Life Lessons Parenting

My Thoughts on Homework in Primary School


My Thoughts on Homework in Primary School? LET. IT. GO. That pretty much sums it up! It is not necessary, there is zero evidence to show any positive impact, it can cause a lot of conflict in some homes, and it is often the last thing that a busy working parent, or overtired little person, wants to spend their precious few hours of an evening doing.

Beyond just the homework, I personally found the entire kindergarten year a bit of a waste to be perfectly honest, but that is an entirely new post! When I say ‘waste’ I mean, it sucked the joy out of our lives. Much like homework can do.

We are now in Year 1 and again the lack of play and play based learning continues to worry me, as does the entire system! I have noticed that our little school starts every day the same way, the ‘children’ sit in rows to hear the rotation of teachers recite the before-school-rules and berate them for defying them. These rules include no running and no ball games.

Anyway, I am veering away from the topic of homework, it happens quite naturally though when you get me started on school in general. I think that the best way to really share my deepest thoughts on homework is by sharing the email that I sent to our Year 1 teacher this year, so here you go:

Dear Miss T,

Thank you again for always being so open and available to discuss any of my concerns and questions. B is very happy in your class, even though he does sometimes struggle with the high expectations of the school system. Please know that we appreciate you and your important role in his life πŸ™‚

In regards to homework, I wanted to share with you a (hopefully minor) issue that I have with homework in primary school. As you will probably see, I have put a lot of effort into this message, and I hope that you will take it seriously, and also recognise that I actually only want to make things better for all parties, and not more challenging.

I also recognise and appreciate that you are a teacher who has B’s best interests at heart. I try to live my life with integrity and authenticity, and sometimes that means I question things, and I do a lot of research and reading into the facts around things that concern me!

Besides two exceptions, mentioned later, I don’t actually encourage homework in our home. The reasons for this are as follows:

1. Scientific: For young children (under around age 14-15 years) there is absolutely no scientific research which supports the inclusion of homework in their extra-curricular activities.

Actually, β€œThere is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of [primary school] elementary students” (Cooper, 1989). Cooper (one of the most respected homework researchers in the world) indicated that while he was personally pro-homework, there appears to be no academic advantage for children to do homework. In many studies the relationship between homework and β€œlearning” (often defined as grades or standardised test scores) is negative.

2. Homework can create stress at home. It might be tough for teachers, but I believe it’s even tougher for children and parents, even when only in small amounts. Research has demonstrated that it β€œoverwhelms struggling kids and removes joy for high achievers.” A 2002 study found a direct relationship between time spent on homework and levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disorders and issues. (which are clearly on the rise in our young children!)

3. Homework creates an extra burden for parents. I actually work 6 days a week, run our household on my own, volunteer with several charities, blog, am setting up a life coaching business and I try to spend as much quality time as possible with B. I honestly believe that homework is one of the things that is dispensable in our lives, after careful consideration.

4. Homework creates family conflict, at the end of a long day this is the last thing I want to be doing with B, especially knowing that it has no positive impact. Some nights we literally have 1- 2 hours between getting home and bedtime.

5. Homework diminishes the time that B has for other activities, and this is actually my main concern. Homework has the potential to occupy a significant component of our afternoons/evenings. The lack of play and play based learning during school hours is a serious concern to me, and adding more school work to the already overloaded hours that he is at school is something I feel strongly about avoiding.

6. Homework is not inspiring. It can actually doΒ damage to the way that young children see learning, and their natural need for free play and to be curious.

7. There is no evidence to support the belief that homework helps students develop the characteristics it is often suggested will be useful, such as the ability to organise time, develop good work habits, think independently, and so on. It doesn’t seem to prepare them for β€œlater” either. They can usually adapt pretty well when they turn 14 or 15 without having 8 years of practice under their belt before it all starts. This was certainly the case for me.

8. My thoughts on homework in primary school can pretty much be summarised by the following quote from a respected US professor of education: β€œMost of what homework is doing is driving kids away from learning.”

These are the two exceptions to my feelings about homework:

1. Reading. I strongly encourage reading in our home. B and I have read together every single day since he was born, and it is the same with his Dad in his other home. In regards to reading, he is slowly starting to do this on his own, which amazes me every day! Just so you know, I am not keen on placing minimum time limits on the reading or dictating the number of pages to be read. This removal of autonomy can turn reading into a chore, rather than a pleasure.

I have read and can relate to the theory that the best way to make young learners hate reading is to make them prove to us or others that they have read.

2. The other form of Β “homework” that I do encourage is related to projects and assignments from school that interest B. I hope to actively encourage research, projects, and his speeches. It seems that this helps children in information gathering, critical thinking, logical formatting of content, and presentation skills. Plus it gets them actively β€œdiscovering” in their learning, and sinks much deeper than much other β€œbusy” work.

The reality is, despite my feelings about homework, B does at times seem eager to complete it without me ever asking. However, I really want you to be aware that I will not be actively encouraging homework unless it falls into the two categories described above. This is in no way meant to undermine you or make your job more difficult. In fact, I hope that it will make things easier for everyone.

Thanks so much for reading this. I hope that you can be understanding of my position, and I am always happy to discuss this or anything else with you anytime.

Kindest, Lisa.

My letter was adapted from this one.

What are your thoughts on homework in primary school? Have you ever sent a letter like this? Just so you know, Miss T was happy to receive the message, and she explained to me that they are ‘obligated’ to give out homework however it is fine to opt out as I have done, and the children do not get in trouble at all if it is not done.

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  • sprinklesandsprouts

    As a former teacher I love this!!!!
    Play based learning and investigative play as so much more important than sitting behind a desk.
    I am very lucky, the little school I send my kids to is very much into play and nature, certainly in kindy and PP.

    Sadly due to changes in our family I think they are going to have to leave there, which is a whole other problem πŸ™ but I am looking at new schools next week and I really hope to find another small school that embraces these principals.

    • admin

      Hi Claire – we had such a nature/play based daycare for the 3 years my little man was there before big school.
      Sadly our current big school is the opposite!
      We are going to relocate soon and hopefully find somewhere much more suitable xx

  • lifeloveandhiccups

    You have put into words so eloquently how I feel about homework and the pressure and struggle it brings into our home. You have also given me the courage to discuss it with my boys’s teachers so thank you xx

    • admin

      I’m so happy it has helped you Sonia, I hope that your talk with the teachers goes as well as mine did xx

  • Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid

    I am so proud of you for sending this letter. As an ex-teacher, I feel very much the same about teaching full stop. In the olden days, when I first started teaching it was all about play based learning in the early years and it was wonderful. There has been a massive shift in education in recent years and although time is moving forward, schools are going back. With all these tests and targets, it’s like Dickens when the children were just vessels to be filled with knowledge. This puts just as much pressure on educators as it does the children in their care, and then to think that there is homework every single night is just madness! At year 1? Pffft! I mean really, who has time for that? For most parents I know, it’s a good night if children get to read their reading book. Thanks you for raising such an important issue – we are all so busy and have so much to do these days, it’s important to focus on the things that matter, and the things that bring us joy. I don’t think homework falls into either one of those categories! My rant is officially over! I feel much better now πŸ™‚

  • patchworkcactus

    Oh good on you, how was it received?

    • admin

      Miss T was absolutely fine, she just smiled and told me that they are obliged to give out homework, we are not obliged to give it back, and the kids do not get into any trouble nor is there any pressure on them xx It was a non event, and I’m so pleased I spoke up!

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