Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings National

Easing Homework Overload: Family Benefits of a Reality Check

Apr 01, 2009 03:00AM ● By Sara Bennett

These days, beginning as early as kindergarten, homework is a consuming nightly activity. According to a 2006 joint National Education Association/Leap Frog report, on average, children ages 8-13 work at it from 1½ to 1¾ hours a night. Most require almost 3 hours of help a week from their parents. It’s no wonder that parents complain about homework almost as much as, or more than, their children.

 Their complaints are well founded. A 2006 Duke University review of more than 180 research studies found that there’s virtually no correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school. Even in middle and high school, the only correlation is that students who do their homework do better on teacher-created tests and grades. But no proof supports the misperception that homework helps with such long-term educational goals as creating life-long learners who are creative and analytical thinkers.

 Many short-term education goals aren’t strengthened by homework either. Consider the time-honored tradition of weekly word study for a spelling test. As early as the late 19th century, research has found no link between the time spent on drills and student performance. That’s why, as so many teachers and parents know first-hand, students who can spell a new word on Friday won’t be able to incorporate it into their writing, or even remember how to spell it, the following Monday.

 Similarly, endless math problems serve no educational purpose. According to the U.S. Department of Education, children can demonstrate mastery in just five problems. If they can’t, they need more guidance from the teacher, not more and more problems they can’t solve.

 Further, homework’s most lauded benefits—developing responsibility, self-discipline and motivation—have never been formally researched.

 Unfortunately, homework takes up time that could be spent in ways that better contribute to a child’s overall health, well-being, and intellectual development. For example, young children—and teens, too—need plenty of time to play. That’s how they make sense of the world and their place in it.

 Play is at such a premium these days that the American Academy of Pediatrics has lamented the current trend of eliminating recess in elementary school. Its January 2009 report found that when students get 15 minutes of recess, their in-class behavior and performance improve dramatically.

 Homework is also the number one reason why reading for pleasure declines at age 8, according to a 2006 Scholastic/Yankelovich poll. Yet reading, educators agree, is the most important intellectual activity of all. That’s how students learn to spell, write, analyze, and gather background knowledge that helps them develop into critical thinkers.

 The National Endowment for the Arts also has found that “Reading is an important indicator of positive individual and social behavior patterns.” According to its research, readers volunteer, attend arts and sports events, do outdoor activities and exercise at higher rates than non-readers.

 Other casualties of homework overload include socializing with family and friends, family dinners, exercise, outdoor activities and sleep—all important facets of a balanced childhood and adulthood. Indeed, according to a 2001 study by the University of Michigan, family meals are the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems for children ages three to twelve. John Medina writes in Brain Rules that sleep deprivation, a bane of many school-aged children, affects children’s overall mood, as well as their ability to pay attention and use abstract thinking skills.

 Across the country, parents and schools are beginning to seek solutions. A principal in Wyoming who abolished homework at her elementary school in the fall of 2007, said, “Not having homework isn’t hurting. Our test scores continue to rise.” High schools are beginning to coordinate assignments, place limits on homework and even abolish homework-heavy advanced placement classes. And, parents are banding together to make sure that their children get recess and some time at the end of the school day to just be children.

Sara Bennett is the co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It and the founder of Stop Homework, a not-for-profit project dedicated to advocating for homework reform. To find out more about what parents and schools are doing, visit




• Focus on what’s important for your children. If you want them to have unstructured time to dream and find their interests, make sure that happens.

• Don’t worry about their getting all A’s in school. Don’t worry so much about their grades.

• Make sure they get plenty of sleep.

• If your children are spending too much time on homework, or it's causing too much family conflict, let your children do something else and write a brief note to the teacher.

• Let your children read whatever they want. Their vocabulary, writing, spelling and analytical skills will improve much more if they read voraciously than if they spend that same time on vocabulary and spelling sheets.

• Talk to other parents about the homework problem and then talk to the school.
Join Our Community Newsletter