Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented
- Alfie Kohen, author of The Homework Myth
Sweeping our country is a new trend, which I love: No homework! Many parents are singing the praises of these policies, which remove the nightly nagging of “Have you done your homework?” Plus it frees up time where parents can genuinely connect with their child whether over dinner, or gardening in the backyard without the stress of impending schoolwork. Of course, the no homework program isn’t for every principal although I really think in early elementary school there’s no downside and research even reveals that, too!
In 2006, Harris Cooper shared his meta-analytic study, which found homework in elementary school (K-5th grade) does not contribute to academic achievement. Said differently: Homework has become just busy work in the United States, and children aren’t learning anything additional from it. And let’s be honest, at one point a child’s homework becomes a parents homework and even I’m regularly guilty of pulling my calculator out to double check my child’s work. But Cooper’s study isn’t black and white: There were modest gains for middle and high school students, so it looks like the developmental window of early childhood is the place where homework isn’t necessarily beneficial.
Recently, Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of Marion County in FL, which has 42,000 students made national news because she not only is banning homework, but is replacing it with 20 minutes of reading per night. Studies clearly show that young students gain from reading nightly, being read to and picking books of interest to them. Mark Trifilio, principal of the Orchard School in VT, eliminated HW last year and suggested replacing it with nightly reading, playing outdoors or even eating with your family. He reports students haven’t fallen behind, but now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions” (The Washington Post, Feb 26, 2017).
The subtext of a “no homework” policy in elementary schools is saying: We trust our teachers, we trust the curriculum, and we trust our students to pay attention as well as learn during the day. No homework for kindergarten through fifth grade doesn’t erase learning, but helps students tolerate an often long day better and encourages them to pursue their unique interests after-school from reading and writing to taking photographs. Abbey, age nine, is one of my child client’s without homework and she’s created a website to share her “nature photos through her eyes.”
Western societies often think “more is better” but when it comes to homework the exact opposite may be true for young and perhaps even older children. A study conducted at Stanford University in 2013 showed the amped up stress and physical ailments high school students face especially when spending too much time on their homework. So perhaps a “no homework” policy early-on can position students to find balance in their lives, which can serve them later on. I especially love replacing homework with reading because I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of reading with a child, and how books open a child’s mind to new worlds whether it’s Hogwarts or the Ice Age. And after all isn’t the point of childhood to have fun and learn in a multitude of ways?
By Maureen Healy
Maureen Healy writes and speaks widely on the subjects of children’s emotional health, education and parenting. She also continues to work directly with children and their parents globally. To learn more about her books, sessions or programs: www.growinghappykids.com or @mdhealy
The Washington Post – July 17, 2017
Why this superintendent is banning homework – and asking kids to read
The Washington Post - February 26, 2017
What happened when one school banned homework – and asked kids to read and play instead
Healthline – April 11, 2017
Is too much homework bad for kids’ health?
CBS News – Sept 26, 2016
Growing number of elementary schools now homework free
The Battle Over Homework by Harris Cooper (2007)
Mark Trifilio, principal of the public pre-K-5th grade Orchard School in Vermont, sat down with the school’s 40 educators last summer to discuss the soon-to-start new school year and homework — how much kids were getting and whether it was helping them learn.
Trifilio had been pondering the issue for some time, he said, concerned that there seemed to be an uneven homework load for students in different classrooms within the same grade and that the differences from grade to grade didn’t make sense. He had looked up research on homework effectiveness and learned that, generally, homework in elementary school isn’t linked to better academic performance — except for after-school reading.
So at that meeting with teachers, he proposed an experiment: stopping all homework in every grade and asking students to read on their own at home — or, if they were not ready to read on their own, to do it with a parent or guardian. He said he was surprised when every one of them — classroom teachers as well as those who work with special-education students and English-language learners — signed on to the idea.
“All 40 voted yes,” he said, “and not just yes, but a passionate yes. When do you get 40 people to agree on something?”
So they instituted the policy, as this page on the school website shows:
No Homework Policy
Orchard School Homework Information
Student’s Daily Home Assignment
1. Read just-right books every night —
(and have your parents read to you too).
2. Get outside and play —
that does not mean more screen time.
3. Eat dinner with your family —
and help out with setting and cleaning up.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.
What’s the result?
Six months into the experiment, Trifilio says it has been a big success: Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”
Students are asked to read every night. Families are provided book recommendations, but kids are not required to fill out logs (because, he said, “we know that we all make up logs”).
Trifilio said he conducted a family survey asking about the policy, and most parents at the nearly 400-student school responded. The vast majority supported it, saying their kids now have time to pursue things other than math work sheets, and many report that students are reading more on their own than they used to. He said a small minority of parents are concerned that students are missing learning opportunities from doing homework and won’t be prepared for middle school.
The Burlington Free Press recently quoted parent James Conway as saying this about his son Sean, who is in kindergarten: “My son declared on Monday that he can read now and that he doesn’t need any help. So, something is working.”
What does the research say about the value of homework? While academics continue to study the subject, a meta-analysis of research on the subject, published in 2006 by researcher Harris Cooper and colleagues, is often cited. It found that homework in elementary school does not contribute to academic achievement and has only a modest effect on older students in terms of improving academic performance.
Homework: An unnecessary evil? … Surprising findings from new research
Homework: The useful and the useless
A new wrinkle in the research about the real value of homework
(Correction: Earlier version mistakenly said kids were being asked to read at school when it was supposed to be at home.)