The Problem with Giving Young Children Homework
Studies suggest that giving elementary students homework does more harm than good.
America has recommitted itself to improving its public education in a way that's somehow been both ambitious and fearful, frantically implementing untested strategies that have fundamentally changed schools and student's experiences, arguably for the worse.
With a concern that American students are increasingly unable to successfully compete internationally for jobs, governmental agencies and politicians are pushing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula in spite of education experts' concerns about other areas being de-emphasized.
Public schools, terrified of losing funding due to low test scores, have moved to “teaching to the test," where the goal is passing exams, not mastery of a subject. (In Michigan last month it was announced that 100 schools were to be shut down because their students fell short on these exams.)
Then there's homework for elementary-school students.
Some elementary schools are assigning homework to kids straight down to kindergarten now. It may be they're doing this to demonstrate to funding agencies how serious they are about keeping test scores up, but there's no evidence it makes any real sense. While the value of homework for high-school kids is supported by the data, the same is not true for elementary students. And parents of young students are learning all too well the kind of stresses it creates.
One benefit elementary-school homework advocates cite is that homework helps build a child's sense of responsibility. However, studies show that since a parent has to constantly remind young students to do their homework, this doesn't actually happen.
Education expert Harris Cooper's just published the third edition of his well-regarded book The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, which offers compelling evidence that homework for young children is actually destructive, in several ways. Here's what his research shows.
Homework Makes It Hard for Young Kids to Adapt to School
Elementary-school children have a lot of education in front of them, and one of the best things a teacher can do is to instill in a student a love of learning. Education needs to be fun as children are forming their attitudes about school. Check out this video from one very student-savvy 4th grade teacher with the right idea.
Homework for Young Kids Damages Family Relationships
Listening to a parent try to push their weary young child — after all, she or he has already been at school all day long — through a homework assignment is like eavesdropping on child abuse. The child resists, the parent gets frustrated at a kid too tired to fire on all cylinders, and nothing is achieved other than bad feelings.
Kids Need Rest After a Long School Day
After being at school for six to eight hours, children physically need some time to regroup. On average, they need 10 hours of sleep. When you consider walking home or what time they get off the bus, family dinner, bath and everything else, simple math shows how homework is just an added pressure on a child's already packed schedule.
Kids Need Time to Be Kids
Given the above, when exactly is a child supposed to just be a child? Developmentally, children need time to de-compress, to goof off, if they're to mature properly. Check out Open Colleges' report, The Tyranny of Homework: 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Assign Homework Over The Holidays.
Elementary school parents should consider speaking to their schools about this. Some teachers and parents are already on-board, as this note handed out by Fort Worth second-grade teacher Brandy Young proves. A mom of one of Young's students posted it on Facebook, and it hit an nerve, going viral immediately.
There's plenty of time ahead to be a serious, responsible student, but the data shows what's obvious to any young child's parents: These amazing little humans are constantly learning at a rate we adults can only gaze upon in wonder. Why rob them of what little time they have to enjoy their childhoods as it is?