To Do Homework, or Not to Do Homework?

It’s the beginning of the school year. Several friends on Facebook posted laments about homework and their children’s resistance. So I thought I’d write my thoughts down. Some of these were extracted from a letter I saw on someone’s blog awhile back. But first, our history of homework:

In TK, the teacher assigned two double-sided pages of worksheets each week: a total of 4 pages weekly. Students took them home Monday and submitted them Friday. I stood over Claire’s shoulder and made her do them. This was a struggle. They also took home picture books to read and were required to do something creative (a drawing, a re-telling) for class. Claire did those willingly. We had to keep a reading log as well, which I managed.

In Kindergarten, the teacher sent worksheets home daily, two double-sided pages, Monday through Thursday: a total of 16 pages weekly. The teacher never looked at it, because I and other parents did homework check-in and corrected it. Claire resisted doing homework, and I began to question its necessity. By December, I decided I was sick of the fight and of being the bad guy, so I stopped pushing her to do it. Her learning didn’t suffer. The teacher chided her for not doing it, but I no longer felt a responsibility to enforce it. There was also a book project similar to the one in TK, which she enjoyed, and a reading log, which I filled out.

In 1st grade, on Tuesdays her teacher sent home a packet of 12-13 double-sided pages, which were due the following Monday: 24-26 pages a week. I told the teacher my position on homework — it’s unnecessary and busy work. She accepted that. However, I wanted to be a good class parent, so I started the year by pushing Claire to do it, and if I sat with her and scribed, she would. But there were still fights. About a month in we stopped doing it. Twenty minutes of reading daily was expected (but not a reading log), and Claire did this, as well as an online reading program called Raz Kids. With Raz Kids, her reading took off. She loved earning points to decorate her Raz Rocket, and that love flowed over into regular books.

This year in 2nd grade, Mrs. L sends home one double-sided page Monday through Thursday: so far, 8 pages a week. If there is class work that is not completed in the alotted time, that is sent home as well. Claire has done them willingly, without prompting or help. They are “busy work” sheets — tracing and printing letters, simple math, connect the dots. Teacher also sends a spelling word list with a menu of activities to do with the words to help them learn. I like the menu: there are options to write stories using the words, spell them with scrabble tiles, cut out letters and tape them, write the words with your finger in rice, etc. We’ll see how the homework progresses through the year. There will be a reading log, which I have decided to let Claire manage as well. If Claire begins to get frustrated and not want to do the worksheets, I’m inclined to let it go, unless she is struggling with the material.

I’ve become aware of something: parents have power and choice. Just because the teacher sends homework home (in the form of worksheets), doesn’t mean we have to force it. No one will give us a failing grade as parents; it won’t go down on our permanent records. And our children won’t fail, either. As long as they are making progress with what’s being taught in the classroom, there is no need to add to the school day with more worksheets. Enough is enough.

And here is the body of the letter I have at the ready, just in case. Feel free to adapt and use this.

Dear Teacher,

My daughter is excited to be in your class. She loves learning and looks forward to what the year holds. Each school year brings new routines, and I’d like to address homework. I’m reluctant about its use in elementary school for a number of reasons.

  • From the reading I’ve done, for young children (under around age 14-15 years) there is no scientific research that 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 standardized test scores) is negative.
  • My child is involved in a number of after school activities — chorus, art, and swimming — that enrich her life, teach skills, and generally make for full days. I would prefer she do these activities after a six hours of didactic learning and not stress over additional homework. We also believe that playtime and outdoor time is a form of learning and very necessary.
  • We have found that homework in the form of daily or weekly worksheets is a source of stress and strife in our home. Since she does worksheets at school, as long she is making progress, we haven’t pushed this. I have not seen evidence to support the belief that homework helps students develop the characteristics it is often suggested will be useful, such as ability to organize time, develop good work habits, think independently, and so on.
  • There are two types of homework we do encourage and require. First is daily reading. We read daily as parents to Claire, and Claire reads on her own. We don’t require a minimum time limit on the reading or dictate the number of pages to be read. This removal of autonomy turns reading into a chore rather than a pleasure. Nor do we push for her to record pages read or summaries of what she read. Reading is for leisure and enrichment.
  • The other form of “acceptable” homework is related to projects from school that interest Claire. We actively encourage research, projects, writing (stories, poems, essays, and speeches). This helps 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.

We hope you understand that our position on homework is meant to encourage our daughter’s love of learning. Let us know how we can support this process at home.

Sincerely,

For a suggestion on how to handle worksheet homework, read this post as well.
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3 Comments on “To Do Homework, or Not to Do Homework?”

  1. Amy Zucker Morgenstern Says:

    I love this, Kathryn. Right now my daughter easily finishes her homework during her after-school program, which also gives her art and PE and reading time. But as we add other activities back into her afternoons, such as music classes, I’m thinking we should talk to the teacher and if need be, use a worksheet like you post in your next post.

    Overall the homework is okay: a review of what they’ve been doing, or a creative project connected to reading that she chooses. As for the reading logs, we just tell the teacher, “You know she reads like crazy. We just don’t remember to fill it all in,” and because she DOES read like crazy and it shows, none has cared. But there was the time when she had holiday homework where I just balked (not soon enough). I realized that it was going to instill in her the same attitude I’ve struggled with in myself and that plagues our community: that you are NEVER on vacation. The two weeks at Christmas should be downtime, if you are a child who tends to be over-conscientious.

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Thanks, Amy! For me it’s really a matter of activity type. Some kids learn by doing, and my daughter is one. The spelling homework I don’t mind, because there are 12 options from which to choose. Another homework in kinder was a paper with different types of produce listed, and the task was to weigh one pound of each at a grocery store, and then list how many were in the pound. I’m all for thoughtful, multifaceted tasks and projects. But worksheets are far from that, and it seems most classrooms are driven by them.

    I completely agree about vacations, too.

  3. acm Says:

    Wow!! My kid is in second grade and has *never* brought home homework. The one exception is over the summer, when they were sent with a phocopied packet of fun workbook activities that ranged from interesting math challenges to bits of writing about their summer. I presumed that this was to help keep skills from blowing away over the summer. I can’t *imagine* 24 worksheets of homework in a week! We’d never have any family time at all, and as you say, it’s just busywork. I don’t think they get much from chewing stuff over before middle school, so it’s better to crash, play, or run around. Hang in there!!

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