Today’s guest blogger, Diane Hewlett-Lowrie, has worked for 20 years in a variety of environmental education positions in Scotland and the U.S. and she currently lives in New Jersey. She has a special interest in how children learn and believes in nurturing the development of the whole child. She and her husband have one son, age 6, and their experience with homework to date has been that it is pointless, causes stress, has no real merit and takes time away from much more valuable activities at home. This piece started as a letter to the Superintendent and evolved into this essay, which Diane has sent to the school Principal and her son’s first grade teacher, and is planning on sending to the Board of Education and a variety of magazines. Diane has been a guest blogger before. (If you would like to be a guest blogger, send me your proposed submission.)
We don’t have time to do that; You’ve got Homework!
by Diane Hewlett-Lowrie
We are a very active family. We take walks, cook, kayak, swim, visit friends, parks and museums and we read avidly – for pleasure. Imagine our shock as we began to realize that we would have to give up those “luxuries” because our son, at the grand old age of 6, has homework!
When our son started first grade, I asked the parent of a former first-grader what the homework was like. It took a half-hour, she said. A half-hour not counting the time needed to persuade her daughter to start the homework, or the time for the arguments to cease and the tears to stop. Yikes!
After a full day in school, Iain gets home by 5 o’clock. He needs at least ten hours sleep, so our bedtime routine – bath, reading books, singing songs and talking together – starts at 8 o’clock. This means that, on a weekday, we have three hours per day as a family. One of those hours is necessary for cooking, eating and cleaning up. This leaves about two hours for everything else. In those two hours, I would like him to play and develop skills other than reading, writing and arithmetic (after all, he has a full day at school for that). In those two hours, I would like him to simply enjoy being a child!
In those two hours, I would like to teach him how to cook his favorite meal and clean up afterwards. His Dad would like to show him how to hammer a nail, paint a door and play the guitar. We both want him to be able to ride his bike, explore his world, learn to swim and enjoy good, old-fashioned, free playtime with his friends. Which of these activities will be sacrificed when the homework burden increases to an hour a night? Two hours?
My son has a wonderful imagination. His favorite indoor toys are Legos, dinosaurs, cars and action figures. I enjoy watching him and his friends create all kinds of scenarios with their action figures and building toys. They invent stories and sometimes pretend they are making movies (complete with commercial breaks!). Outdoor fun includes hunting for bugs and toads, riding scooters and bikes, swimming at the lake and playing made-up games. As I watch him and his friends create their own games and activities, I know that important social and communication skills are developing, his capacity for problem-solving is being strengthened, he’s laying down foundational pathways in his brain that will benefit him academically in future years – and he’s having fun!
I believe what Iain is doing in his few hours at home is far more valuable to his all-round development (social, physical, emotional, and neurological), than doing any kind of schoolwork at home. I don’t want him to sacrifice any of these activities for homework. He’s a 6-year-old boy; he needs to run!
I worry about the future.
My friends never see their teenage daughter during the week because she has three hours of homework every night. She is overweight and unhealthy because she spends most of her “home time” sitting still doing school assignments. How much healthier and happier would she be if she could spend one or two of those hours on a bicycle, playing sports, or just taking the dog for a walk?
My son’s best friend loved Kindergarten and first grade, but the second grade homework burden proved too much for him. His 20-minute assignment took about 2 hours to complete. He was tired when he got home from school and just needed to switch off, relax and rest his brain for another day. Homework burned him out. His family, tired of the homework wars, took him out of the public school system and they are now home-schooling.
I believe strongly in the benefits of a good education; we have read to our son almost every night since he was a baby. I want my son to WANT to learn. I don’t want him to be over-burdened, turned off and burned out.
Why do children spend the best part of the day in school then have to continue schoolwork when they get home? Does homework really help kids academically? Is there a good reason to endure those nightly tears and tribulations? Maybe not! A recent Duke University study found little to no correlation between homework and tests scores in elementary students. Alfie Kohn, after careful review of many research studies for his book, “The Homework Myth”, concluded “There is no evidence of any academic benefits from homework in elementary school.”
I wondered if students in other countries with more homework scored higher than those in countries with little to no homework. Apparently not. A research study conducted by Trends in International Mathematics and Science, which compared students in 27 states and 37 other countries, found no relationship between national average amounts of homework and national average student achievement scores.
Maybe the fact that kids get extra help at home boosts test scores? Again, the research says otherwise. A National Center for Education Statistics report states that “… researchers have not conclusively demonstrated the relationship between assistance at home and student achievement.”
Proponents of the belief that it must at least be improving study skills will be disappointed to know that there is absolutely no evidence to back that conviction either.
So, why burden elementary students with homework if there are no proven benefits? Why make kids forfeit fun with their families, physical exercise, imaginative play, and experiences in the real world to sit at the kitchen table with pencils in hand? I have not yet heard a legitimate or substantiated answer.
I fear that in future years, the homework burden will become so great that my son will lose the ability to choose what he can do in his “free” time – because he won’t have any free time. I am afraid that my role as a mother is going to be supplanted by my role as the “homework police”.
Schools and parents should embrace their roles as partners whose joint responsibility it is to help children develop into well-rounded young people. During the day, learning the skills and knowledge necessary for academic proficiency is in the hands of the teachers in the schools. When my son comes home, however, it’s my turn. I want that precious time to teach him about the natural world, to play, laugh and talk with him, to read for fun, and to give him a healthy, fun and loving family home in which he can truly grow.
PS – I am thinking of buying a dog to eat the homework so I can take a hike in the woods with my son.