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4 Reasons I Make My Kids Do Homework, Even Though I Hate It

Photograph by Twenty20

I won't lie: I'm not a huge fan of homework in elementary school.

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.

But I don't like it.

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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 school.

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 play.

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 homework" movement.

Here's why:

1. Responsibility is important

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 stress.

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 together

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.

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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.

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