Homework: A Psychologist’s Perspective, Revisited

I am re-posting this article because we are back into the swing of the new school year.  I make no apologies, I am pretty much against homework for young children.  If I ruled the world (and believe me, I sometimes try) there would be no homework for elementary kids, very little for middle schoolers, and reasonable quantities for high school students.  I was extra-pleased to receive this comment from Erika recently:

  I have been an elementary school teacher for 12 years now, and I have taught grades 1 through 6. I haven’t given homework for years. My students are expected to read to or with a family member (depending on reading level), and that’s it. The only exception is unfinished class work due to lack of effort on their part. My collegues all disagree with me, saying that it is crucial for learning time management skills and for getting through the extensive curriculum, but I say that if they give %100 for the school day, they get the rest of the time off. How are they supposed to get the recommended 1 hour of physical activity a day, and fit in family time, imaginative play, lessons/clubs, and downtime? As for time management, they are occasionally assigned projects, which help develop those skills. And believe me, they manage their time quite well when they know they’ll have homework if they don’t complete their class assignments!
I know that my parents love it… I get an incredible reaction at curriculum night. This year, I think a few of them almost clapped.

Glad to see I am not alone!

Here’s the original post:

I have written before about my thoughts on homework.  Mainly, I’m against it.  At least for elementary schoolers, and possibly even for middle schoolers.  I can see the benefits of homework for high schoolers.  Reading literature, working on calculus problems, and writing up science experiments seem like worthy ways to spend time for the high school set.  But “work sheets” for young kids and tweens mostly seem like a waste of time.

In talking to a colleague the other day (who shared my opinion), I tried to come up with a few guidelines for when I think homework might be appropriate for kids.  Admittedly, I am not an educator and don’t share their expertise and perspective on homework (I am open to comments!).  This is what I think from the perspective of a psychologist:

Goals.  There should be a clear goal when homework is given.  Homework for homework’s sake is not a good enough reason for me.  There should be a compelling reason that children need to crack open the books at home.

Priorities.  I am always hopeful that teachers and administrators keep in mind that each minute a child spends doing homework is one less minute they can spend: exercising, spending quality time with family, engaging in music lessons, volunteering in the community, preparing healthy meals, relaxing, engaging in imaginative play, and/or getting the sleep they need to grow and thrive.  Is the homework assigned more important than those things?  If not, then it can probably be skipped.

Development.  In order for homework to be an effective teaching tool, children should be able to remember they have homework, be able to read the assignment and understand the task, complete the assignment with minimal (if any) parental help, put the work in their bag, and return it to their teacher – all without assistance.  If they require more than minimal parental assistance on any of these steps – they are just too young!  Homework should not be an added burden for the parents and/or a daily potential fight between family members – but an adjunct to the hours spent in school.

Teachers, parents, educators – what am I missing?  Are there reasons for assigning homework that I am missing?  Other guidelines you employ when deciding whether or not to assign homework?

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