I have so many fond memories of my childhood. Growing up in a relatively rural area of Northwestern New Jersey sure had its benefits. As we returned home from school each day, my brothers and I would jump off the bus and diligently make our way about a half-mile back to our house. Once home we would peel off the backpacks, get changed, and play outside for the remainder of the day until dinner was ready. I can still remember my parents yelling into the great abyss as many times we were either deep in the woods or down by the local farm. There was homework, but is was very manageable to the point that my mom had to remind me that we actually had some during the elementary and middle years.
When not off on our adventures in the deep woods, we would be riding bikes, playing with the dog, swimming in the pool, shooting hoops, or getting into some kind of trouble. Life sure was good and relatively stress free. Things changed a bit once Atari and Nintendo took hold. Most of our time was still dedicated to outdoor play, but time was definitely allocated to playing video games on these technological wonders. On some days we couldn't wait to get home from school to play Asteroids, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Tecmo Bowl, and Mike Tyson's Punch Out.
As we grew older sports began to make up a great part of our after school activities. Outdoor activities and video games often took a backseat to baseball, soccer, football, swimming, and basketball practice. Sports were such a huge part of our lives throughout the year. Growing up in a rural area allowed my brothers and I to participate in many sports at a high level. Part of why I believe my childhood was so great was that there was a distinct balance between school and life. From the time the bus dropped us off until when we hopped back on, the focus was on learning. Once home, however, time was relatively sacred when it came to play and spending quality time with family and friends.
The life of a child today has changed dramatically. Play both in and out of school has become a distant memory for many kids across the world. For reasons that make no sense to me, children are given obscene amounts of homework. Instead of coming home to unwind, play, and spend valuable time with family, kids are stressed out beyond belief as high-stakes homework has become the norm. Why have we veered off in this direction? There is little research to support the impact of homework on achievement for students in grades kindergarten through seven. When it is assigned it should be no more than 30 minutes. Well, ask any parent and they will tell you that the amount of time spent far exceeds this.
I am not against homework. As a child I had homework, but it was a manageable amount that did not negatively impact social and play time. It was also not used in a high stakes way. I want both my children to reinforce what they have learned during the school day, but more importantly I want them to be kids. During my tenure as principal my district delved into the research with our students from all grade levels and changed our homework practices. Homework was still assigned, but there were time limits for each grade and it could not be used to punish students academically.
The reasons for this post are not to debate the many issues I have with homework and the lack of reliable research to support it's use. There will always be two sides to this debate. It should be noted though that in my line of work I am able to make a pretty compelling case against current homework practices. However, I think we have to take a hard and objective look at the impact it is having on our kids. Current homework practices are making students dislike school and learning. This is a fact.
"If your homework practices make kids dislike school and/or learning that alone should tell you something has to change."
Recently I was at an event in my community and parents were lamenting about homework. This really hit home as every night my wife battles with my kids over homework. My daughter cries and throws a fit. She sits in the car and does homework to and from cheer practice. That is her after school life in a nutshell. She completes homework for 35 minutes on the way to cheer. After 2-3 hours of cheer practice she then again works on homework for another 35 minutes on the ride home. Sometimes she has even more work once she gets home. My son just sits and stares back at us with an empty gaze. Ask any parent or child about their feelings on homework these days and you are bound to get a negative response.
If you currently work in a school consider this. Regardless of your views on homework, please take the time to reflect on whether it is actually having a positive impact. If homework makes kids dislike school and/or learning it is obvious there is a problem. Parents also need to be proactive. So what can you do? Share this post with your child's teacher, administrator, school, or district. Share in the comments section below why homework is not working for your child. Engage in conversations about homework balance and meaningful assignments that reinforce learning in a timely fashion. Together we need to address the gorilla in the room (homework) if student learning and success are the ultimate goal.
Below are some more resources that can move the homework conversation forward.
It's time to stop the insanity for the sake of our kids.