Before I became a mother and an education advocate, I was an elementary school teacher. Confession time: I disliked assigning homework almost as much as kids hate doing it. I am all too aware that there are reasons why children can't accommodate homework into their after-school routine, and reasons why parents don't make their kids do homework if, or when, it's assigned. That knowledge didn't make me inclined to assign, well, anything.
So, originally, I didn’t assign homework to my students. However, after pressure from a principal and a few parents who expected to see it (because, sadly, homework has become an unsaid social prerequisite for acquiring, retaining and showcasing knowledge) I made up a reading log for parents to sign, so the parents who cared about it could feel like they were doing something. The other students who had bigger fish to fry, like taking care of their younger siblings while their parents worked second and third jobs, and the children who didn't homes in which to do homework, weren't penalized, as the reading log wasn't required "homework." It was a learning experience for me, as a teacher and later as a mother, and it's one that I will continue to fall back on as my child edges closer and closer to that inevitable first day of school.
So, if you’re a parent secretly feeling guilty because you can’t find it in you to care whether homework gets done or not, don’t worry. It’s actually OK not to make your kids do their homework, and here are just a few reasons why:
If They Are Younger Than Sixth Grade, It Shouldn't Have Been Assigned In The First Place
The current weight of the research evidence on homework finds that there’s little to no cognitive or academic benefit to assigning homework for students below sixth grade. So, if your kid is getting “homework” from their kindergarten teacher, feel free to ignore it. This is not an evidence-based practice, and it’s probably just adding needless stress to your child’s day.
More Than An Hour Per Night At Any Age Is Not Beneficial
Even in the older grades, and while researchers have found that thoughtfully-designed homework does benefit academic learning, those benefits decline when students have more than an hour of additional work each night. If you’ve got a stressed out middle or high schooler, losing sleep over their assignments and hating school as a result, it is absolutely better to let them relax and rest than to make them stay up until everything is done. (And it’s probably worth having a community conversation with their teachers to figure out a more sensible workload.)
There Are Other Ways To Teach Kids Responsibility
Academics aside, one of the main arguments people make in favor of homework is that it “teaches kids responsibility.” Virtually anything kids could be asked to do at home (like caring for younger siblings or pets, cleaning their rooms and other chores, assisting in a family business or running one of their own, you name it) can offer more meaningful and authentic opportunities to learn to be responsible, than most homework. If your kids are engaged around the house, but being essentially the designated "homework police" isn’t your jam, rest assured that they’ll probably turn out OK.
A Six (Or More) Hour Workday Is Plenty For A Kid
When I taught, I worked hard to plan engaging lessons and lead students in meaningful work from bell to bell, so I saw no need to load them with additional assignments after that final bell went off. If adult workers of days past fought and died for an eight hour workday, six or so hours of quality academic time seems perfectly sufficient for kids. There is more to life than work.
Play Is Important Learning At All Ages, And Time For It Is Disappearing
In many schools, recess is dwindling to as little as 20 minutes a day (if that) in elementary school, and is all-but-nonexistent in the upper grades. That loss of play time comes at a huge cost to children’s and teens’ physical, mental, social, and emotional health. People of all ages need time to play, and it’s especially crucial for young people, who need playtime to learn social norms and to develop physically. If they haven’t had much playtime during the day, and homework is taking up all the time before dinner/before the streetlights come on, kids may get more benefit from going out to play than they would from sitting down and completing additional work.
If It's Just Busy Work, It's Not A Good Use Of Their Time
Some teachers do assign high-quality homework in the upper grades, and if it fits in with your student’s needs and your family’s lifestyle, it can be a great thing to do. Too often, however, homework is a way to make kids prove they’re being compliant, or to cram in work (or worse, test prep) teachers won’t have time to get to in class. Why stress them or yourself over busy work? Deciding which assignments are and aren’t worth their time is a great opportunity to help them learn time management and prioritization. Additionally, having that conversation with them demonstrates that you respect them and their capacity to make decisions.
It's Important To Learn When And How To Question Authority And Go Against The Grain
Academic learning isn’t the beginning and end of what young people should learn. As community members now, and citizens in the future, they need to know how to do more than just blindly follow instructions. They need to learn to consider the opportunity cost of how they spend their time, and they need to know that it’s OK not to do every single thing other people ask them to do. Talking with them and their teachers about homework can be a really good, low-stakes opportunity for you to model how people can respectfully decline to do something they don’t feel is in their best interest.
If It's Causing Tension In Your House, It’s Not Worth It
For many families, homework is no big deal. Fr many others, homework becomes a battle royale of sorts. Tired, stressed out kids don’t want to do it (or want to cut corners) which, in turn, sets up conflicts between them and their tired, stressed out parents, who themselves may have differing ideas on how to check homework, or what constitutes “good enough,” and so on. Really, whatever academic benefits students might get from even the best homework, pales in comparison to the negative impact of needless conflict at home.
It’s OK To Reserve Your Afternoons And Evenings For Leisure Time
After a long day, it’s OK if you don’t feel like being the homework police. It’s OK if you’d rather play with your kids, or cook and eat a leisurely dinner together, or otherwise spend quality time that isn’t consumed with conflict over whether (and how well) they did their homework. They had a long day too, especially if they engage in other activities besides going to school. You’re all allowed to, and should, take time to relax.
You And Your Family Should Decide How You Spend Your Time, Not Your Child’s School
I’m a huge public school advocate and believe schools are important parts of the community. I also think that families should call the shots in their own homes. If you all have other things you would rather be doing at the end of your days (or if you’re like many working families, and the after-school period is still work time for you and/or your kids) it’s OK to put homework on the back-burner.