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Better Learning with Less Homework

By Kim Robson:

How much homework is too much? There is little evidence that homework helps elementary and high school students achieve academic success, yet the never-ending nightly homework burden is becoming a serious hardship on families. It robs children of the critical sleep, play and exercise time they need for proper physical, emotional and neurological development.

A recent study by researchers from Brown University, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, Dean College, the Children’s National Medical Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology published in The American Journal of Family Therapy found that students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times more homework than recommended.homework

How Much Homework Is Appropriate for My Child?

The recommended amount, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, is the so-called “10-minute rule” – 10 minutes per grade level per night. This would mean, for example, 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, and on up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. The NEA and the National PTA do not endorse homework for kindergarteners. The impact of excessive homework on high schoolers included high stress levels, a lack of balance in their lives, and physical health problems such as ulcers, migraines, sleep deprivation and childhood obesity.

How Much Homework Are Kids Really Getting?

Parents reported first-graders spending 28 minutes on homework each night versus the recommended 10 minutes. And kindergartners spent 25 minutes a night on after-school assignments, according to the study. “It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all … are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get,” said Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

“Anybody who’s tried to keep a 5-year-old at a table doing homework for 25 minutes after school knows what that’s like. I mean children don’t want to be doing [homework], they want to be out playing, they want to be interacting and that’s what they should be doing. That’s what’s really important.” She adds, “The cost is enormous. 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.”

Ripple Effect on the Whole Family

The effect of too much homework extends to the entire family. Fights and conflicts over homework were 200% more likely in families where parents did not have at least a college degree, according to the study. Parents with a college degree felt more confident, not necessarily in helping their child with their homework, but in communicating with the school to ensure an appropriate level.

Said Donaldson-Pressman, “Undereducated parents really believe that their children are supposed to be able to do (the homework), therefore, their children must be doing something else during school instead of focusing on their studies. So the parents argue with the kids, the kids feel defeated and dumb and angry, very angry, and the parents are fighting with each other. It’s absolutely a recipe for disaster.”

What Can Parents Do?

The PTA has helpful hints and tips such as:

  • Determining whether your child truly understands the assignment.
  • Making sure he or she has a distraction-free workspace.
  • Talking with the teacher if you feel time spent on assignments is excessive. A teacher may think they’re giving a 20-minute assignment, but some children might take up to an hour.
  • Requesting individual modifications to assignments if necessary. Does assigning fifty math problems accomplish any more than assigning five? Is memorizing word lists the best way to increase vocabulary — especially when it takes away from reading time?
  • Standing up for your right to a balanced family life. Refuse to sacrifice harmony for homework.

Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, co-authors of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It, detail several ways parents can regain control of their kids’ homework:

  • Determining which assignments advance learning and which are time-wasters
  • Setting priorities when your child comes home with an overstuffed backpack
  • Talking and writing to teachers and administrators in persuasive, non-confrontational ways
  • Rallying other parents to help restore balance in children’s lives

What Can Schools Do?

McKinley Elementary School in San Diego, California, is taking a different approach to homework this year by not assigning it. At all. “I was excited. We’ve got three daughters in school here and for us it’s just nice to have evenings together and kind of focus on that and not have homework battles,” said parent Mike Anderson.

He’s not alone, but some parents are still skeptical. “I have mixed feelings. I do think for some kids it’s a struggle and I would hate for parents to go through that, but I also like to prepare them for middle school. I kind of liked having 15 to 20 minutes a day, but when it got over that I was frustrated,” said Elizabeth Newlin.

Parents are still required to spend at least 20 minutes reading each night with their children, and support their child’s learning outside the classroom. Also, students must complete any work not finished during class.

Still, just the idea of no homework has kids excited and parents relieved. “It’s nice. I’m just glad all I have to do is reading,” said 4th grader Liam McRory. Liam’s dad Andy agrees: “I can tell you that my wife and I are both very happy that it was less than it was last year.”

The San Diego Unified School District says, “While students may not be working on traditional homework packets, this approach still requires effort at home by the student and the parent, and is in line with the district’s homework policy.”


About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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