“Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.”
-W.E.B. Du Bois
Homework sucks. It’s like Chinese water torture.
There. I said it.
I know, I know, it’s been a part of students’ lives for so long that it just is what it is.
I’m a teacher. I know the drill. You give daily homework or maybe it’s a weekly packet. Either way, homework is part of student life. Kids are to get home from school and get to work. That’s what they do.
But I wonder, is homework necessary?
I get this unleashes some dissonance. What do you mean no homework?
The idea of no homework seems off – like a free pass.
But as a parent, I’m fed up.
We’re not an over-scheduled family, yet my girls have extracurricular activities – gymnastics, guitar, sewing, and tennis. Two nights a week we arrive home “early” at 4:30, two nights are “later” at 5:30 and one night is “late” night. The “late” night, we’re clocking in around 7:45.
On the “early” nights, it’s easier to make way for homework as we carve out play time, downtime, and family time, but on the “later” and “late” evenings, homework is in direct conflict.
And if on one those nights Veronica’s inspired to work on room she’s designing (because she’s into Fixer Upper), well, there’s no time for that is what my vibe is sending to her.
It runs contrary to how I want to parent – I would rather work with her on a kitchen design than focus on getting homework done – but as the responsible adult, it’s my job to tell her, “Get your homework done first and if there’s time left over, then you can work on your design.”
Homework over creativity – this mindset doesn’t mesh for me.
It’s draining for me that the flow of our weeknight home life is interrupted by homework.
The nights without homework are the BEST!, but most nights our routine involves homework and I find myself spouting, “You’ve got homework to do. Homework first.”
But says fucking who?
Sorry. I swore. I know that fuck is bad and will take away from my argument, but shit, homework takes me down.
From this article, I learned that “The National PTA recommends 10 – 20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g. 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for 12th). If you follow these guidelines, students will spend 137,160 minutes doing homework from first grade to 12th grade. That equals 2,286 hours or 95 straight days of homework.”
Let’s do the math for fourth grade. Following the above guideline, Veronica would have 40 to 50 minutes of homework nighty, 20 of which is allotted for reading.
I’m down with 20 plus minutes a night for reading (it’s part of our daily habit) and practicing math facts or spelling words for a few minutes, but the rest, I question.
Is daily homework best practice or is it antiquated?
At what cost are children spending 95 days on homework?
The Costs of Too Much Homework
It Fosters Burn Out: Kids put in seven hours of learning, staying focused, and mostly doing time in a classroom. Most of us spend similar amounts of time at work and come home exhausted and in need of a mental break. Ours kids need a brain break as well. It makes sense they cannot focus on extra work after a full-day of school. They are drained. “I’m tired mom,” Veronica has said as she’s hunkered over a 25-minute math lesson the computer.
It Creates Work Haters: My educational goal as a parent is to teach my girls a lifelong love of learning. I fear homework overload will tarnish their view of studying. Extra school work is … just … extra work. Students know when the worksheet is just busy work and they call bullshit on that. I don’t want them ending high school with a thank-God-school-it’s-over sentiment. I’ve heard this grief from Veronica and from more students than I can count, “I like school. I just hate homework.” My oldest is in fourth and I’ve already heard: “I want to quit school.” This was said through clenched teeth as she worked on her Illinois history worksheet last week.
It Puts a Strain on Family Life: Homework does more damage than good to the parent-child relationship. Homework pressures parents to act like a drill sergeant. I’ve said multiple times, “Hey, I didn’t assign this homework. Please do not take your frustrations out on me. I know you don’t like it, but you need to get it done.” It’s a mix of pushing her to finish and managing her anxiety over the amount of work. This is a recipe for negative feelings, power struggles, and tears. My girls are growing at lightening speed and I know that next time I blink they’ll be in middle school. I want to spend the time I have them at home in positive and meaningful ways, not on the homework highway.
Teachers have our kiddos for seven hours a day, isn’t it our right as parents to direct how the evening hours are spent?
It Does Not Differentiate: It’s near impossible to account for the individual differences of student’s lives outside of school. Evenings look different for every family. What if mom works second shift? What if it’s a single-parent household with multiple children? What if the family commutes 30 minutes to school? What if the student participates in a team sport that practices two hours a night? What if a she lacks the at-home resources to complete the assignments? What if the he cannot do the work independently and there’s limited parental assistance available?
Maybe the average fourth grader can bang out the math worksheets in 20 to 30 minutes, but what about the one who’s frustrated, tired, anxious or distracted?
The Benefits to Less or No Homework
Rest and Rejuvenation: Children are growing and their brains need to recoup from the school day. It’s critical to their well being to have some recovery time to unwind and recharge. They need to stare into space. They need to play with their Legos or doodle on their art pads. They want to create a song on the app musical.ly or chill out in front of an episode of Liv and Maddie. This unscheduled time in an unstructured setting reduces stress from the school day and is restorative. Sitting at the kitchen table working on a crossword puzzle of Greek and Latin roots is the antithesis of relaxing.
Get Out and Get at It: Kids are cooped up inside all day – save 20 minutes for recess and perhaps gym if the weather permits. When the school bells rings, that’s the time for kids to play. The life skills that are learned on the field and in the art room are not the same as in the classroom. I’ve listened to families gripe that they’ve had to make concessions on after-school activities because of homework. This focus on homework is unhealthy for the mind, body, and spirit. After-school is the time carved out for extracurriculars, not homework.
La Dolce Vita: That’s what the Italians call it and for the French, it’s joie de vivre! This is art of sitting, eating, laughing, and playing. Learn some and play some is my motto. Yet I’m seeing a lack of school-life balance with homework. This is poor training for the future of work-life balance. As a friend said to me, “are we teaching them to go 90 miles an hour and multitask their life away?” Homework overload is teaching our children to become worker bees. Students become innovators when they get to discover hobbies and focus on ideas that pull them in when time isn’t an issue.
So what’s the push back?
Arguments for Homework
It is What It Is: The logic follows, I did homework when I was a kid and look how I turned out. I had daily homework and that’s how school is supposed to be. Teacher Mom: This argument is full of holes. I know we walked uphill barefoot in the snow, but come on. Should we talk about safety standards when we were kids and compare to now?
It Will Make Her a Better Student: Homework will prepare children for college and career. Teacher Mom: Is one to two hours of homework a night developmentally appropriate for a fifth grader? If Veronica writes a story with her spelling words is that really making her a better student? Is there research that backs this? I’d wager there is a minimal link to homework and academic success and even less to career success.
Studying at Home Teaches Him Discipline. Homework teaches work ethic and this will help them become successful citizens. Teacher Mom: Chores create responsibility. Routines provide structure. Executive functioning teaches organization. Veronica plots out her homework on a weekly grid to manage her time. That’s a wonderful life skill, but homework isn’t the only path to learning time management.
Homework is Needed for a Home-School Connection: If students don’t do work at home, their parents won’t know what is happening at school. Teacher Mom: Teachers most definitely send emails and letters or they create teacher pages on their school’s website to communicate with their families. The updates are frequent (most often weekly), at the start of a unit of study, to inform of a test or a quiz, or when something important is in the pipeline. Parents thumb through their children’s daily planners and review school work and tests with their children. Home-school connection … nab!
So where do we go from here?
Suggestions For Homework From a Teacher Mom
Purposeful: What is the added value of the homework? Bogus busywork is a waste of time. Please do not send my daughters home with ditto sheets. It pisses me off. If homework is a must, then please make it be more project-based or meaningful, such as helping me help with a recipes when she’s learning about fractions in math. Assignments that place concepts in context when classroom cannot are relevant and engaging.
If there’s a pending quiz, I know you give the students time to practice and prepare in class. If extra time is warranted, share some how-to’s with families. Spelling lists and study guides for tests fall under this category.
Balanced: If homework is a requirement for you or your school, please aim to meet the daily quotient for the grade level. And remember that 20 minutes of reading factors into this equation. I know social studies has this going on and math has this, but if you are departmentalized, please communicate your weekly assignments with your grade level. I want my students to learn le français so much, but my classroom isn’t the only one for these kids. Our students are part of a whole. If one teacher gives 10 minutes, another gives 20, and the third gives 10, it adds up. Perhaps that means you give an assignment on a Friday and it’s due the following Friday. Be mindful of families’ desires to manage their own time when you create due dates.
Used as Optional Resources for Enrichment or Remediation: Please suggest concepts to review, websites to explore, activities to try at home, and events in the city to check out. I welcome these, but they shouldn’t be required. Give parents ideas, but don’t force their hand. If a handful of students are struggling with a concept in math and need more support at home, it’s not needed to push the work on all students. When a child is at risk, I know you reach out to those parents to offer guidance and resources. I know you encourage those families to practice math facts and vocabulary words. But if my daughter is performing at or above grade level, let her be. Homework does not need to be one size fits all.
Read.Read.Read: Last but not least, keep the kids reading. Not only does a book help their bodies unwind, it mimics real life as adults. Reading is lifelong. Most of us do not spend our downtime doing our taxes, rather we take out a book or magazine and read.
Bottom line: Nightly homework needs to end.
Give the kids a break. Their free time is limited, so please stop taking away the little they have.
I gave weekly homework most of my 15-year teaching career. This year, I changed course. After the first quarter, I told my students I wasn’t going to give out homework weekly anymore. I reset their expectations: There would still be weekly quizzes, but the flashcard and website practices were optional. I let them know that occasionally I would give project-based homework, but I would give them at least a one week heads up on the due dates.
Upon the announcement, one of my fifth graders shouted out, “Madame for president.”
I laughed and then felt the final ah-ha: if our students hate it so much, why are we forcing it?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I’ve heard of schools that are subscribing to the model of PDF: Playtime, downtime, family time. I think it’s genius and and as a school culture, it’s time for us to embrace the same mindset.
I’m a teacher, and I’m in!
Less Homework is the answer.
Who’s with me?
P.S. Stella has little to no nightly homework. In first grade her homework is to read, practice her math facts and site words, and on some days do a quick, two-sided, math worksheet (which is optional). She’s still pretty geeked about school work. Check it out …