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I won't lie: I'm not a huge fan of homework in elementary
It's not that I don't see the purpose, because I do. I understand that
practicing what was learned in school helps those concepts sink in—especially
when it comes to math. I also see the benefits of learning organizational
skills early on. When kids have a structure and routine in place, they learn to
budget their time and plan for longer projects. I worked in education for many
years. Believe me, I get it.
I see some very young clients experiencing stress and
anxiety due to academics. It's no big secret that education has changed. Change can be a very good thing, but something that isn't a great change (from
the perspective of the therapist seeing the kids who can't sleep due to anxiety
about homework) is the amount of
homework some schools send home for very young children. A couple of math
problems for extra practice? Fine. Two pages of math problems? Save it for
I happen to be trained in Play Therapy, but it doesn't take
a special degree to see the benefits of unstructured playtime and increased
family time. Children learn math skills, literacy skills, communication skills
and problem-solving skills through unstructured play. More importantly, they
connect with others and develop empathy. Sadly, many kids lack sufficient free
A couple of math problems for extra practice? Fine. Two pages of math problems? Save it for school.
People love to blame the rise of technology for the
disconnect that many families experience, but the truth is that technology is
only one small piece of the puzzle. Families experience excessive demands from
a number of sources, and time is not always on our side. It's up to us, as
parents, to minimize the stress of modern parenting and find ways to build
those essential connections with our children. For some families, that means
homework has to go.
There are many parents out there who simply say "no" to
homework. They write a note on their child's behalf and explain that they need
time for family and play. In many ways, this speaks to me. I would love to see
a day when homework isn't quite so robotic—where a packet comes home that
actually meets the needs of the child. More often than not, homework feels
scripted, something that's part of the plan and has to be done.
Although I speak out on the stress that too much homework can trigger, I haven't joined the "just say no to
1. Responsibility is
My son, a first-grader, flies through his homework packet
each week. He doesn't love it, but he does it. Some weeks he does the whole
packet on Monday. Some weeks he does a little each night. And some weeks he
saves the whole thing for Thursday. In fairness, he doesn't have too much
homework. He has spelling, he has math, he memorizes a poem and sometimes he
has some reading comprehension. It's manageable and not a significant source of
I could make a solid case that he really doesn't need it.
He's a memorizer by nature, so practicing spelling words throughout the week
just isn't necessary. But fulfilling your responsibilities is. I like him to make
his bed each day. His teacher likes him to do some homework. Both of those
things teach him to be responsible.
2. It teaches advocacy
When my clients struggle with the amount of homework they
have, we talk about self-advocacy. When a child is anxious, that child
struggles to access the curriculum. When a child is confident, that child is
more focused. Anxiety can be triggered by academic demands, and some kids need
to learn to talk to their teachers about their concerns.
I have helped many students talk to their teachers about their
anxiety and request modified homework to reduce stress and increase focus. You know what? I've never had a single teacher say "no" to modified homework
when kids need it.
Kids tend to come home with both the highlight and lowlight reels. They tell you what was great, and they tell you what was terrible.
Kids can advocate for their homework needs even if they
don't have anxiety. My son loves math and tends to finish quickly. He's also a
bit bored. So we sat down with his teacher to talk about it. He shared his
feelings, and she suggested advanced strategies to keep moving forward at his
own pace. Now math homework isn't such a drag, because he's using new and
exciting strategies. And he learned a valuable lesson about speaking up.
3. We do homework
Whether I'm sitting with son while he does the spelling App
or cuddled up on the couch with my daughter while she works through her latest
literature questions, we do homework together. We talk, we laugh, we take
breaks to go outside and play and we spend time together.
4. It bridges the gap
between school and home
Homework in large doses is an intrusion on family time, but
one of the benefits of small amounts of homework is that it bridges the gap. In
the right amount, homework helps families feel connected to the learning
process at school. This week my son is practicing reading clocks. Without that
three-minute homework, I might not have talked with him about it.
Kids tend to come home with both the highlight and lowlight
reels. They tell you what was great, and they tell you what was terrible. They
don't always fill you in on all of the in between stuff. Sometimes a little bit
of homework time can connect those dots and help parents take an active role in
their children's learning.
While I agree that some schools are assigning too much
homework these days (I hear this from all parts of the country), I'm not sure that
homework refusal sends the best message to our children. Working together with
teachers is the best way to help our kids thrive in the academic setting, and
that begins with speaking up and asking questions.