School districts “no homework” policies miss the point.
It’s not that black and white. In fact, the research many journalists cite is frequently misinterpreted for a clickbait headline or to get people riled up.
Harris Cooper, researcher and professor at Duke University is most often quoted. He’s analyzed over 25 years of homework research and came to the conclusion that elementary school homework has very little effect on children’s academic performance.
However, he still suggests homework for elementary school students. That’s often left out.
What type of homework benefits elementary school students?
Parents argue how elementary school homework takes away from family time and causes undue stress on their evenings. And I totally agree.
Not all homework is good.
Some is plain pointless busywork.
Some assignments shouldn’t have been assigned as homework at all because the student cannot complete it independently.
I made both of these mistakes as a teacher.
Homework can be different. It can be meaningful. It can be a practice of what happened in class. It can improve kids abilities of focus, persistence, responsibility and time management.
For that to happen, Harris Cooper says homework needs to help young children:
- “Develop good study habits,
- Foster positive attitudes toward school, and
- Communicate the idea that learning takes place at home as well as school.”
Homework is heavily debated. Even popular experts disagree on whether homework is appropriate in elementary school. So what to do?
We need to watch our kids.
Here are the skills that elementary school students strengthen when they sit down to work on meaningful homework:
Whenever I talk to a parent about homework drama, the number one complaint is always, “My child doesn’t focus on her homework.”
Treasure, a mom of seven, says, “All my kids drag out their homework time because they’re messing around and playing in between. “
Kyda describes that her daughter, “gets very antsy, and can’t focus. I’m sitting next to her, constantly nagging her to get back to it or she gets frustrated with her math and just shuts down.”
Focus is a huge issue. Even we adults struggle with it.
During homework, we expect kids to work on homework for a set chunk of time without becoming distracted. We want them to be able to self-regulate their attention and train their brains to work straight through.
Does this come easily? No. In fact, it takes kids many years to master the focus skill—many times it depends on the day. Approach this like working out a muscle at the gym. We practice so it gets stronger but we may never be able to deadlift 400 pounds. Lifting 200 pounds is mighty impressive, though, and should be celebrated.
It is not your responsibility that your child gets her homework done; it’s hers and hers alone.
A friend of mine told me how, when her daughter threw tantrums during homework, she refused to sit and work with her any longer. In fact, she told her daughter that she wasn’t in control of her emotions in that moment. My friend then signed her homework and wrote a note to the teacher saying that her daughter wouldn’t complete it.
Your child refusing to do an assignment is not a reflection of your parenting. When you refuse to take responsibility for their homework, the responsibility automatically shifts to your child. She thinks, “If mom’s not going to make me complete homework, then when it’s not done, I’m the one who faces the consequences at school.”
OK, let’s be truthful: she’ll think that eventually. When you first shift over to this tactic, she’ll say, “But it’s not my fault. You never reminded me.”
Be prepared for that. Know that when you hear it, you’re on the right track.
Raise your hand if you struggle with time management.
(My hand is raised high right now.)
There are tons of times I run late, leave a lot less time to do something than I need to get it done and watch Netflix when I’m supposed to be working.
But somehow, I manage to get the important stuff done. That’s what time management is. It’s not getting everything finished. Rather, its making decisions on what to prioritize and then getting things done….
…eventually. Doing it eventually. Getting it completed by the deadline.
If you grade yourself by this definition of time management, do you score high? I hope so.
That said, we all know how frustrating it is when we keep procrastinating on a task. Something that should take 20 minutes, ends up taking hours. We want to teach our kids how to manage their time early on, so homework doesn’t do this to them.
And so homework doesn’t take up all of family time, either.
Success isn’t based solely on talent. Rather, the most successful people are those who push through the failures and struggles, and never give up. Homework can teach our kids how to persist when they feel unmotivated or when it simply seems too hard to continue.
We want our kids to struggle. Just the other day, my daughter complained to me how she hated doing the Science Fair because, “something always goes wrong.”
She continued, “Either we don’t know how to do something, our experiment doesn’t work or the paint on our display boards dries in splotches.”
It took me a second because I was the kid who hated Science Fair, too, for these exact reasons. But now, after surviving not only science projects but my many failures in my adult career, I turn to her and say:
“Sweetie. I hate to break it to you but that’s what life is like. Every failure is a learning experience and you just need to take it and keep going.”
It’s an impossible lesson for kids to learn if we shield them from the hard stuff. Or if we step in during Science Fair time and do it for them.
Making Elementary School Homework Worth It
Elementary school homework does not need to be a dreaded chore. Done right, it can be prepping students for bigger and better success.
To do this, we need to make sure its:
- Appropriate for the student’s age level
- Takes a minimal amount of time.
Want a little more guidance?
My book, Drama Free Homework: A Parent’s Guide to Eliminating Homework Battles and Raising Focused Kids, will come out August 13th on Amazon.