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Since school has started, my inbox has been flooded with questions about homework from my non-educator friends. Homework should have an actual purpose and there are developmentally appropriate amounts of times for their grade level. That also means that not every single child is ready for that developmental stage.

According to the National Education Association, over the last 50 years, most US students spend less than an hour a night on homework. But in the last 20 years, that time has increased in the lower grades. Researcher Harris Cooper set guidelines for homework of 10-20 minutes of homework for first grade and adding 10 minutes each year all the way through high school with the exception being high school students taking advanced courses. I thought most schools followed these guidelines, but according to my inbox, that is not the case.

What is the point of homework? Homework should be a form of practice or enrichment of what was taught during the school day. It should be short and purposeful. There is absolutely no reason for a student to have 90 math problems for homework or any other time, for that matter.

Elementary children should reading every single night. The U. S. Department of Education America Reads Challenge states that students who read 20 minutes a day get exposed to 1.8 million words and will score better on achievement tests.

If homework is a problem in your home and is taking you two hours to complete, it is important to start trying to get to the root of the issue. Start with what is happening at home. Try a few of these steps:

If you have tried to change things at home and homework is still a struggle, then it is time to meet with the teacher. When you meet with the teacher here are some suggestions of questions to discuss:

Homework should not be ruling your child’s life. Staying up late to finish homework leads to sleepy children that are not paying attention in class when new material is taught, and they are caught in a vicious cycle. Stay in communication with the teacher to protect your child’s stress level and your family time.


How is homework going in your house? Are you facing daily homework battles or school resistance? Often we get mired down in the minutia of day-to-day struggles and fears and fail to see the big picture of our children’s lives.

What do you most want for your child? To be happy, respectful, kind, responsible, confident, independent, successful are attributes I usually hear. But what parents often focus their energy on is a good report card, a 3.5 GPA, high SAT scores, and climbing the corporate ladder.

Certainly a good education is important to gaining happiness and confidence. The question is, does a good education require hours of homework each night. Or is a better education achieved by a child who loves to learn?

A child who loves to learn has spent the better part of his early childhood learning through plenty of self-directed play and who enjoys school—where the school and the child fit. Our current public school system seems to be undermining this process. Competition in the science and math world has trickled down to “No Child Left Behind” requiring standardized testing, grading school performance, and competition for federal dollars. Many teachers’ hands are tied by administrators focused on the success of the school. Teachers are under pressure to teach a curriculum that requires more hours in the day than they have.

All of this puts pressure on worried parents who try to give their child a head start with Baby Mozart, flash cards and extra curricular activities. Homework is being given in Kindergarten and even preschool. Left in the dust is play.

The case against homework is outlined in three books, (Kralovec and Buell, Bennett and Kalish, and Kohn), touting it as detrimental to a child’s academic success. But even research in support of homework (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall, 2006) shows that it gives no achievement gain for the child before grade 4, and the gains in grades 4-6 are minimal.

Researchers have offered recommendations. Cooper, et. al (2006) agree with Good and Brophy (2003) who have “…cautioned that teachers must take care not to assign too much homework. They suggested that homework must be realistic in length and difficulty given the students’ abilities to work independently. Thus, 5 to 10 minutes per subject might be appropriate for 4th graders, whereas 30 to 60 minutes might be appropriate for college-bound high school students.” Cooper (2007) suggested that research findings support the “10-minute rule”: “All daily homework assignments combined should take about as long to complete as 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level.” 15 minutes when reading is included.

Why do our schools proceed with earlier and more homework ignoring the research? Do we really want our children to hate school for the sake of gaining points on the Chinese? Better that we look to the Finnish.

Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000, a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, showed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries in science. In the 2009 PISA scores, Finland came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. The US hovers around the midpoint of all countries.

Finland’s school system:

Some reasons for their success:

My challenge to you—especially parents of third graders and younger—is to talk to your children’s teachers and tell them your educated knowledge of the research on homework and it’s detrimental effects on play and family time. Tell them you want something different for your child.

I have included some approaches that you can use to create your own. You might use these guidelines when talking to your child’s K-3 teachers and use “The 10-minute rule” for your older kids:

~ Based on research done on homework and the benefits of play to her development, I will be forgoing homework this year so she has ample time for play.

~ I’m not going to require my child to do homework until 2nd or 3rd grade since there is no evidence that it benefits learning at this point and in fact detracts from what he will get from the same amount of playtime and family connection.

~ I’ve learned through the research of Harris Cooper and his colleagues out of Duke University and the National PTA recommendations on play that there is no beneficial gain to homework in the early elementary years until grade 4. So unless the homework assignments are fun for my child, involve us doing something enjoyable together and do not last more than 10-15 minutes, I respectfully request that my child not be required to do homework assignments.

~ Our family is working on creating a slower pace and more relaxed down-time with plenty of time for play, family connection, and outdoor time since we want our kids to value the enjoyment of being with us and being outdoors over being on the internet, playing video games of engaging in homework battles. With that end, we are making sure homework time is never more than a few minutes. I hope you can agree with me based on the research.

~ I would like to follow Harris Cooper’s “10-minute rule” for homework—He is the main homework researcher from Duke—to insure that my child not have more than 10 minutes times his grade.

Much of the push for earlier academics comes from parents. All parents must be educated about the research. The only way school practices will turn around is by parent pressure. Use these statistics and read more on these links and talk to other parents and get a movement going.


Links (check google for more):

The transition from school to home is as tricky as your own transition from work to home can be.  No matter if your child goes to preschool, or grade school or high school, making the adjustment from school or childcare to home can be tricky.

Here are some tips to make things go more smoothly.

  1. Be present. By that I mean,  be really there, available, undistracted. Don’t listen to the radio or check your email and stay off of Facebook. Turn off the TV if you’re the one watching it. Be ready if your child has something to tell you, really ready.
  2. Be considerate. Your child has had a day – a good day or a bad day – and you can ruin it or make it even worse by being demanding and crabby. Let your child get in the door and get settled. If you have to remind her to leave her shoes on the mat or hang up her backpack, just say so. “Please do put your shoes on the mat… thanks.” Keep in mind that you can also make her day better, by looking her in the eye, giving her a little hug, and saying, “I’m glad you’re home.”
  3. Be respectful. You’ve missed your child and maybe you were worried for him about something – a spelling test or a tummy ache. Even so, the first few minutes your child is in the car or in the house isn’t the time to polish your detective skills. When you can politely ask how the test went, ask. But if he says, “Okay,” and doesn’t say anything more, that’s not an opening to quiz him on how many, exactly, he missed.
  4. Be creative. Ask interesting questions if you want to get a conversation going, not the same old tired ones. Instead of asking, “How was your day,” ask something else, like “How was recess?” or “Who did you play with today?” Ask questions that have a good chance to trigger recall the good parts of the day, not the anxious or unhappy parts.

It usually only takes a few minutes for  your child adjust to home-mode from school-mode. Let him have 10 minutes to decompress. Then you can ask about homework. You’re more likely to get an answer.

You probably are making the very same transition that your child is making, from your role in the wider world to your role as a parent and spouse. You also have a transition to make. You also need some time to decompress and adjust to being around the people you love. Give yourself that time by being calm and undemanding of your kids.

How you manage your child’s transition from school to home has a lot of influence on how the evening will go. At the very least, get things off to a good start. There’s no point in being careless about your child’s homecoming and making her feel unwelcome and unhappy.

If your child is happy, you will be too.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at