I belong to a discussion group where, for months, experts have been discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of assigning children homework. One side of the argument sees homework as “over-kill” and that “children have enough school work to do throughout the day.” The other side believes that homework is an opportunity for parents to promote closeness and cultivate and nurture their relationship with their child. What do you think and could you share any research that has been done on the subject matter?
Fifteen years ago, when I was a teacher, I gave my learners homework because that is what a good teacher did, without stopping to question whether homework was, in fact, beneficial for them. Now as a mom of a sixth grader, I can see how homework interferes with my daughter’s life at home, and wish to apologise to ex- students and parents for my naivety.
We’ve heard parents grumble in the school parking lot about homework dominating family life and most of us are familiar with arguments with our youngsters over it.
“I hate doing homework. It’s boring,” children lament.
“Just get it done,” parents tell their children, although instinctively we know that youngsters are stressed and anxious because they do not have enough free time to pursue their own interests and be themselves. Despite all the negativity surrounding homework, parents and teachers still support it because they convince themselves that there must be some benefit to homework, even though they can’t see it.
Research by Professor Harris Cooper of Duke University, North Carolina (in 1989 and 1999) shows that there are “no academic benefits from homework in elementary school.” In other words, homework doesn’t help children learn better. Then why give it?
Some parents say homework helps them to see how well their child is doing in class and is a way of communicating with the teacher. Surely teachers could send the child’s class work home and communicate with parents through notes and phone calls, rather than assigning homework everyday, Alfie Kohn suggests in his book The Homework Myth.
Others contend homework prepares children for the future by “developing good work habits.” Yes, if they plan to work alone on a dreary, compulsory job, which they have no say or interest in, Kohn points out.
Some teachers say they assign homework because they do not have enough time in the school day to complete the prescribed curriculum. Kohn suggests “more hours are least likely to produce better outcomes when understanding or creativity is involved.” By working smarter rather than harder, teachers can get through the prescribed work without assigning homework. How much time do we need for learning to take place?
“BGUTI – Better Get Used To It” parents tell their children. Life is full of things we have to do even if we don’t like it. That is true, “but what are we willing to do to our children in order to teach them this?” Kohn asks. “Perhaps being in school seven hours a day is demanding enough” BGUTI – type of thinking also teaches children to accept the status quo rather than seeking alternative ways of doing things.
Children have a natural innate curiosity to seek out the information they need. We should listen to what our children are telling us and find ways to nurture their love for learning rather than giving them because it is something that has always been done.
This article formed part of a debate on Homework and first appeared in the November 2009 issues of Cape Town’s Child, Durban’s Child, and Joburg’s Child magazines. All copyright hereto belongs to Hunter House Publishing.
Please note that I am not opposed to children continuing with an assignment at home if they are so inspired to do so, or exploring a topic they discussed in class after school if they want further information on it. Following their natural curiosity is not the same as completing assigned homework.