The recent data around homework illustrates our children are doing more homework than ever. But is it helping them get ahead?
Think back to first grade. What do you remember? Crafts with white paste and string, climbing on the jungle gym,and the ABCs. You probably don’t remember coming home from school and doing 30 minutes of homework each night.
The National Education Association recommends 10minutes of homework per grade, so that means many first graders are doing three times the daily dose. Recent studies indicate that not only is there little evidence that this helps kids academically, this much homework stresses kids out.
Assigning young children work to do at home essentially makes more work for the parents. Because organization and self-reliance are a good way off at this age, parents are often managing take-home assignments and making sure they get to and from school. This is on top of the reading, games, and after school activities that are already the daily expectation for U.S.parents.
Similarly, when kids reach high school and start to prepare for college, they are doing an average of 3.5 hours of homework a day. Parents become tutors and taskmasters, rather than cheerleaders and caregivers. And let’s not forget that our overworked and underpaid teachers have to grade all that work.
The practice of over-assigning continues into high school. One study that looked at high school kids in middle class and affluent schools saw health risks associated with these workloads. These kids stated that homework was the primary cause of stress in their lives an there was an established link between health issues like insomnia, ulcers, migraines,and exhaustion.
The flagship education system of the world, Finland, doesn’t assign homework for their children until high school and even then,it’s minimal. Educators are quick to point out that there is plenty of data that supports homework as a means of academic success, but as parents, we want our children to be well-rounded, happy, and healthy too. Academic success is just one piece of composing a life worth living.
With this much work, when do they get unstructured play and make believe?
When you consider how all this plays out in the larger arena of adulthood, we can look at our workforce practices and see the natural progression here: we work more hours, we take fewer vacations, and we are more stressed and less satisfied with our jobs than people in other industrialized nations.
Is this setup what we want for our kids? If we start with this much structured activity at the age of four or five, when do these kids get to play? We know pretty concretely that imaginative and interactive play are crucial to wiring little brains, yet we ask them to sit quietly with their hands in their laps for hours at a time and then go home and do more work.
It’s difficult for parents to reconcile the sense that U.S.education for math, science, and reading ranks 30th in the world with the concept of kids doing less homework. Many teachers report that it’s the parents who put the pressure on for take home assignments. However, more homework doesn’t mean more academic achievement. According to the data, if high schoolers are doing more than two hours of homework a night, they are wasting their time.
So what are parents supposed to do if they see that their kids are overburdened with homework?
One effective way to start this conversation at your child’s school is to join the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) or PTO (Parent Teacher Organization). These national groups support a moderate and “quality vs. quantity” approach to homework. They also act as the connective tissue between parents, teachers,and administrators. Bring in the studies, look at the work the kids are doing,and understand the parameters the teachers are working within when it comes to curriculum.
It’s not that we should abolish homework, but make sure that time is well spent and helping instead of hindering. The world is changing at a breakneck pace and we should be emphasizing critical thinking, experimentation, collaboration,and focus, rather than rote memorization or test taking. It’s our first order of business as parents and as a society, to make sure our kids are happy and healthy,