The Purposeful Parent: Homework vs Home Play

purposeful parent

Homework, huh, yeah

What is it good for?

Absolutely nuthin, uh!

If you are not familiar with music from the 70’s you may not appreciate this ‘hysterically’ funny reference from Edwin Star’s hit song ‘War.’

For me it provides a perfect opening to an article about the grand myths of that time-sucker of a beast with whom we are all familiar.   Whether we choose to recall our own horrid experience as a child with our head face down on the kitchen table or that of our child’s, the image leaves most of us with a yucky taste in our mouth-one of graphite and pink pet eraser!

For most elementary and middle school students (and their parents) today, the homework struggle is real.

I’ve never believed in homework, and I did not assign it to my students.  I always felt that the time at home in the evening was sacred, and as such should be reserved for more stimulating, relevant, family centered, child oriented activities. Children should be allowed to engage those parts of the brain that are usually under-stimulated during a traditional school day. Frequently the work assigned for home is simply put— more of the same which usually means, more left-brain activity. Children should have opportunities for:

—playing games outside and inside (yes, even video games)

—interacting with and caring for a family pet

—helping to prepare dinner and cleaning up afterhomework purposeful parent

—uplifting television shows

—family activity of any sort

—drawing and crafting

—physical activity

—relaxation

—and most importantly, FREE PLAY

I’m pleased to share that research confirms my long held convictions.

There is much you can find written about the topic, but I recommend you investigate best selling author, Alfie Kohn’s book, ‘The Homework Myth.’  It is a comprehensive and intensely researched analysis of traditional homework. We owe it to ourselves and our children to take a second look at this widely accepted on-going practice.

Alfie Kohn is able to debunk most all assumptions regarding the supposed benefits of assigning work out side of school, including improvement in achievement test scores, development of good study habits, independence, and personal responsibility, and improvement in students’ attitudes towards school.

There is no empirical evidence to support any of these assumptions. And, from my personal experience, homework has a tendency to curb a child’s enthusiasm about learning in general. I observed this over and over with my middle school students and with my daughter as well— as early as third grade.  She enjoyed math class and acquired skills with ease.  After only a short time with a teacher who assigned copious drill and practice problems every night, sometimes taking an hour to complete, she soured to the subject. (I eventually stepped in and informed teachers that we would spend no more than 15 min. on school work at home. She continued to excel in math but she didn’t like it. )

When referring to the sentiment of homework enthusiasts Dr. Kohn pointedly concludes,

“We know homework is good for kids, and we’re not going to let the facts get in our way!”

When teaching middle school I learned of yet another homework trap. As a special education teacher, one of my responsibilities was to modify work and assist students with assignments.  I was always shocked when several teachers would assign projects to be due on the same date. At first I wasn’t sure why this continued to happen.

Then I realized it was all part of departmentalization. Teachers from different subject areas weren’t communicating with each other regarding homework assignments.

A student might go for several weeks with minimal homework and then, out of the blue have several hours to complete each night. Teachers don’t discuss this as a rule, and I know that this ‘oversight’  is not being addressed in most traditional schools.

“Why do so many of us recognize the detrimental effects of homework and yet continue to put up with it, even defend it? … It’s hard for us to watch as our children mechanically, joylessly grind our their assignments, perhaps frustrated by those that are too difficult, perhaps exhausted from having to do too much.”  Alfie Kohn

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So, what does a parent do?  Well, first and foremost, a purposeful parent is receptive to new ideas.  Check out the research.  And if, like me, you come to believe that traditional homework is not healthy, take action.  Talk with other parents and advocate for your children. Inquire about whether or not teachers are talking to each other.  Find that teacher/counselor that you know is open and understanding and ask to meet to discuss more effective ways to extend learning.  There are many school districts across the country that no longer support any form of traditional homework.  There are options.  Again, Alfie Kohn addresses this and provides creative answers for families and schools.

So, go get the book! And, I want you to read chapters 1-3 by tomorrow, and be ready to discuss! Just kidding.  It is my hope that this article has incited some interest and that you may be inclined to investigate the topic further.

All the best to you—The Purposeful Parent

About the author

Kate MartinKate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015. 

She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. 

For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.  

Buy the Book by Kate Martin: The Best Thoughts To Think Five minutes Before Bed 

Visit my website: katemartinbestthoughts.com/purposeful-parent

Other articles by Kate Martin:

A Family Plan for Digital Devices

Back To School

Now I lay me down to sleep

Kindness is a two-way street

Child Expectations