Homework Time! How do those words make you feel? What about your child? Regardless of how easy or challenging it is to make it through homework each day in your house, educators are starting to question the benefits and researchers are starting to build an understanding of how homework helps children in primary school. The short answer is it does not improve learning and can create stress and anxiety. As schools shift to smarter homework practices, children become more engaged in learning without losing the benefits.
The most important piece of the homework routine for young children is reading. Each child should read every day at home, either with a parent or independently. This is the one thing that has been proven to bring academic success down the road and promote lifelong learning. Reading is also a wonderful way to establish a home/school connection as children share their library books and favorite classroom books with parents. Many teachers also use a reading log to encourage children to keep track of their progress.
Daily reading also helps to establish a routine and promote responsibility. Routine and responsibility are the central benefits of any homework in primary school, and are easy to achieve without daily worksheets and stress. As parents, we often view homework as a tool for advancing children’s learning, but it is proving to do more harm than good.
Children spend a long day at school. For many, this is a great deal of work, and focusing during these hours allows them to learn new concepts. During the day, teachers are present to scaffold their learning and classmates create opportunities for collaboration. If homework involves new concepts, it is likely difficult for a child to internalize the learning when they are tired, if they can grasp it at all. Homework for the sake of practice and reinforcement of mastered skills is not exactly harmful but it is not beneficial, either. Most importantly, it takes away from the exploration and free play that can happen outside of school.
Projects are the one exception to homework beyond reading. If children are working on a concept at school and there is a natural way to incorporate a home/school connection, one component of the project may be completed at home. For example, if children are working on a unit on families, interviewing a family member is a natural extension. If they are studying the past and creating a timeline of historical events, learning from parents or caregivers about events that shaped their childhood is a great way to solidify the concept of time. These project extensions do two important things. They give children a chance to bridge their home life and their school life, and they create a higher level of engagement. They also usually involve some element of choice, which motivates children.
When it comes to homework, less is more. Once parents and children are on board with this, life becomes easier, everyone is happier and guess what? Happy children are better learners! They also have more time to read and play.