Sunday, October 9, 2016

Stop the Homework Insanity and Let Kids Be Kids

I have so many fond memories of my childhood.  Growing up in a relatively rural area of Northwestern New Jersey sure had its benefits.  As we returned home from school each day, my brothers and I would jump off the bus and diligently make our way about a half-mile back to our house. Once home we would peel off the backpacks, get changed, and play outside for the remainder of the day until dinner was ready. I can still remember my parents yelling into the great abyss as many times we were either deep in the woods or down by the local farm.  There was homework, but is was very manageable to the point that my mom had to remind me that we actually had some during the elementary and middle years.

When not off on our adventures in the deep woods, we would be riding bikes, playing with the dog, swimming in the pool, shooting hoops, or getting into some kind of trouble. Life sure was good and relatively stress free.  Things changed a bit once Atari and Nintendo took hold. Most of our time was still dedicated to outdoor play, but time was definitely allocated to playing video games on these technological wonders.  On some days we couldn’t wait to get home from school to play Asteroids, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Tecmo Bowl, and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. 

As we grew older sports began to make up a great part of our afterschool activities. Outdoor activities and video games often took a backseat to baseball, soccer, football, swimming, and basketball practice.  Sports were such a huge part of our lives throughout the year.  Growing up in a rural area allowed my brothers and I to participate in many sports at a high level. Part of why I believe my childhood was so great was that there was a distinct balance between school and life.  From the time the bus dropped us off until when we hopped back on, the focus was on learning.  Once home, however, time was relatively sacred when it came to play and spending quality time with family and friends. 

The life of a child today has changed dramatically.  Play both in and out of school has become a distant memory for many kids across the world.  For reasons that make no sense to me, children are given obscene amounts of homework. Instead of coming home to unwind, play, and spend valuable time with family, kids are stressed out beyond belief as high-stakes homework has become the norm.  Why have we veered off in this direction? There is little research to support the impact of homework on achievement for students in grades kindergarten through seven.  When it is assigned it should be no more than 30 minutes. Well, ask any parent and they will tell you that the amount of time spent far exceeds this.

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I am not against homework.  As a child I had homework, but it was a manageable amount that did not negatively impact social and play time.  It was also not used in a high stakes way. I want both my children to reinforce what they have learned during the school day, but more importantly I want them to be kids.  During my tenure as principal my district delved into the research with our students from all grade levels and changed our homework practices. Homework was still assigned, but there were time limits for each grade and it could not be used to punish students academically.   

The reasons for this post are not to debate the many issues I have with homework and the lack of reliable research to support it’s use. There will always be two sides to this debate.  It should be noted though that in my line of work I am able to make a pretty compelling case against current homework practices. However, I think we have to take a hard and objective look at the impact it is having on our kids. Current homework practices are making students dislike school and learning.  This is a fact.
"If your homework practices make kids dislike school and/or learning that alone should tell you something has to change."
Recently I was at an event in my community and parents were lamenting about homework.  This really hit home as every night my wife battles with my kids over homework.   My daughter cries and throws a fit.  She sits in the car and does homework to and from cheer practice. That is her after school life in a nutshell. She completes homework for 35 minutes on the way to cheer. After 2-3 hours of cheer practice she then again works on homework for another 35 minutes on the ride home. Sometimes she has even more work once she gets home. My son just sits and stares back at us with an empty gaze.  Ask any parent or child about their feelings on homework these days and you are bound to get a negative response.

If you currently work in a school consider this. Regardless of your views on homework, please take the time to reflect on whether it is actually having a positive impact. If homework makes kids dislike school and/or learning it is obvious there is a problem.  Parents also need to be proactive.  So what can you do? Share this post with your child’s teacher, administrator, school, or district. Share in the comments section below why homework is not working for your child.  Engage in conversations about homework balance and meaningful assignments that reinforce learning in a timely fashion. Together we need to address the gorilla in the room (homework) if student learning and success are the ultimate goal.

Below are some more resources that can move the homework conversation forward.
It's time to stop the insanity for the sake of our kids.


  1. Wholeheartedly agree!! As an elementary educator and a parent of 2 elementary aged children I am frustrated and discouraged by the amount and quality of HW my children have nightly. I find the teachers, with the best of intentions, are sending home the math pages their textbook says is 'Homework' along with silly practice of spelling words that by son already has correct on the pre-test. Both of my boys do not struggle academically but they loathe homework. I have seen one of my sons who has always loved learning, have no time for personal research or coding or other engaging things he is personally interested in because he has worksheet after worksheet to do. And don't get me started with the test prep packets in the Spring! Ugh! I applaud any teacher who takes the risk to try something out of the ordinary because it's good for kids! I certainly hope more are willing to try!

  2. Bravo! Our homework for K is to read and learn through experiences (ie a trip to the grocery store can lead to a plethora of topics). It should encourage and inspire kids to be creative.
    I still have nightmares of not being "finished" with math homework in high school. I was working on concepts I could not grasp and my fear of failure scared me out of pursuing my chosen field.
    I see my niece spend hours daily on homework that interferes with family time. And I see parents frustrated by concepts they can't help their child learn because they themselves have no construct which to relate. Something needs to change.

  3. You make many great points, but 'homework'is not the only component to this issue. Out of necessity, working parents means long hours spent at after care facilities and too many 'structured' after school activities means loss of the freedom for free choices of how to spend one's time and of meaningful family time. Over booked schedules of running from one activity to another means less time for modeling/teaching the dynamics of personal and familial responsibility and contribution. To me, the 2-3 hours of cheer practice and the travel time seems to be more restricting to free play, relaxation, and 'real' family time than the hour of homework.

    'Real'family time is sitting down to a family meal AND conversation; sharing an age appropriate movie, game, or book together; doing chores, activities, or services together as a family unit, as opposed to sitting watching a sibling or child "compete". These activities provide meaningful interaction between family members and help to keep our children grounded and teach them life skills and values.

    Our children are stressed, but is the homework the only contributor? Or does a life on the run also deprive them of rest, inner calmness, and nutrition? With time to play and revive, interact with the family unit, and have extended time to just be at home, would our children be more attentive and focused during the school day and be more apt to stay on task to complete more of their work during the actual school day, thus resulting in less work to take home to complete?

    To me, priorities and balance need to be configured into the equation, also.

    1. Well I agree with you to a point. Cheer is the only structured activity that my daughter engages in. She absolutely loves it. On non cheer nights we make the time to do exactly what you state (dinner together, movie, etc.), but that always has to wait until homework is done. My kids also know that their activities are optional. The issue you bring up is a parenting one. Only parents and parents alone can make the conscious decision to scale back activities.

  4. Great post! As a principal, I encourage our kids to get involved in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, which take up a great deal of time after school and on weekends. This equates to a 12-14 hour day for our kids on some days. Too much homework and homework that is not purposeful adds to this problem.

  5. Yes, giving homework should be purposeful and should reflect on topics or skills that will reinforce what's been learned at school. Too much homework can hinder a child's creativity for play and imaginative scenarios where kids need to be kids.

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  7. Great post, Eric.

    A concern that I have that it is very much related to the volume of homework is the physical burden of lugging around heavy backpack. My son is in 7th grade, and we have weighed it on days where he has homework in every class. It weighs nearly as much as two of these:

    I'd recently blogged of a challenge for adults (parents, school staff, lawmakers) to try equivalent weight for five minutes every hour, five days a week.

  8. You could use Degrumbler as a tool to help manage how much homework is assigned and prevent the usual overload issues. Can you message me about this please Eric.

  9. Could not agree more. Just passed a new homework policy in my school district that follows the "10 minutes per grade level" rule.