Does homework help or hurt our kids?

Posted August 24

Erin Stewart writes that homework can be frustrating for both students and parents. (Deseret Photo)

As kids head back to school, that means homework is back in full swing, striking fear into the hearts of parents everywhere.

I personally have been brushing up on some of my go-to homework time phrases. For example, homework help always starts out with me in a flurry of mother-of-the-year parenting as my bright-eyed daughter grabs a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil. I say stellar parenting things like:

“Ok, let’s look at it together. We can do this!”

Then, things get a little more frustrating. My daughter gnaws on the No. 2 pencil as I question her:

“How can you be reading the directions if your eyes aren’t on the paper?”

And then we end up with my daughter’s muscles inexplicably not working as she goes limp in her chair and me snapping the No. 2 pencil in half as I say:

“What do you mean your teacher didn’t teach this yet? That doesn’t make any sense! None of this makes any sense!”

I try. Really, I do. But I hate homework.

It frustrates my kids, strains our relationship and keeps them inside when what they really need is to be outside running around after a long school day. It also makes me the homework warden, which is one more mean-mommy role I resent having forced upon me.

Now don’t get me wrong — I am not rallying to ban all homework. I think some nightly tasks are a great way to teach kids responsibility and time management. I also like being able to gauge my children’s comprehension as they either struggle or sail through their homework.

I accept that homework is a necessary part of my children’s school lives; I just don’t want it to become their lives.

Any work done at home should not just be busy work or based on some erroneous notion that more homework means more success. It doesn’t, and the research shows it. A Duke University professor conducted two of the most definitive studies on the impact of homework, showing that a moderate amount of take-home work is linked to better test scores in high school students. In elementary students, however, homework was not correlated with higher achievement, and in fact can have a negative effect when overdone.

Based on that research, the National PTA recommends no more than 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level.

That’s a stark difference to when my oldest daughter was in first grade on the East Coast, spending an hour each night on a homework packet — an hour of tears, frustration and resentment towards school.

To make matters worse, her teacher kept the kids who didn’t finish their homework in during recess to complete it. So when I would tell my daughter we were done with homework for the night because neither one of us could take one more second of it, she would burst into tears because she didn’t want to miss her playground time with her friends.

We were trapped — suffocated by her teacher’s idea that homework was helping her students “get ahead.” Oh how I wish I had followed the lead of another parent who set a time limit for homework and informed the teacher her child would only spend that much time and would not be missing recess for incomplete worksheets. I just followed the pack, making sure my daughter did what she was supposed to do. The result? That year’s homework dump completely squelched my daughter’s love of school and of learning, and we’ve been recovering ever since.

Fortunately, the “pile-it-on” philosophy of homework for elementary school kids seems to be a fading trend and somewhat less of a phenomenon in our new home in the West. School systems are taking note of the homework research, with one school in Massachusetts even implementing a strict no-homework policy this year, according to Of course, the school also extended the day by two hours to compensate for the homework time.

I don’t know what the answer is, although I don’t think it will be found in either extreme of banning homework completely or piling it on like our kids are worksheet machines.

But I also know that kids need to have lives outside of school once that bell rings. Their bodies need to play. Their brains need to relax. Their families need to spend an evening together not fighting about denominators.

And most importantly, they need to grow a love for learning, which is hardly ever found in the minutia of take-home worksheets.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 9-year-old and 6-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.


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  • William James Aug 24, 1:30 p.m.
    user avatar

    There is nothing like sending kids home with complex homework assignments that their parents are ill equipped to help solve. There is nothing better than trying to re-learn an advanced math in the poor attempt at helping your kid with his homework. Its even better when your solution or answers end up being all wrong.

  • Aiden Audric Aug 24, 12:28 p.m.
    user avatar

    "Of course, the school also extended the day by two hours to compensate for the homework time."

    With many homes having both parents at work, extending the school day and using the time for practicing what was taught isn't a bad idea.