It seems that homework is a never-ending drama for children AND parents. If you’re like most parents of primary school-aged kids, homework creates tears and tantrums (sometimes the kids get worked up about it too!) and it takes far too much time!
Homework for primary school-aged children is consistently in the news but research shows that if the kids are in primary school, it actually has a negative impact on their learning outcomes. As a result, I’ve banned my children from doing homework before high school.
A few years ago, I wrote the letter below to my children’s teachers. I’ve used it every year since for all of my children in primary school.
Have a read and tell me what you think:
We are delighted to have our child in your classroom. She seems to be extremely happy with her class and is thrilled to have you as her teacher. Our child is a diligent and conscientious student with an amazing attitude. We trust that you are enjoying having her in your class, and that she is making a great contribution.
We are writing to share with you a (hopefully minor) conflict our family has with school policy. The issue is homework. As you will probably see, we have put a lot of effort into this letter, and we hope that you will take it seriously, and also recognise that we wish to make things better for all parties, and not more challenging. We also recognise and appreciate that you are a teacher who has our child’s best interests at heart, and hope that this will be the first of many constructive conversations we have around her learning this year.
Barring two exceptions which we’ll mention in a moment, we do not encourage homework in our home. The reasons for this are as follows:
1. Scientific: For young children (under around age 14-15 years) there is absolutely no scientific research which supports the inclusion of homework in their extra-curricular activities.
Indeed, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of [primary school] elementary students” (Cooper, 1989, p. 101). Cooper (one of the most respected homework researchers in the world) indicated that while he was personally pro-homework, there appears to be no academic advantage for children to do homework. In many studies the relationship between homework and “learning” (often defined as grades or standardised test scores) is negative.
2. Homework may add to your workload. We have sat through many parent/teacher meetings and heard teachers speak of scheduling challenges you face in terms of dealing with coordinating homework, marking homework, giving homework feedback, and so on.
3. Homework creates stress for our children. It might be tough for teachers, but I believe it’s even tougher for children, even when only in small amounts. And research has demonstrated that it “overwhelms struggling kids and removes joy for high achievers.” A 2002 study found a direct relationship between time spent on homework and levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disorders and issues.
4. Homework creates an extra burden on us as parents. With five children, a business, and myriad other priorities, this is one thing we believe is dispensable.
5. Homework creates family conflict.
6. Homework diminishes the time our children have for other activities. With 5 children, you can imagine that homework has the potential to occupy a significant component of our afternoons. We have the children involved in music lessons, sports, church activities, and more. Additionally, the children enjoy being children, by swimming in the pool, playing with friends, having free reading time, going shopping, contributing in our home with chores and cooking, and so on.
7. Homework is not inspiring. We are yet to meet a single child who enjoys homework. We believe that it may be the most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.
8. There is no evidence to support the belief that homework helps students develop the characteristics it is often suggested will be useful, such as ability to organise time, develop good work habits, think independently, and so on. It doesn’t seem to prepare them for “later” either. They can usually adapt pretty well when they turn 14 or 15 without having 8 years of practice under their belt before it all starts. Our eldest daughter is a single case-study testament to that.
9. Our position on homework can essentially be summarised by the following quote from a respected US professor of education: “Most of what homework is doing is driving kids away from learning.”
We mentioned two exceptions to our homework rule and these are the following;
1. Reading. We strongly encourage reading in our home. The children are encouraged to read every single day after school and before bed. However we strongly discourage placing minimum time limits on the reading or dictating the number of pages to be read. This removal of autonomy turns reading into a chore, rather than a pleasure. When we simply remind the kids that reading time needs to happen, they immerse themselves in books and often only resurface after our pleas to come to the dinner table reach a crescendo! (Often we get them in trouble for reading too much!)
We have seen that the best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to us or others that they have read. On a related note, we discourage the use of rewards for behaviour – such as stars, goodies, etc. However, we DO let the children know that when they have completed a book we will gladly buy them another one immediately. This, they find, is highly motivating.
2. Our other form of “acceptable” homework is related to projects from school that interest the children. We actively encourage research, projects, and especially writing speeches. This helps the children in information gathering, critical thinking, logical formatting of content, and presentation skills. Plus it gets them actively “discovering” in their learning, and sinks much deeper than much other “busy” work.
The reality is, despite our feelings about homework, our children seem willing to complete it without our ever asking. However, we want you to be aware that we will not be actively encouraging homework unless it falls into the two categories described above. And this we do regularly anyway, whether you assign it or not. This is in no way meant to undermine you or make your job more difficult. In fact, we believe that it will make things easier for everyone and assist in the well-rounded positive developmental outcomes for our children.
Thanks so much for reading this. We hope that you can be understanding of our position, and are happy to discuss this with you if you have any concerns.
How do you deal with homework at your house? And would you send a letter like this to your kids’ teacher? Or do you think it’s going too far?