How much homework is too much?

A recent study suggests that too much homework is doing kids—and parents—a great disservice.

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Kids as young as five are getting homework assignments. Photo: iStockphoto

My back-to-school anxiety has already started. It’s not the early mornings I dread, or the endless carpooling or even the pressure of packing Pinterest-worthy lunches. The thing I loathe most about the school year is my kids’ homework. From the moment my now-nine-year-old daughter first got homework in kindergarten, it’s been stressful, confusing, and harmful to our daily interactions—and, in the end, is counterproductive to her education. This year, I’m waving the white flag when it comes to homework, and I have some new research to back me up.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy surveyed 1,173 Rhode Island families and found that kids in elementary school were assigned as much as three times more homework than the amount suggested by the National Education Association (they recommend 10 minutes a night multiplied by a child’s grade level—first-graders would start at 10 minutes and eventually spend 120 minutes a night on homework by the time they’re high school seniors). According to the study, it also affects parents’ perceptions of their ability to help their kids with homework, resulting in lower measures of emotional well-being for the entire family.

This “10-minute rule” was actually first mentioned to me by my daughter’s fourth-grade teacher so I’d understand why she was assigning 40 minutes of homework a night. However, even this seemingly reasonable amount goes against the Toronto District School Board’s policy that kids in elementary school not be assigned any homework beyond reading and playing a variety of games. In reality, my daughter often had a heavier workload than her two older brothers, who were in grades six and nine at the time. The stress of witnessing them enjoying their evenings would often compound the negativity she had toward homework, which would then result in a vicious cycle of tears and various gymnastics tricks performed on her chair to get out of the ordeal. She started to hate the work and would tear through it without actually learning the concepts.

The link between the amount of homework assigned per night and overall academic success are tenuous at best, according to the recent study. In fact, an over-emphasis on homework may be detrimental to kids’ achievements. Numerous studies over the years have cast doubt on the whether homework in elementary school is at all helpful to their overall grade average.

One of the hurdles in the fight over how much homework is appropriate are parents’ expectations. Some parents feel that nightly homework builds character and sets kids up for success. However, research does not show this to be true. In fact, the stress around homework can negatively affect your kids’ marks, and, most importantly, their desire to be good students.

Researchers concluded by saying parents should act as mentors and provide emotional support, rather than instruction and tutoring. They also suggested homework assignments abide by the recommended “10-minute rule” and that the work be more interactive so families can experience it together in a more meaningful way. Personally, I’m all for these suggestions.

Obviously, school can’t be all fun and games, but onerous homework is doing our kids a great disservice. Classrooms are busy places and teachers face a lot of pressure to fit in all the curriculum requirements. Nonetheless, it’s time for schools to look at the research around homework and stick to the recommendations.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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