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The Homework Revolution

Homework is like the kid version of taxes: no one loves it, but it’s an unpleasant certainty of life. Like brushing your teeth, it’s one of those things you just have to do.

That might be less true for our kids than it was for us. School districts all over the country are taking a surprising stance on homework. They’re banning it. Or at least putting some stern restrictions in place.

The New York Times chronicles several school districts struggle to address parental concerns about the amount of homework their kids face. As one administrator put it, “Parents want their kids back.”

Some schools are banning homework on weekends and holidays, while others put time limits on how much homework a child can be given each night. Ten minutes per grade level is a popular one. Different districts are experimenting with different approaches to setting limits on homework, but they share a common goal: to ease the pressure on students, especially young kids.

It’s all well and good to want your kids to have more free time. But all that homework is there for a reason, right? Not necessarily. As the NYT piece says:

Research has long suggested that homework in small doses can reinforce basic skills and help young children develop study habits, but that there are diminishing returns, said Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. The 10-minute guideline has generally been shown to be effective, Dr. Cooper said, adding that over all, “there is a minimal relationship between how much homework young kids do and how well they test.”

I was staunchly anti-homework until my daughter started bringing homework packets home in 1st grade. Her homework took about 10 minutes a night, plus another ten minutes of reading. I don’t think it really helped her learn much, but it connected home to school. We developed a nightly ritual of sitting together while she read aloud to me and worked through her worksheets. Writing her spelling words out in sentences may not have furthered her education any, but having that link between school and home certainly did.

So I see the value in a small amount of homework. But while my daughter was spending 10 minutes after dinner reading aloud to me from a book of her choosing, our neighbor’s daughter was slogging through an hour or more of math problems, spelling sentences and other assignments. That much homework can’t be good for young kids. They spend enough of their time sitting in desks at school. Don’t make them give up playtime in their afterschool hours to do more sitting still studying. There’s time enough for that when they’re older.

What do you think? Is any homework appropriate for kids in the early grades? How much is too much? Should schools set limits?

Photo: apdk

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