Whether there’s too much or none at all, grade school homework is known to produce big emotions. From the teachers assigning it to the children bringing it home and the parents puzzling over the new math systems, every stakeholder in the homework game likely has a passionate opinion. Teachers give homework because they feel they need to in order for their students to truly succeed. The children at the table before dinner would much rather be doing anything else. And parents are either tired of battling with their kids, or just plain resentful about the amount of work sent home.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Homework
But few of those caught in the constant tide of homework, truly understand if the worksheets and long hours are actually worth it. The whole system thrives on tradition, superstition and a touch of willful ignorance. The truth about homework, as an educational boon or unnecessary burden, requires a measured exploration and a great deal of nuance. Here are the four homework myths that thrive more on passion than facts.
Studies Show That There Are No Benefits to Homework
Those adults who find themselves in the “homework is terrible” camp will point to research that has shown few benefits to homework, particularly where the youngest learners are concerned. They’ll also note that any studies that do show a positive benefit to homework focus on correlation and not causation.
While these two things might be true, it does not mean that there isn’t research that has uncovered benefits of homework. In fact, the researcher who’s meta-analysis of homework research is most often cited by the anti-homework set, has become a homework advocate based on more modern research than the 2006 update of his study. That research shows that homework can help children develop creative skills and comprehension.
More than that, homework help parents become oriented to the course of their children’s education. It can also help parents surface learning concerns to teachers and specialists who are often more than willing to help. Finally, it can allow parents to give kids a good perspective on the importance of education — as long as the parental attitude about homework isn’t negative.
It should also be noted that the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association have agreed on pretty specific guidelines on how much homework is beneficial. The guideline is called the 10-minute rule and it states that children should only receive 10-minutes of homework per numbered grade level. So a 1st grader should only receive 10 minutes of homework per day while a senior in high school should receive two hours of homework per day. Which is line with where the benefits of homework are most generally manifest: in the upper grades.
Homework Leads to Greater Academic Success
Just because there are benefits to homework does not mean that homework itself leads to academic success. It is, in fact, important to understand that many of the studies that have connected homework to achievement rely on correlation and not causation. Also, the benefits are largely reaped by older students.
There’s very little evidence suggesting that the youngest learners should be toiling over homework. In fact, some studies suggest that homework can cause children to take a dim view of school. And if there was ever an age to get kids excited about learning it is in the earliest grades.
In reality, the youngest learners probably benefit more from playing outside after school than hunching over homework before dinner, even if it does help them with creativity and comprehension.
Homework Benefits All Children Equally
One of the biggest issues with homework is that it’s wholly dependent on the home environment. That means that even if there are benefits to homework, children whose parents are not engaged or live in economically challenged households may not see the benefits their peers do. This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get studies to show homework causation in the first place. There are simply too many variables to control for.
So while some children may have parents with the time, patience and education to sit and help them learn, other children have parents who are absent during homework hours due to work obligations or are too busy with parenting duties to participate. Still, other children may be asked to spend their time at home working in the family business or providing care to siblings.
And it’s not as if homework doesn’t require an investment outside of time. Modern homework costs now include access to the internet and a computer. Families also need to have the income to buy project supplies, or simply pens and paper. In the direst circumstances, there are children who struggle with getting enough food and sleep, both of which will impact the ability to concentrate on homework.
There Are No Real Alternatives to Homework
So if not homework, then what should kids be doing to further their learning outside of school? It turns out there are plenty of ways to foster a child’s educational success without forcing them to crunch numbers on a worksheet.
One of the best ways to help children is to ensure that they are reading outside of the school. In fact, some school districts have done away with homework in lieu of mandatory reading at home. When children read, they aren’t only learning about language, they are also seeing the world through another’s eyes, building empathy and stretching their imagination.
MORE: Elementary School Homework Probably Isn’t Good for Kids
Aside from reading, a kid engaging in outside free play is also exploring their world. They learn about the limits of their bodies while learning about physics as well as the seasons and the natural world.
Even when access to the outdoors is limited, children can learn by playing games. Adding numbers in board or card game is still adding numbers. Also, games require interpersonal skills and often, strategy. Which is to say that homework does not hold the monopoly on the kids learning at home.
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