Tired of homework battles every day? Kids exhausted after a long day at school? Here’s why we started saying “no homework” right after school and what we did instead.
Too Much Homework?
When our oldest daughter started elementary school, I was a bit shocked at the amount of homework she brought back with her. Starting in kindergarten, she was assigned a weekly homework packet of worksheets — anywhere from 5-10 worksheets covering multiple subjects.
Despite our reservations about the scope of homework for a 5-year old who had already been in class all day, we went with the program and did the homework.
We tried to have her complete her homework first thing upon returning home each day. Our thinking was to get it all done right away — homework was the number one priority.
Well, the homework did get done; however, it often seemed to take far longer than it should. A seemingly simple worksheet could end up taking a half hour or even an hour!
And of course by that time everyone was frustrated and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. We ALL began to dread homework!
How Much Homework Should Kids Have?
According to the “10 minute rule,” children should be assigned no more than 10 minutes of homework per day, per grade. Following this guideline, here is the maximum recommended amount of daily homework:
- 1st grade — 10 minutes
- 2nd grade — 20 minutes
- 3rd grade — 30 minute
- 4th grade — 40 minutes
- 5th grade — 50 minutes
- 6th grade — 60 minutes
- 7th grade — 70 minutes
- 8th grade — 80 minutes
- 9th grade — 90 minutes
- 10th grade — 100 minutes
- 11th grade — 110 minutes
- 12th grade — 120 minutes
While both the National Education Association and the national Parent Teacher Association support this framework for assigning homework, that’s not always the reality.
A 2013 University of Phoenix College of Education survey revealed that the average elementary school student ended up with over 3 hours of homework per week. High school students found themselves with up to 17.5 hours of weekly homework, depending on the number of classes in their schedule.
What these numbers show is that in many cases, students spend more time on homework than the recommendations above. Though we parents don’t really need a study to know that!
So we started saying NO more homework!
OK, well, not exactly.
But we did change our routine drastically!
It took me a few weeks to figure out what should have been a no-brainer: our daughter was simply overloaded and overstimulated after 8 hours in the classroom. She needed a break before launching right into homework!
Just like most adults would say they need a break after a long day at the office, so too do kids need a break from school. When you think about it, they put in a full 40 hour work week too!
So instead of getting right into homework as soon as we walked in the door from school, we put the backpack aside until we’d rested and re-fueled.
Here’s a Look at Our New After School Routine:
- 3:30-4:00: After school snack (click here to see our easy under the sea snack ideas!)
- 4:00-6:00: Free time for individual quiet activities like reading, drawing, or playing with toys
- 6:00-6:30: Walk around the neighborhood
- 6:30-7:00: Homework
- 7:00-7:45: Dinner
- 7:45-8:00: Bath
- 8:00-8:30: Bedtime routine
Why Postponing Homework Works:
- Eating a snack right after school restores energy.
- A large block of unstructured free time allows kids to decompress after having to sit still and be “on” all day.
- A walk around the neighborhood or physical activity immediately preceding homework releases pent-up energy and actually seems to improve focus.
We also set a new homework rule: no more homework past 30 minutes. That means if we hit the 30-minute mark and the homework assigned for the day still wasn’t done, we packed it up anyway. If needed, I wrote a note to the teacher explaining why our homework was not finished.
Why 30 minutes?
As the school year progressed, I began to notice that there was a point where we saw diminishing returns on homework time.
After 30 minutes, it was tough to keep a 5-year old focused. Or a 6 or 7 year old for that matter! In my non-expert opinion, 30 minutes is more than enough daily homework time for an elementary aged kid anyway — and it seems from the current recommendations that most experts agree.
“Homework is overrated and over-assigned [in elementary school],” says Denise Pope, senior lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Education, adding that “busy work” does not improve a student’s chance at success. In fact, too much homework might actually have the opposite effect.
Is NO Homework the Way to Go?
In response to scrutiny, some elementary schools have adopted a no homework policy. A reader sent in this letter from an elementary school in my hometown, showing one such no homework policy:
But is this actually what’s best for kids?
Literacy specialist (and former kindergarten teacher) Alison at Learning at the Primary Pond advocates for a small amount of meaningful homework in elementary school, even for kindergarteners, as a way to encourage love of learning and good habits.
In order for homework to have the intended effect, Allison suggests keeping it brief, emphasizing reading, and making sure that the tasks are the appropriate level of difficulty for a child’s age.
As you can see from the letter above, the school does encourage daily reading and practicing skills at home. This is consistent to what our middle daughter, who just started kindergarten, is asked to do. Each week she brings home two beginning reader books and a log to keep track of what she reads each day.
So far this has been a positive experience, as our nightly reading takes about 10-15 minutes and is something we all enjoy doing — something that can’t be said for worksheets.
Perhaps Homework Itself Isn’t the Problem
Call it what you want, but nighty reading is still technically “home work.” It’s work assigned by the teacher that we are completing at home.
However, there is a big difference between a small amount of reading (something we do together as a family anyway) and pages upon pages of worksheets that feel like their only purpose is to keep kids busy and meet school requirements.
So maybe it’s not homework itself, but the type and amount of homework that is truly the issue.
What Can We Do As Parents?
The number one thing we can do as parents is advocate for our kids.
I’m in the camp that homework can be a helpful tool, when done thoughtfully. As much as I love the idea of “no more homework,” I don’t think that prepares kids for life in the real world.
However, if it’s taking a 5-year old an hour to do worksheets and things end in a meltdown, then there is obviously a problem.
We always try to support our teachers as much as possible, but there have been occasions where we’ve expressed concerns about the amount of homework. Open communication is key to ensuring a successful school year and positive homework experience and I find that most teachers are happy to have involved parents and are willing to work with you.
On the flip side, be sure to let your teachers know when something works too! We don’t have to wait to talk to our educators only when there’s a problem. If nightly reading is a hit at your house, speak up! That way teachers know what works and will hopefully do more of that.
Homework doesn’t have to be a battle!
Homework can look like this too:
Two sisters reading a favorite book together…and loving it!
What does homework look like in your house? Share in the comments!