until the end of eternity if it means my kids are happy and healthy as a result. For that I will never apologize.