Sacrificing Childhood: Homework Realities



BY STEPHANIE HELSABECK, M.ED.

In many homes with elementary school-age children, a struggle ensues on many evenings, if not on every one: the struggle to complete homework…and for what?  This practice is so often taken for granted, even by the parents and teachers who are concerned about its impact on young children.  Is this practice even supported by data, or is this a tradition entrenched into our assumptions about what schooling should entail?

A look at the evidence from research on this subject requires that well-conducted and poorly conducted research be identified in order to come to appropriate conclusions. Harris Cooper is regarded as the country’s leading expert on this subject, and he has found no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students. The fact that it doesn’t improve academic performance is only one aspect to consider.  There are many costs that are worth accounting for when evaluating this ineffective tradition in our schools.

Homework places a burden on parents.  Many mothers and fathers work outside the home and return each evening from their jobs to serve as homework monitors and/or tutors.  Often parents, even those college-educated, cannot help their child with their homework because of the different methods used in schools today to teach subjects such as math.  This leads to confusion and frustration for the parent and child.  A parent-child relationship is fraught with enough difficulty without giving the parent the role of teacher as well!

Homework is stressful for children.  Many parents can testify that their children are often frustrated by homework and become weepy, stressed out, and fed up with the whole thing.  It is as if children have to pull a double shift. They are sitting still in school all day, only to return home and keep going with the drudgery!  It is exhausting for many!  The impact on children is real, and it is a negative impact, with no real evidence that the endeavor is worthwhile.

Not only does homework have a negative impact on parents and children, but on the family as a whole. Family time should consist of relaxed, constructive interactions, but often homework consumes this important time together with parents and other family members.  In one study of fifth graders, more than one third stated they get tense when working with their parents on homework.  Unpleasant interactions, such as yelling and crying, happen when the assignment is challenging or unclear, or the child is a struggling student.  In many families, the invasion of homework into family time has disrupted relationships and denied parents and children many of the pleasures of family togetherness.

Homework often has an adverse impact on intellectual curiosity.  Most children hate homework and put off doing it as long as possible. Homework is the most reliable way to extinguish the passion for learning.  When children are truly intrigued by a good lesson and given freedom, they naturally seek out more knowledge, but when learning is forced, the motivation evaporates.

An hour spent doing homework is an hour that could be used in a more positive way.  There is one less hour to be with just family, learn in non-traditional ways, read for pleasure, socialize, get some exercise, get some rest, and take time to be a child!  It is interesting that in the mid-1960s the American Educational Research Association released an official policy statement that said, in part: “Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents.”  Because many schools no longer respect the role of the family and activities families do together, it is up to the parents to take back that family time and protect it as the sacred time it is.

In next month’s issue of Forsyth Family,ideas for taking back family time will be suggested.  Parents must protect their children’s childhood, because with all the focus on testing in North Carolina, many sacrifices to children’s academic, social, physical and emotional development are being made.  Your children are depending on you to make informed decisions to help them develop into well-rounded individuals, prepared to be a positive part of our society.  Childhood is an important time in the life of your child.  Don’t allow your child to miss out!


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