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Had it With Homework

By Leslie Graff

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When my children explode through the door at 3:15 and open their backpacks and folders, I find my blood pressure rising. It’s not just the chaos of the afternoon, the recounting of the day, the voracious snack consumption, or strewn backpacks, shoes, and coats. It’s the homework. I’ll admit it—I am a conscientious objector when it comes to homework. I have had more than a few conversations in which I have questioned the educational value of the assigned work, if not questioned the practice as a whole. My kindergartner, after being gone a full day, comes home with a page every night. My fifth-grader’s folder usually runs in excess of five to six pages, sometimes up to ten. Which might include, say, mapping all of contemporary Central America, as well as all the major cities and landforms of the ancient Mayan, Incan, and Aztec Empires—and that’s only a portion of a single night’s work. It takes at least an hour for him to do homework, and that doesn’t include his mandatory fifteen minutes of trombone practice for band or silent reading time. I know this isn’t the worst of it; we aren’t even to the high school or middle school years yet.

I am troubled by this trend. With degrees in education and child development, I am disturbed by this disconnect between theory and practice. In fact, I regularly have to talk myself out of marching into the office for a polite, albeit well-argued, factually supported, educational smack down. Children, especially young children, need to be exploring; they need outside time, they need play time, and they need to develop social skills, not spend one more hour with a pencil in their hand or flashcards. When questioned about the homework, principals and teachers say, “Well they need to develop the habit early,” or “The parents expect it.” Really? At five? The research does not support this and is considered, at best, to be mixed on homework as a whole. Policy seems to be more driven by popular opinion and myths rather than fact.

Did my generation seem unable to handle homework when the time came to have it? I didn’t do homework until high school, and even then it was minimal: I did some studying for AP classes, some math problems, a few book reports or projects, but I didn’t have a steady flow of daily hours of busy work. And I managed just fine in school and the real world.

What troubles me is that I don’t see any benefit in it for our children. I do not think they are smarter, or happier, or more creative for it. Homework just seems to be a hassle for everyone—the kids, the parents, and the teachers. It just adds stress and headaches all around. It often feels like schools are trying to copy other cultural models of education, instead of admitting that busy work and skill and drill are not the answers.

I have been on the other side of the desk, so I can appreciate how caught between a rock and a hard place teachers are. I struggled to teach students in a predominantly low socio-economic rural area, some of whom had caregivers who were not literate. Our schools are expected to meet unrealistic demands and performance measures, but I wonder what the long-term consequences of these changes in education will be.

What trends have you seen in homework? What was your experience in school? If you are a parent, have you stood up to the homework issue or other educational issues? Am I alone or have you had it as well?

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

50 thoughts on “Had it With Homework”

  1. I am completely with you on this. I did not have homework until high school, and then it was mostly some math, or a writing assignment, or studying for a test. My children sometimes have up to 2 and half hours a day in elementary school. But what really surprised me was that when my oldest daughter started junior high this year, her homework load dropped to almost nothing. She finishes in 15 minutes, and then has time to read, practice her instruments, or just be around the house with me. And surprise of surprises, she went from a c plus student to a straight A student. She now loves school, where before every day was a struggle. And most of the homework her younger siblings bring home is just nonsense busy work.

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  2. I've had it with a lot of things that are occupying my kids' time so that they are constantly exhausted and exhibiting ADHD-like symptoms from being overscheduled with too many structured activities. Each year I am a little closer to homeschooling.

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  3. My son had homework in PRESCHOOL. Granted, it took no more than 5 minutes a day, but still…

    I did stand up to it all by pulling my kids out and homeschooling. It wasn't so much the homework (though I do hate the idea of homework, and the types of stuff he brought home for homework–endless worksheets–were part of what I disliked about our current educational methods).

    Through our homeschooling, I'm standing up to those endless reams of worksheets. No more! I'm especially standing up to my biggest pet peeve, which is the continued forcing of academic work on younger and younger children. (I have a background in early childhood education, and this trend goes against everything I've ever learned about how young children work.) I'm standing up to the idea that reading, writing, and math are the only things worth spending time on in a school setting. I'm standing up to the idea that "education" consists only of opening up a child's head and cramming it full of information regardless of the pace.

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  4. I absolutely agree. While I don't have children (yet), I remember seeing my sister in elementary school being loaded with way more homework than I was receiving in high school. She even had a five page country report complete with PowerPoint! Then, as a permanent sub in middle school, I was overwhelmed with how much homework the previous teacher had planned in her teaching schedule.

    I won't come out and say I am totally against homework, but I do believe it should have purpose. If it's just busy work, what's the point? I also wish that we'd look at new and innovative ways to educate our youth instead of trying to fix and archaic and broken system.

    Great post!

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  5. I am so against the amount of homework they give out for these little tiny children. When does the oncoming stress from it start. I hate it. What is the problem that it has come to this?

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  6. My favorite homework assignment ever was when my 2nd grade son had to make a poster about consonant blends. There were around twelve blends (br, th, sc, stuff like that) and he had to cut FOUR PICTURES for each blend out of a magazine and put it on a poster with the word written underneath it. Luckily we had a lot of magazines on hand–I know a lot of people didn't–but we spent hours scouring magazines finding pictures representing a SPatula, SPring, SPokes (on a bike), SPook alleys, etc., and carefully cutting them out, gluing them to the poster, and writing the word underneath. Rinse and repeat twelve times.

    I was so thoroughly exasperated when we finished that I decided then and there that I wouldn't be at the mercy of my kids' elementary school teachers and challenge assignments when I think they're too over the top.

    Oh, and just yesterday, my son came home with a book report he'd worked hard on. When he wrote it originally, I told him that his plot summary was a little too spare and he needed to beef it up a bit. Anyway, he brings home the book report and he's earned a B. Why? "Not quite so much summary next time," the teacher wrote in the margins.

    So now are grades are docked for writing too MUCH? Sigh.

    Elementary school grades are particularly arbitrary. Used to drive me bananas, but now I don't care, so long as I know my kids are learning and trying their best.

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  7. I'm with you Shellirea, Last year my 6th grader had up to 2 1/2 hours a night and now in Junior high he does it all at school. He has an occational paper to write but other then that he's off playing and having fun. I'm sad he gave up the saxophone because he didn't think he would have the time and now he has more time then ever.
    On the other hand my first grader has a math page every night, a spelling packet and additional math games and books for literacy, then he is required to read for 20 minutes a night. What does he do in school all day? I find most the work that comes home is the stuff we do together for homework.

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  8. As a kid in elementary school, I don't remember doing anything homework wise more that reading and studying spelling words. Junior high had more, and then high school.

    I am happy that where we live now, my elemetary school kids have less homework than my high school kids.
    My forth and second graders are supposed to read every night, and they both have spelling words that they can study during the week. My forth grader has one night of math homework a week, and the second grader might have one home-worksheet during the week. I think that is plenty.

    If we were faced with the amount of homework that you have discribed, I think I would have to do my homework and talk with some school officials. I have homeschooled before, and I would do it again, if I wasn't able to feel good about the situation.
    Our kids have only one childhood

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  9. I agree that there is too much homework on the elementary level. I'm in the HATE club too. Just this past week my son brought home a note from school about "Friday Morning Club." If he has all of his homework completed and turned in on time for the week, he gets 20 minutes extra recess time. If he is missing any work then he has to stay inside for a study hall. Study hall in 2nd grade? For his homework every night he has to read 20 minute, do an assignment for reading, spelling or math. Plus he has to practice his spelling words and his rocket math. We never practice the rocket math (he finds it boring and he manages to pass the test the first or second time) and we just practice the spelling words he misses, which is one or two words. So it takes him about 30 to 40 minutes to do his homework. Now I'm all about the reading. I think that practicing that skill is very important but the other things? I don't think so. Being responsible for your work? It's important but come on, 1 hour of homework in 2nd grade is way too much. I have 3 other children with homework too.

    When my oldest daughter was in 2nd grade she struggled like crazy. If there had been Friday Morning Club in her class she never would have been able to go out. It was after much fighting with her teacher and principal that I got the amount of homework for her reduced. Then her teacher recommended she be held back a year because she was so slow with her reading etc. We said NO WAY! It took two additional years but we finally got a diagnosis of Dyslexia for her. It made perfect sense. Her 2nd grade teacher was clueless. This is a girl who now is in 8th grade an brought home a report card with 4 As, 2 Bs and a C! If we had held her back it would have been a disaster!

    We have experienced the whole grades going up in middle school because of LESS homework too. My son in high school has had to deal with trauma from having so much homework in elementary school. It has followed him for years. He's finally getting over it.

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  10. We missed the kindergarten cut off this year and every day I am thankful that my son is having a little more time to be little. I am a teacher (professor now) so I want to be supportive of my public school but I am worried about diving into this new realm where I have a lot of opinions. Yikes.

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  11. "Did my generation seem unable to handle homework when the time came to have it?"

    Sorry, but how old are you? I'm 30ish and had at least 1 hr of homework a night in 5th grade. By 7th grade it was several. In high school, with several AP classes, being up until 2 doing homework was not uncommon (and of course up for early-morning seminary…). I'm not saying this is right and I'm sure those high school years took years off my lifespan. But I'm just surprised that within your memory is some halcyon day with less homework. That certainly wasn't my experience.

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  12. "I do not think they are smarter, or happier, or more creative for it."

    I would agree with that, especially for the younger children. I'm not sure what a 6 year old gets from homework, especially if it is just busy work.

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  13. Last year, homework destroyed my life. My 4th grader had, an average, 1.5-2 hours of homework per night. Sometimes, special projects were added (like a book report that needed to be written and formatted as a newspaper), which required MORE time and work on the weekends. There were nights I’d sit in my car not even wanting to walk in the front door. The first words out of my mouth were “Hi, how much homework do you have?” We had frequent panic attacks and meltdowns that included “I’m stupid!” and “I’m so tired but I have to do this.” And “I HATE school!!!!!!” There were nights where she would sit at the table and start her homework, work on it through dinner, take a quick shower and work on it some more while I dried her hair. I finally went to the teacher and told her how awful life was—there was no time for practicing the piano or violin or play or rest or interact with the family or do household chores. My four year old daughter got plunked in front of the TV and was told not to move because we were wading through piles of busy work. I protested finally by: 1) doing a lot of the “projects” for her; 2) doing ALL of the stupid busy work that had no value at all; and 3) oftentimes drawing a big black line through homework and saying “too much tonight?” Over Spring Break, my daughter brought home a packet of homework and I emailed the teacher and said “We’re going on a family trip so she won’t be doing the packet.” The teacher offered to give her extra time to turn it in and I said “No, she won’t be doing the packet at all.”

    What is so sad is that she was struggling in writing and reading comprehension and I’m a writer by trade—yet there was no time at all to tutor her in where she was weakest.

    This year, it has gotten a lot better because her teacher is much more reasonable. My 5 year old is in pre-K so almost no homework yet.

    Speaking to other parents, they feel the same way—held hostage by Homework Hell. How sad and unfortunate.

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  14. It seems I'm very lucky. I have a daughter in second grade and her daily required homework is 20 minutes of reading each night. At the start of each week, they are given 10 words to study for a spelling test at the end of the week. When there are special projects for home, they are given 2 weeks notice. My older daughter is in fifth grade and has a similar homework schedule, although she struggles with her multiplication, so she has been asked to spend at least 20 minutes each night working on math, either on websites, flash cards or drills.

    The philosophy of both of the schools is that learning is done at school and outside of school is for extra-curricular.

    I'm pushing 40 and this is similar to what I experienced until high school. Even in high school it seems to me it was mostly science courses that had nightly homework. Everything else was project based. Rarely did I spend more than 20 minutes a night on homework.

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  15. I am having a very similar struggle. I am in the process of removing my kids from school to homeschool them, because I am so very tired of the amount of homework my 1st and 2nd grader are bringing home. (my 5th grader doesn't seem to have as much, weird) The thing that is bothering me the most is the fact that my son's 2nd grade teacher called me and told me she was very concerned that he was not going to reach his AR points for reading, and that he was not doing his reading homework, as far as she could tell. Well, I asked her what he was doing when they went to the library, and she told me that he was more interested in checking out books that were above his AR reading level, and so couldn't be tested on those books, but that he needed to be reading at his grade level. (my first thought was "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? you have a problem with him reading above his grade level??") My question to her was "why are you letting him check out books that he can't use then?" She was stumped. I have noticed that since I brought that to her attention, that his points have come up significantly, and he should be up to the needed points by the deadline. But he is bored reading 2nd grade books… and she insists that he read the AR books for his homework reading too, so he is starting to shy away from reading at all, because he is bored. It is a fight from the second they all walk in the door til bedtime, because they have been at school all day and just want to unwind.
    I agree with a previous poster that our kids are way to overloaded. It seems silly that they attend school for so many hours and then are required to come home and do more. And they wonder why ADHD and Bullying and Stressed out kids are on the rise! It's because they don't get to be kids or enjoy life, and are becoming so overstimulated that they lash out, or can't sit still!

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  16. LuluBelle, your description of homework ruining your life and being held hostage by homework hell described our 5th grade year with our daughter. I didn't realize it until after it was over that I think I slipped into some kind of depression. I know that sounds extreme, but the stress of trying to help my daughter manage three to four hours of homework when she'd been in school six hours already was…I can't even find a word. We were in the process of getting a diagnosis for her which turned out to be mild ADD with Executive Disfunction and Dysgraphia. That didn't happen until the end of the year, so I tried to help her keep up. It was a nightmare.

    I have been on both sides of the desk as well, and I think there has to be a couple of things happening. I do think homework can be beneficial when it is used to reinforce a skill that has been taught that day. But there should be a reasonable amount, and accommodations need to be made for students who struggle. Being a teacher who is now a mother of a student has opened my eyes to those quiet students who struggle. I was always aware of them in the classroom, but I don't know that I was accommodating appropriately in all areas. I now know how hard it is for my daughter to get through a school day. She should not have to come home and continue to work. These kids need playtime, downtime, creative time, time for music or dance or athletics. There isn't any time. It's horrible. I wish there could be a happy medium.

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  17. Why aren't you making a fuss?

    Homework doesn't work.

    Homework is a myth–for young children anyway.

    Read this Time article on homework and tell me you don't feel validated.

    When my preschooler is sent home with homework I laugh and laugh. He can color those pages if he wants.

    You are not the only one. Meet with your teachers, tell your principal, gather the parents. You have studies and evidence-based conclusions on your side: most homework in elementary school is bogus. Push back. Refuse.

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  18. I'm in the homework hater's corner, as well. Especially the homework that has to be signed each day by a parent. Drives me crazy! My kids read fine (most of them at high school or higher level). Do I really need to document what they read and for how long each night??? And spelling: I don't think my older two have ever missed more than one word on their tests, do I really need to force them to write each word 10 times? Especially the (passive-aggressive, stubborn) kid with the photographic memory?

    I really don't need to care if they do it or not, really. They don't get grades in elementary school. It's not going to scar them or hold them back. Their report cards just indicate whether they meet or exceed the standards. And they all easily meet or exceed the requirements.

    I'm OK with my middle school daughter's nightly page of math homework. It makes sense to me that most of the math class is spent *teaching* the topic, so that most of the practicing and application of it needs to out of the classroom. I'm OK with a night or two of homework every couple weeks in the other classes.

    My friends whose kids are in high school have me already riled up in anger over the homework to expect: The seniors who were taking AP classes had *incredible* amounts of homework to do *over the summer* BEFORE school even started. BEFORE they even started the class. RIDICULOUS!!! This included long reading lists, essays, field trips, and pages and pages of math homework. I'm thinking that instead of doing 3 full semesters' worth of work and homework for 3 college credits (IF you get a 5 on the AP test!), I will encourage my kids to just take the 3 credit, 1 semester class when they get to college. It's not worth the triple work just to get credit for it in high school. CRAZY!!

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  19. I can see how after-school homework gets crazy; after all, that is why I have a "tutoring" job. I should really call it a "help the mom divide and conquer after school responsibilities" job, because that's what we do. She is with one kid practicing and I'm with the other kid doing spelling or the other way around. Believe me, there are days where we don't get anywhere because one or two or even three of the kids refuse to cooperate. But you know what? I'm still for it. I was talking with a friend the other day and I said, "You know, I really believe that my kids some day need to have music lessons, though I know that means at least 10 years of daily contention with each child." It's the same with homework. I don't think the kid who does weekly spelling tests would ever learn his spelling if he weren't drilled at home each afternoon. Even then, sometimes his tests come back not looking so great. I also think that homework is a valuable way for kids to learn that play comes after work. I don't think school itself is such a great learning environment, since I am a much better self-learner, but it's mandatory, so the little time they have at home is the little time they get one-on-one learning where they aren't distracted by everything else. So another plus is that the adults are enticed to be involved in the students' educations. I definitely don't like assignments that really don't seem to teach anything and that take up a lot of time, like the current book report that has to have pictures of events in a book drawn onto paper potato chips and put into a potato chip bag that has the title and summary glued to the outside. Isn't a summary enough for the kids to learn to note the important events as they read? Also, some kids, no matter what homework you give them, will finish it at school, so that makes it frustrating for teachers–should they give even more to keep the kid occupied or should they stay at the level of the slower kids? Sigh. Either way, I think homework is okay. Just not too much, and make sure it's focused so adults at home can really help them learn whatever they've been working on at school.

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  20. I remember the battles, too. One of the things you have to ask yourself is "why am I worried about whether the homework gets done?" Could it be because you are afraid of what other people might think if your child gets a bad grade?

    For at least one of my kids, who was having extreme trouble with spelling and handwriting due to a learning disorder to the point that it was interfering with every other kind of learning, the solution was testing and putting him on a Section 504 plan that eliminated spelling and handwritten assignments.

    For another kid, we simply opted out of "busy work". By skipping the busy work he made consistent Bs and that was good enough.

    The main questions for me were and are: are they learning what they need to know? Are they making choices and completing assignments that help them develop good work habits and social skills while leaving them time to also improve their talents and just have fun? If these answers are affirmative, then the amount of homework they're choosing to do is probably about right.

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  21. You are not alone by a long shot, Leslie. And I want to encourage you as someone who has the experience and knowledge to back up what for most parents is the intuition that homework is often useless and takes the place of more important things, to please speak up for the rest of us! Having been an educator, and being familiar with the research, your opinion carries extra weight- I hope that ALL mothers with your background will use their clout to make parents' voices heard!!

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  22. I also have issues with homework, especially for the young (and very young). I often get questioned because I don't send home traditional "homework" with my special needs PRESCHOOLERS. Hello…they're in preK. They don't need to be doing worksheets! I about had a heart attack when my own son, at the age of 4, had a minimum of 3 pages of homework EVERY NIGHT (a letter page, a number page and a cut or a color page…and on Thursday night there was an entire paper craft in addition). I refused to do it with him because it's not appropriate, and the teacher tried to make my son feel bad because only the kids that do their homework get a special sticker. Gaah. How terrible to manipulate children that way!

    Many feel the "10 minute rule" is appropriate (10 minutes of homework for each grade they are in, starting in 1st grade), but when you think about it, that's nearly an hour for a 5th grader. Too much. Homework should be a minimal amount to reinforce an independent skill, not teach a new skill, and if it's being used to teach a new skill, then shame on the teacher. You have 6 hours a day to do that!

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  23. As an educator/former teacher/hope to be future teacher when my kids are in school, I hate to bring up politics, but I'm going to.

    Kids don't get a balanced education anymore because the perception of how well your public school is doing is primarily based on two things–math and reading scores. If other things are to be learned–state capitals, geography, handwriting, etc. then they are sent home. Or the math and reading must go home if other things are done during school. Because art and music and recess are not tested. Even though teachers believe that so much of that extra, great stuff is important too.

    I think if we openly criticize the school in front of our kids, however, it encourages them to behave disrespectfully in school. Private conferences are awesome, complaining in front of our kids is counter-productive.

    The next problem in public schools is that classes are just WAY too big. Yes, yes, I know our grandparents did fine with forty kids across multiple grades and one teacher, but that was before the instant gratification of television and Internet and cell phones. It was also a time when dropping out in the 9th or 10th grade still meant you might find a great blue collar job that you could be proud of and hold down for 35 years. Times have changed and the public schools don't have the funding to adapt. In my experience, optimal class size is between 15 and 24. Every student you add over 24 creates more and more management difficulties–from the spacing of students in the physical space, to the sharing of supplies, to the attention each child receives to acknowledgment of good work accomplished to kind correction of mistakes.

    I bet if we all did a quick count we'd be shocked by classroom numbers. As states mandate reduced classes in K-2, the districts compensate by shifting class loads up. I have a friend teaching middle school math and science in a block–7th grade math is when you really start to lose math learners–with 37 kids. After lunch. Every day. How long do you think current funding levels would last if the politicians even spent one day in her classroom? I don't care how good she is, teaching complex content to 37 partially interested children requires a miracle. I bet those kids take home loads of homework. How could they not?

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  24. Thanks for this post. Thanks for all the insightful comments too.

    I think experiences with homework and school expectations vary greatly from state to state. Some of our kids go to full-day kindergarten. Some go to half-day. Some kids in America have a 6-hour school day. Some have a 7-hour school day. Some have to ride the bus for almost an hour a day. Some do not. All these factors really affect how much free time our kids are left with. And, I think if our kids are already spending 8 hours of their day in school or traveling to/from school, any additional work at home from the school seems positively ridiculous. Kids need play time, and this is going to become starkly evident at some point…meanwhile the rates for childhood depression and ADD skyrocket. So, I think at some point the pendulum will swing back from this hyper-competitive, shove the material down their throats environment. Finland, a country which outperforms us, doesn't even begin to teach reading formally until age 7 and averages 1 hour of recess at least a day. A little different than the Texan style of recess my kids experience here….15 minutes a day for all elementary grades, even the full-day kindergarten classes.

    I just wish there were more options for parents who want their kids to have more time at home but are not ready to homeschool. My kids' day is 7 hours long at school. This seems ludicrous to me. Thankfully, homework has not been excessive so far. My fourth-grader probably averages 30 minutes a day, and a good chunk of that time is spent reviewing spelling words with me (he has such a hard time remembering all the different spelling exceptions). My seventh-grader comes home with almost none, thanks to a study period he has each day. (We encouraged him to do study hall instead of a second elective just so he can have more free time at home….don't know if we'll encourage that in high school, but for right now it's nice.) And, my preschoolers have no homework except to bring something that starts with the letter of the week.

    In the meantime, I'm not ready to homeschool. But, I do think trying to keep our evenings and weekends as free as possible from extra activities helps a little.

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  25. I agree on so many levels but I have an honest question…Is it also a myth that American students are behind other countries? if so,what should we be doing instead of homework? or do we embrace a different "american" learning system and just go with it? Trust me, I would love to have homework be a non-issue, I get so tired of my relationship with my kids being a constant query of "how much homework do you have?"

    One crazy thought, I LOVE my preschooler's "homework!" he feels big and it is a chance for us to briefly play with words and numbers. the good thing is that it doesn't affect anything if he doesn't do it!

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  26. When I was working toward my teacher certificate, years ago, we were told that homework should supplement instruction not BE the instruction. I rarely had homework myself in elementary school. There was a bit more in middle school and more in high school. I left my teaching career once my first child was born so I haven't had to teach under No Child Left Behind. It seems like the "standards" are what's driving the classroom these days, and yet our schools still aren't making it. Yes the homework has increased in quantity and frequency and I get frustrated at the inane requirement that I have to sign almost every assignment so the teacher knows I actually monitor homework BUT I live with it because I know it could be worse.
    I saw a documentary of a public elementary school in Japan. The kids not only had HOURS of homework each night (this was the early 90's), the kids spent an hour at school CLEANING! Bathrooms, classrooms, taking out garbage. They were expected to help keep the school clean because they use it everyday. And the teachers were expected to spend extra time after school checking on students AT HOME who weren't doing so well.
    If you look at China, the kids have to study and pass exams to get into HIGH SCHOOL. Those who do well go to high schools geared to college entrance exams. Those who don't go to trade schools to train for factory jobs.

    I don't know what the answer is; less homework, or more homework. But while we are complaining about how much work and stress our kids go through, I know there are other parents that probably never see their kids in a social context except for rare school holidays.

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  27. Everyone should read the Time article Carina linked:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1376208,00.html

    As Leslie mentioned in her post, research shows homework is not effective in grade school and may in fact damage kids' love of learning, the most important reason to have school, IMO. The issue is even bigger than driving parents crazy or causing contention.

    I wholeheartedly support Leslie's assertion that "Children, especially young children, need to be exploring; they need outside time, they need play time, and they need to develop social skills, not spend one more hour with a pencil in their hand or flashcards." Typical modern American life leaves almost no room for the most vital kinds of growth. We're so busy trying to make sure our kids are excellent we forget to help them learn to be human–curious, independence, creative.

    I think it's important to remember that WE are the parents. The schools don't own our kids. We can say "no," to a particular assignment (go LuluBelle!) or to ongoing work that we don't feel is appropriate for our kids.

    @Science Teacher Mommy: While badmouthing is never healthy, I do want my kids to feel empowered to change their circumstances. To me, this is an essential life skill.

    Besides creating boundaries to protect our own children's childhood, we can enact change in our schools. I know one mom who successfully lobbied for school-wide homework time limits.

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  28. @Cynthia L: "According to a 2004 national survey of 2,900 American children conducted by the University of Michigan, the amount of time spent on homework is up 51% since 1981."

    I was definitely in school in 1981 and, like Leslie, didn't do much homework until high school, and even then it didn't dominate my life. But, then, I'm more like 40ish. 😉

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  29. My daughter kindergarten class only has 19 kids in it. And it's public school. And she does have homework, but I don't think it's excessive. There is daily book reading, two handwriting pages and a name practice page, and that's it for the week. I actually give her additional homework because she is capable of it and her reading skills are above the books that she is bringing home.

    I remember having homework from third grade on. My philosophy on homework is that I'll provide a place for it, carve out time for it, and help my kid if she asks. But the quality of the work is up to her.

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  30. I am so with you on this. My kids have SEVEN AND A HALF HOUR school days, even in Kindergarten. By the time they finally walk through that door, I think they should be all mine. I have had to really bite my tongue, as I also agree with Science Teacher Mommy, that we need to speak respectfully of the school and teachers in front of our children. But OH, how I wish we could shorten the school days, and do away with homework completely.
    Orson Scott Card also wrote about this a while back. . . http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2006-09-17-1.html

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  31. My kids have a reasonable amount of homework in 1st grade, 5th grade and gifted 7th grade.
    I actually supplement my children's homework with language assignments for my language learning disorder child and for a couple years had my older two in Kumon and then Math U See worksheets to give them the math practice that the school wasn't giving them in elementary school.
    The elem school has a new math curriculum that gives them math homework now so I don't need to do it.
    I've always given my preK and kindergarteners extra worksheets because they love them. But I realize that is just them.
    Anyway, our schools here seem to be reasonable and the school days are only 6.5 hours long with 2 recesses every day and kindergarten is onky 2 hrs 40 min.
    No real complaints here.

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  32. Christine, although there is probably some truth to the statistics about global education, it should be noted that, at least for the upper grades, many other countries select out poorly performing students and place them on more 'vocational' tracks, leaving the better performing students to populate the schools that report the higher achieving statistics.

    That's not to say that the United States isn't struggling to keep up, but our goal of a quality education for every child isn't shared by every country, which skews statistics in their favor.

    My child's 4th grade teacher, as a first year teacher, is on a quest to prove how 'academic' she is, and is sending my 9 year old home with an insane amount of homework every night. She's starting to buckle under the pressure, and it's killing me!

    And while I agree that our children need to gain all the advantages they can, I don't think that homework for 6 year old children is accomplishing that goal. It's more like a crippled lion roaring as loudly as they can to appear as if they are still dangerous. We're just roaring, we're not actually efficacious!

    But on the other side, I see how my 8th grader is flourishing under the gentle pressure to push himself. He has the personality to excel under the conditions, and he's loving it. Go figure.

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  33. As a high school teacher, I see it both ways: when I don't give a lot of homework, parents worry that I'm not doing my job to prepare their kids for college. When I do give homework, parents complain. Can't make everyone happy.

    However, on the elementary side, this increase in homework is a direct result of NCLB. I feel that the only thing principals and district administrators worry about it what gets published in the papers: math and reading scores.

    Teachers then start to feel pressure, because it's their job on the line: if my kids don't do well enough on the test, I might not have a job. But if I can provide documentation that I gave them practice after practice after practice, then maybe I can stay my execution, as it were.

    Oh, I could go on and on. I feel your pain, because even though I don't have my own kids, I have 130 that I teach every day, so when I give homework, I have to grade it. And talk about taking someone to a breaking point…in my possession right now, I have so many papers to grade that I could work for 24 solid hours and *maybe* catch up.

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  34. What was your experience in school?

    I'm 30 :), I had alot of homework in high school. I actually dropped out of AP classes my senior year because I thought the amount of homework was going to ruin that year for me.

    The only homework I ever really remember doing…was a leaf collection project with my grandma when I was in 4th grade. I could kiss the teacher who assigned that homework project because it is one of the dearest memories I have of my sweet grandma. Every fall, when I walk on the sidewalks and hear the crinkles and crackles of those leaves, I think of my grams who pressed, searched, and sat side by side with me putting that leaf collection together. That's the type of homework I am looking for…easy, doable, an adventure, imaginative.

    My daughter is in 1st grade…in my heart of hearts I want her to be brilliant & I would luv to bust out some spanish flash cards, math problems, US history workbooks & just go to town…(notice how I said I…)
    but less is more….more time to ride her bike, sing & dance with her sisters, jump on the trampoline, socialize with neighbor friends, cook dinner with me, take her dog on a walk and fill her afternoon with knowledge & life skills that no paper & pencil can compare to.

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  35. A friend of mine has the philosophy that her home will not be ruled by homework. As far as college is concerned, grades do not matter until 9th grade, so until then–"Family first!" she says. (I think this might be a result of the Orson Scott Card article referenced above.) I admire her ability to keep it all in the proper perspective.

    As for me, my 6th grader went from an academically rigorous charter school last year to the local intermediate school. I hardly see him crack a book, which isn't so much a problem, but I do think he gets intellectually apathetic when he isn't challenged. No, I am not saying that homework = intellectual stimulation. Not by a long shot.

    However, as my children have bounced back and forth on a couple of occasions between the local elementary school and the charter school, I have noticed a very palpable ambivalence toward learning in the absence of challenge and stimulation. This is what lures me closer to homeschooling every year.

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  36. I think there is much variation from district to district (and teacher to teacher). I had plenty of homework in elementary school and throughout. Lots and lots. That was a function of the schools I attended.

    My kids have very little homework–most nights absolutely none. I'm pleased as punch at that as it coincides with my own educational philosophy. I live here on purpose–I chose this school district. Whether or not you feel like it, you chose yours, too.

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  37. I agree 100% that homework at the younger grades is a complete waste of time. And there is a lot of research to back it up (including the fact that the increase in HW in the US has not led to our scores improving on international comparisons.)

    This is a HUGE part of why I want to homeschool. My daughter is in first grade this year and wanted to try out a charter school we thought we kind of liked, but the amount of homework she is bringing home after a SEVEN hour day in the classroom is ridiculous. And I told her teacher that I won't make her do more than about 20-30 minutes. I think beyond that, they are being unreasonable. She is 6 and doesn't get home until 3:45 and has to go to bed at 7:30. She NEEDS time to play and interact with her family and I will not make that time revolve around forcing her to do boring work that she already knew how to do 2 years ago.

    I think we're going to be homeschooling again next year, unless we can get into the charter that doesn't believe in regular HW until high school.

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  38. Oh, and as far as part of the support for why homework, especially the worksheets/math problems doesn't even make sense–if the child has learned how to do the skill in the class when the teacher taught it, why should they be punished by having to do it over and over again at home? And if they didn't, then the only way they are going to be able to do it is if they have someone at home to teach them–which is where the huge gaps between where kids are get perpetuated. The child who isn't familiar with numbers based on their home life will struggle in the class, then get sent home a worksheet that their parents can't or won't necessarily help with so they'll do it wrong and just have the wrong ideas cemented that much further into their brain. Which then means the next concept will also be lost of them, and so on. It just doesn't work.

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  39. And one more thing i forgot–not sure who they quoted in the Times article (didn't go look at it yet), but Alphie Kohn's "The Homework Myth" is a fabulous book on this subject if anyone wants to delve deeper. Just a warning–that was one of the books that led me to homeschool last year for kindergarten. He's a strong believer in kids being kids and getting to learn a lot through their play.

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  40. As a parent you have every right to say we are not going to do this. Even my collage child development teacher said she has gone to her children's teachers and said. We will not be doing this homework. We will find ways as a family to enrich and teach our children but we will not be doing these worksheets. The papers get sent home and she writes what they did that evening instead of the homework.

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  41. One thing I learned while student teaching was that many teachers walk a fine line when it comes to assigning homework. You assign too much and half the parents complain, you assign none at all and the other half complains because they (wrongly) assume that if their kid isn't bringing home homework, he must not be learning anything at school. When I moved onto my own classroom, I'd assign the bare minimum required by my school.

    I always encourage friends who are frustrated by the amount of homework their child is getting to talk to the teacher. Find out how long he or she thinks the homework should take. Often that amount of time and the amount of time it really takes the child to complete the assignments are very different! That's usually a good starting point for a discussion. If your child has a negative outlook on school because of homework, that's also a good thing to bring up.

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  42. It's as though you are reading my mind.
    Homework is out of control and the school is cutting in to family time way too much. Our kids are certainly no better for it, and I do believe they are lacking important skills because of it.

    My oldest went to a wonderful Montessori school up through 3rd grade and never, ever, had homework beyond weekly spelling and math fact lists. He blossomed and learned to love learning. I have since stressed to my kids that what they learn is what matters, not the grade. If they do their very best and bring something away from the experience, they have succeeded.

    I am typing a paper for my 4th grader tonight because our family has just been too busy in the two days he had to complete the assignment to bother with it. He wrote it, but I don't see how his pecking out the words on a keyboard will do any of us any good. Shhh!

    You're right. Homework's wrong. The end.

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  43. This is a bit off topic but since I've read this article and thought about it, I feel empowered! We have been going back and forth about getting my oldest son out to Utah to do some college touring. Because of consequences beyond our control, we couldn't go during the summer (that's a LONG story). We have decided to take our kids out of school for the entire week of Thanksgiving so we can #1 visit grandmas and grandpa (it may be one of the last times I get to eat Thanksgiving dinner with my mom, she's nearly 85), #2 so that we can take my son to visit some colleges and #3 so that we can spend some quality family time at Christmas together for one of the last times without having to visit family. Don't get me wrong about that, I LOVE my family but sometimes you just need time with your immediate family. Plus we also found out that my sister-in-law is moving so this gives my in-laws some time in December to go help her. It makes perfect sense. My husband will have to work for 2 days but he can work anywhere there is the internet. I'm very thankful for that. I feel really good about this, really, really good.

    I'm going to send off emails next week to the kids teachers telling them of our plans and if they want to send along some work that they may miss, they will have time to do it. If I hear any negative comments from any of them, I DON'T care one bit. I'm tired of school cutting into quality time with my family. END OF STORY!!!

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  44. I was talking with my Mom about this just the other day, regarding one of the grandkids who is going into flat-out rebellion over homework. This is a kid who gets the concepts fast, and then either refuses to do homework, or refuses to turn it in, protesting.

    What adult, having completed a day of work, would be amenable to taking that same work home and doing it all again? It's unreasonable. Now, taking home some unfinished work? Fairly reasonable.

    We do homeschool, so all work is "home" work, but I'm firmly in the camp of parental power: say a polite, but firm, "No" to excessive intrusion when it is not helping your child.

    I was that same homework-rebelling kid. Add in a desire to please, and some chronic illness issues that meant missing a good amount of school, and you had one anxious kid getting ulcers from the stress of homework that wasn't actually needful.

    Sixth grade, I missed about 60% of a month. I was terrified of trying to make up the math work, not because I feared the concepts, but because it would take so very long to do all the busy work! Mom asked "What would your solution be?" I told her that I should just take the end tests, and if I missed any concepts, I should do the work for those parts, and re-test once. She told me that sounded reasonable, and said I should present the idea to my teacher.

    ME? Talk to the TEACHER? We did a good bit of role-playing to get me emotionally set, and I did ask my (scary cranky old man) teacher… and he loved the idea. I passed the end-of-unit tests without missing one problem, and we were both spared the pain of all that make-up busy work. It became our standard arrangement any time I was out more than a day.

    I'm definitely not in favor of bad-mouthing teachers or schools, but I do want my children to understand that God gave them a mind and left them open to inspiration, and that they *can* question authority respectfully. It's important to know how to "rebel" appropriately.

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