Kids fight about it. Parents love it or hate it. Teachers spend hours grading it. We’re talking about homework. For years, homework has been a part of going to school. However, for better or for worse, students today are being assigned an increasing amount of after-school work.
A survey by the University of Michigan done in 2002-2003 found that students ages 6-17 were doing twice as much homework as in 1981-1982.1 A 2007 Metlife study found that 45% of students between the ages of 8-18 spend more than an hour a night on homework.2 Six percent reported spending at least 3 hours on homework nightly. For active kids involved in multiple extracurricular activities, finding time to do homework every night can be difficult. Students may even feel stress as they try to juggle all their commitments.
This push towards more homework may be in response to an ever increasing fear about how our education programs in the U.S. stack up against other countries’. Is our education system broken? Will our children be able to compete in an increasingly global society? These fears are not new and not unreasonable; however, extra hours of homework may not be the answer.
Child development researchers actually believe that play is one of the most effective ways for children to learn.4 Experts say that when your son or daughter is playing in the sandbox, making up an imaginary world in their room, or running around outside, their brains are making connections and growing. This is how children learn. Frankly, playing outside for an hour is probably a better use of a third grader’s time than doing math worksheets. And spending an hour doing math worksheets is way too much homework anyway! The National PTA recommends that students spend about 10-20 minutes in the first grade and an additional 10 minutes per grade (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth).3
However, advocates for homework remind us of its benefits. First, a developmentally appropriate amount of homework could help students build good study skills. Learning time management and prioritizing are valuable lessons which serve students well throughout their lives. Another possible benefit of homework is its use as a fluency building tool. Homework gives students extra opportunity to practice. In some things, like memorizing multiplication facts or building reading fluency, practice really does make perfect.
As a third grade teacher, I have seen a great variety in the kinds and types of homework assigned by teachers. Some assign multiple worksheets every night. Others give students a homework packet that is due at the end of the week. A few assign students to simply read each night. Each homework system reveals teachers’ personal philosophies. I lean more towards assigning less homework. I assign my students one math worksheet every week. This worksheet reviews an important concept that my students need to practice. However, I never send home new content that I have not taught before. Students should be able to do their homework independently. It is my job to teach students fractions, not a frustrated parent who at 9:00 PM can not figure out the exact way the worksheet wants his student to show his work. I also assign daily homework. Each night students need to read for 20 minutes and spend 1 minute practicing math facts.
I believe that homework, like most things in life, should be given in moderation. The amount of time students spend on homework should correlate with their ages and abilities. Also, students should be given homework that they complete 100% independently. This work should be treated as time for practice and fluency building, not the teaching of new concepts that the teacher could not “squeeze in” to the school day.
We are all stakeholders in education because the children of today are the future of tomorrow. Students need to be prepared to compete in a global society. The ante does need to be upped. The answer is not to assign more homework.
1 F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono and Frank P. Stafford. “Changing Times of American Youth: 1981-2003”. Rep. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research U of Michigan, 2004. Print.
2 Markow, Dana, Amie Kim, and Margot Liebman. “The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: The Homework Experience, A Survey of Students, Teachers, and Parents”.The Homework Experience. MetLife, Inc., 13 Nov. 2007. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
3 “Research Spotlight on Homework.” Rss. Accessed October 22, 2014. http://www.nea.org/tools/16938.htm.
4 “Play and Children’s Learning | National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC.” Play and Children’s Learning | National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC. Accessed October 22, 2014. http://www.naeyc.org/play