Two articles have come to my attention this week that got me riled up. The first one was posted on Facebook by a teacher/writer who’s a friend of the family. In this article, the author tries to do his daughter’s homework for a week. His daughter is in eighth grade, and yet he has trouble keeping up with her work load.
This one was posted by a child psychologist I went to high school with. It’s about the importance of exercise in the formation of children’s brains. According to this article, scientists have shown that children who get regular exercise aren’t just healthier than their counterparts, they do better on tests of executive function. Executive function is one of the best predictors of success in school and in life, so those tests are telling us something.
Taken together, these articles show us something very important. Homework isn’t neutral. We already know that homework shows no correlation with success in school until middle school. At that point, more than an hour of homework per night is not helpful, and in high school, more than two hours per night fails to improve test scores.
But now we can see that homework can be harmful to children’s ability to learn and to control themselves. That executive function doesn’t just help children on tests. It helps them organize. It helps them reason. It helps them modulate emotions. So it’s one of the most important kinds of brain development. Depriving kids of exercise by requiring them to sit for hours doing homework (when they’ve already sat for hours in a classroom) actually limits their ability to get the exercise they need for their brains to develop.
Knowing this, it’s essential that we advocate for our children. As parents, we need to insist that homework is limited or abolished. There should be no homework on weekends or vacations. Assignments should have extended due dates so that children can take a night off if parents see it as necessary. And ideally, children should have no homework at all until middle school, and then not more than an hour per night.
The science here is clear. Homework is not beneficial. It’s not neutral. It is actually preventing our children from doing what they need to do. It’s got to stop.