Our kids have really long days. By sheer scheduling necessity, they’re often at school before we’re at work and they’re still there while we rush home to pick them up. Then they’ve got basketball practice or piano lessons. They’ve got to eat, they’ve got to get at least semi-clean before bed, they’ve got to actually sleep and—oh yeah—there’s homework, too.
There has been a real backlash against homework in recent years, as evidence mounts that kids get too much of it and it doesn’t really contribute to academic achievement anyway, at least for elementary-age students. Some schools have implemented no-homework policies; some parents in schools that do still pile on the work are following suit—by putting a time limit on nightly homework or opting their kids out of it entirely.
Parent Sara Youngblood-Ochoa told the Washington Post that she became an opt-out parent after one particularly stressful night when her six-year-old son struggled to complete an assignment:
She knew he was doing fine in school, so they just stopped doing the packets of worksheets that came home every week. “It took a load off our afternoons and made it easier for him to do after-school activities that he wanted to do,” said the Chicago-area mother. “If there’s something our son is struggling in, we’ll absolutely do the work. But after eight hours at a desk, to make him sit down and do more seems silly.”
Other parents, like Jackie in our Offspring Facebook Group, worry about the precedent that opting out would set for kids. “I dislike homework, but I also feel that completely opting out would set a poor example for my kids,” Jackie says. “What I normally do is stay in contact with the teacher if my child is struggling with the homework, and we modify the need together. Most of the teachers, if not all, have been very accommodating with this.”
By middle and high school, homework becomes a necessary evil. It is very often tied to a student’s grades and teaches life skills like time management. But sitting your second-grader down at six p.m. for 30 minutes of homework each night can feel like overkill after a full day at school. Before you decide whether to opt out completely, though, there are a few things you can consider.
The purpose of the work
Not all homework is created equal. And not all schools or even teachers within an individual school agree on what is appropriate or necessary when it comes to homework. One first-grader might come home on Monday with a list of the week’s sight words to practice, along with the expectation that they’ll read on their own or with a parent for 15 minutes each day. Another child the same age might find themselves with multiple homework sheets, plus the site words, plus 30 minutes of reading.
Ask yourself: Does your child’s homework seems to help reinforce the concepts they’re learning in school, while also allowing them plenty of time to play outside or participate in other activities? Is your child struggling in a particular area and benefits from the extra practice? In these cases, the homework is probably serving its purpose in solidifying your child’s learning. Otherwise, you may be looking at a pile of busy work.
The teacher’s personal homework philosophy
I find it particularly helpful to understand the teacher’s own viewpoint on homework—and it’s a question that parents have asked every teacher my son has had during our school’s annual “Back to School Night.” Knowing the motive behind a teacher’s assignments is a good first step in talking about and determining how your child will proceed with homework going forward.
You might find that the teacher is only assigning homework because it’s the school’s policy to do so. Or they only assign it when they think it’s truly necessary. Or they think the practice of completing homework regularly is valuable for one reason or another. You may get pushback from them if you want to reduce or eliminate your child’s homework time—or, as Rebecca Swanson writes for the Washington Post, they might agree with you and support your decision to opt out:
Most teachers have agreed with me. Enthusiastically, in many cases. And not once has a teacher pushed back or insisted I make my child do homework. One teacher responded that he was thankful I sent the note, so he could share it with the district. Another informed me that she only gives so much homework because some parents protest if she doesn’t properly train their children to commit to completing daily work sheets.
You might also come to an agreement that you’ll handle homework on a case-by-case basis. If an assignment is taking longer than usual, for example, or your child is simply having a bad night and needs a break, you and the teacher can agree that you’ll end homework time and send in a note explaining why the work is incomplete.
Before you hit send on that “My Child Won’t Be Doing Homework This Year” email, make sure you understand the consequences they will face for not completing the work.
Many schools do not tie homework into grades, at least for the youngest students. But some do. Many teachers will not keep students inside at recess or in the classroom during PE to make up their homework. But some will. And some teachers, as one parent tells the Post, tie class rewards to homework:
She said he didn’t get “dinged” for not doing the homework (in kindergarten), and explained her stance to his teacher, but she is worried about first grade. “I’m hearing they give rewards to the entire class if everyone does their homework. That puts pressure on these 6-year-olds.”
It’s important to know ahead of time what the consequences for opting out will be—or if there is a compromise to be made. Your child may decide they’d rather do that work at home rather than lose a reward for all of their classmates.