The answer to the question, ‘does homework help my child’s learning?’, continues to be one asked by parents and educators alike. In August 2016, a second grade teacher in America trialled a no homework policy. She sent parents a letter explaining what she was doing and why. It was a policy that earned praise from parents who felt that their children’s workload was too heavy:
The issue of homework for young children and whether it’s beneficial, has long been a controversial, as well as a global issue. It’s one that not only parents disagree on, but also educators and policy makers. In some countries, the amount of homework set in primary/elementary schools, is substantial, while in other countries, they operate a no homework policy.
The question for many parents: is homework good for our kids and does it result in academic success?
Does homework help my child’s learning?
Many parents worry that without homework, their child will be at a disadvantage in our increasingly competitive world. But is this the case when it comes to giving elementary school children homework?
The most noted research about homework comes from professor of psychology, Harris Cooper, of Duke University. Cooper has studied and analysed homework for over 25 years. With regard to academic performance, Cooper noted that:
There is no evidence that any amount of homework
improves the academic performance of elementary students.
In addition, G. K. Letendre from the Independent (UK), noted that in the Netherlands:
…nearly one out of five fourth graders reported doing no homework
on an average school night, even though Dutch fourth graders put their
country in the top ten in terms of average math scores in 2007.
So if homework isn’t resulting in better academic success for elementary children, is it beneficial in other ways? Again, there is a difference of opinion. Proponents on both sides have arguments for and against.
Homework for elementary children: the pros and cons
Some of the reasons why researchers, educators and policy makers think that homework should not be assigned include:
- It can generate a negative attitude to school. At the beginning of their school career, they need to see that learning is fun; that it’s something positive and something to enjoy.
- Homework given too young can cause unnecessary conflict between children and their parents.
- It can cause a negative attitude towards homework later on, when homework is important and offers significant benefits.
- Children at this age need time to exercise, play with friends and spend time with family.
- In order to do well at school, young children need to get enough sleep and be well rested. Homework can interfere with sleeping times.
- Studies have shown that excessive homework can lead to sleep deprivation and a negative relationship between the amount of homework and physical and mental stress.
On the other hand, advocates of homework at the elementary stage, argue that it has several benefits, including:
- Helps children to become more responsible.
- Encourages children to work independently.
- Allows children to get into good working habits for later on.
- Promotes independent problem solving skills.
- Creates a link between home and school.
- Provides an opportunity for parents to get involved with their child’s school work.
The jury however, is still out as to whether homework at this stage, produces some of these non-academic advantages. Dr. M. Galloway, professor of educational leadership at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, states:
I think there’s a focus on assigning homework because (teachers)
think it has these positive outcomes for study skills and habits.
But we don’t know for sure that’s the case.
Cooper also found that there was a weak relationship between homework and performance of elementary school students. One of the studies he looked at, demonstrated that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, as well as produce negative attitudes about learning and reduces a child’s leisure time.
Are homework benefits age dependent?
The answer to this is a resounding, yes. The benefits of homework in young children is tenuous at best. But this changes as children get older. At the secondary/high school level, homework positively impacts a child’s performance and academic success.
This has been backed up by Cooper, who found that there was a positive correlation between student achievement and homework: students who did homework, performed better at school. This correlation was strongest for children in grades 7-12.
The ten minute rule
Although there is no evidence that homework results in academic success for younger children, Cooper believes that a little homework is better than no homework He advocates the ten minute rule. This refers to giving children no more than ten minutes a night per grade level. This would equate to ten minutes for first graders, twenty minutes for second graders and up to a maximum of about two hours at secondary school.
He cautions however, that too much homework can do more harm than good. It can result in burnout and boredom towards learning, less time for other activities, a lack of sleep and increased stress.
What are the alternatives to homework?
Many schools now allow parents of elementary school children to opt-out of doing the homework. Indeed a good friend of mine did this for her 6 year-old son, and saw a dramatic improvement in his well-being and attitude to school and learning.
There are many things parents can do to instil a love of learning and compliment what is being taught at school. Some of these include:
- Reading. Encouraging reading and instilling a love of books is the single most important thing you can do for your child. Find a time each day when your child can read to you and you can read to them. Research has shown that reading is far more effective for your child’s performance than homework.
- Rather than use homework as a way of teaching your child responsibility, give them household chores that they are responsible for. This will work best if you discuss with your child what chore they wish to do. If they have been part of the decision making process, they will take more ownership in what they are doing and take pride in it.
- Reinforce the concept that we are always learners and the positive effects of this. That way, when they do homework, they can see the benefit of it in allowing them to learn more.
- Take them to visit interesting places such as zoos, museums, exhibitions or any activity that will awaken their interest. This kind of activity is priceless. The knowledge and experience that they will acquire cannot be taught in any other way.
How can I help my child with homework?
Whether the answer is a yes or no to the question, ‘does homework help my child’s learning’, it’s likely that your child will be in a school that sets homework at elementary school. Given this, you’ll want to help and support them the best way you can and make it a positive experience. Below are 9 tips to help you do just that.
It’s best to decide on a fixed time so it’s easier to keep to. Discuss this with your child and decide together when would be best. Once you’ve decided, try to keep to it unless it makes sense to move it.
Designate a place in your home where your child can comfortably sit at a desk.
Take this time to show your child how interested you are in what they are learning. Ask them questions and get them to explain what they are learning to you. This is particularly useful to see if your child understands the content.
HELP WHEN NEEDED
If your child gets stuck on something, help them to solve it without giving them the answer.
Be consistent in all areas of timing/providing support as well as any checking and signing any of the homework that you need to do.
If you or your child is getting upset over the homework, it’s best to leave it and come back to it later. If the latter is not possible, then write a note to the teacher and explain. You want to avoid any upset over homework, as it will result in a negative attitude towards it and to learning itself. You also want to avoid your child adopting a negative attitude towards homework, as that will be detrimental later on when homework really is important.
ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO MAKE MISTAKES
Children need to know that it’s through making mistakes that we learn. If your child makes a mistake, reassure them that it’s fine and part of the learning process. Encourage them to correct it and try to refrain from simply correcting their mistakes for them.
If your child is consistently finding the homework too difficult, speak to the teacher about it. See if the homework can be more tailored to your child’s ability.
KEEP TO TIME
Even if your child has had difficulty with their homework, take care not to go over the allotted time. If the homework cannot be completed for this reason, just explain that to the teacher. You want to avoid homework stretching out and negatively affecting other areas, such as their activity and play, time with family or getting to bed on time.
Some final thoughts…
As stated at the beginning, homework continues to be a controversial area, with parents, educators and policy makers alike disagreeing on what’s best.
If you are in a situation where you can opt-in or out of homework for your child, then the best way at this age, is to do what you think is best for your child. We know from the research, that doing homework now is not going to impact their academic performance and too much will have a negative impact. However, you may find doing a small amount is something that your child finds helpful.
At six years old, the homework my daughter receives is not compulsory. I’m in the camp of no homework at this age, (except reading). But I will look at what’s been set and if there’s something I think that is interesting and that I think my daughter would enjoy, I incorporate it into part of our day. This can include things such as discussing things as we drive along in the car, or making a game up about it, without her even knowing that it’s something that was in the week’s homework.
For now, my interest lies in her enjoyment after a day at school, whether that’s being with friends, playing a sport or spending time with family.
Finally, I keep dear the notion that learning is fun and exciting and that we are life long learners. It’s not something we just do at school. I remind my daughter of this on a regular basis, by showing her my excitement when I learn something new and that we’re learning all the time…….and how wonderful is that!