The rumble of the yellow buses on their practice runs through the subdivision signal the beginning of a new school year. Unfortunately, the anticipation — the carefully selected backpacks, the march to Target for school supplies, the debate over what outfit will impress old and new friends — is clouded for many parents and students alike by the dread associated with tighter schedules, earlier bedtimes, compressed family time and the juggling of extracurricular activities with homework.
It’s homework that is especially challenging and stressful for many families, and it’s a practice that I would like to see schools re-examine. I am not an educator, but as a family therapist and a grandmother who supervises homework time for two elementary school grandchildren, I can attest to the struggle that is a nightly ordeal in many homes.
Beginning in kindergarten, children often leave their homes by 8 a.m. (sometimes much earlier for those riding buses) and are lucky if they arrive home by 5 p.m.
Much of their day is spent sitting, with precious little time spent in the gym or on the playground. Children need physical activity, structured and unstructured play time, family time, and time to just goof off. To expect young children to sit down and do more school work after an already long school day is tantamount to a second shift and is counter to their developmental needs.
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Today’s families are under the gun. Two working parents or single parents are the norm, and there is a small window of opportunity for parents and children to interact at the end of each week day. And what does that late afternoon/early evening scene look like in millions of homes across the country? Parents are scrambling to put together some semblance of a healthy dinner while cajoling, nagging and/or yelling at their kids to get their homework done so that they can get to soccer practice or a piano lesson or just get it knocked out in time for a shower and a reasonable bedtime.
Many elementary schools claim that the homework demands do not exceed an average of 20 minutes a day. Even where that is the case, that’s 20 minutes for an average, motivated student.
Now imagine the not so uncommon scenario in which a child has learning differences or is unmotivated or is oppositional. Those 20 minutes quickly turn into an hour or more of frustration for both the parent and the child.
When my oldest grandchild started kindergarten, I sat with him as he agonized over homework assignments that involved coloring and drawing. Though very bright, these were things at which he felt inept. He delayed, I prodded, he resisted, I pushed. Sometimes I even picked up a crayon and helped him get it done.
I so wish I could have spent that time with him engaged in a game or cooking together or just sent him out to play. As a therapist, not a week goes by that I don’t hear horror stories from stressed out parents either battling their kids over homework or simply trying to find a way to squeeze it in.
So is it worth it?
There is little evidence documenting a significant benefit of homework for children in primary grades. In the last 3 years that I’ve been supervising homework, I have yet to see either of my grandchildren derive meaningful learning from it. Worse than children not benefitting from it is my concern that it is hurting them — turning them off to school, depriving them of needed free time, and creating tension in the home.
My grandkids read every night before bed — usually more than the 20 minutes recommended by the schools — and it’s a practice I heartily endorse. The benefits of reading on school performance are well-documented, and it’s an ideal wind-down to sleep. Can we please limit homework to reading before bed and ditch the rest? Doing so will make the day — and the evenings — of many a student and their families.
Jean A. Campbell, of Louisville, is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
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