Is Homework Bad for your Kid’s Brain?

Researchers say it depends on the age

too much homework can have a negative impact on your child
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Many researchers advocate for no or very little homework for elementary students.

The benefits of homework on academic achievement resonate with students in grades 7-12 compared to students in K-6.

And many parents agree.

Here are a few reasons why

  • It takes away family time
  • It stresses kids out
  • It makes them lose sleep
  • It cuts into extracurricular activities
  • It’s time-consuming
  • It puts pressure on the parents to help (or hire a tutor if they can’t).
  • It encourages cheating

And the list goes on.

Researchers and parents bring up some valid points, so let’s delve deeper into why most homework fails.

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Homework Negatively Affects Student Health

According to one study published in the Journal of Experiential Education, 56 percent of students admitted that homework was their number one source of stress!

Excessive home assignments can negatively affect students psychological and physical health too.

Homework Affects Sleep

Most experts agree that school-aged kids need 9-12 hours of sleep per night. Due to numerous extracurricular activities, commutes, etc., many students don’t even get home until dinner time.

The typical school day starts around 8 and ends around 3. In order to receive nine hours of sleep, many kids would have to eat, prepare for the next day, finish homework, and have some downtime all before 9. Then they’d wake up around 6.

This is just one of many scenarios. Some students with longer commutes or more obligations have an even harder time jamming in everything into their day.

Additionally, no two students are alike. Some kids are better at sitting down and doing work than others, so there are many variables when it comes to time.

It’s no mystery that homework cuts into sleep. Losing sleep affects the brain since sleep filters daily information and aids in memory retention.

Parental Involvement Varies With Homework

does too much homework negatively affect the health of students
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I taught at one progressive school where homework only affected 5% of a student’s overall grade.

The administration encouraged this because they felt that parents were overly involved and home assignments were not an indicator of a student’s ability.

Another uncontrollable homework variable is how a parent helps out.

A study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology found that the type of parental support with homework leads to different outcomes.

The study states that an autonomous approach works best.

One kid may have a lot of quality help from a parent when another kid has none. Therefore, it is not an accurate determiner of what a student knows.

There’s a common stereotype of the parent completing the kid’s science project. The final product looks like an engineer did it. (In some cases, one did). Does this really deserve an A?

Plus, some parents are higher educated and/or have more time to help than others.

Homework Interferes With Extracurricular Activities and Life Skills

With an emphasis on standardized testing, some schools lack time to teach life skills. Homework contributes to the lack of extracurricular activities and life skills that children can experience outside of school.

How? After school kids could volunteer, play sports, or work but sometimes they don’t because they have to hit the books.

In short, kids are spending more time outside of school filling out worksheets than they are exercising, interning, or offering community aid.

How Can We Solve the Excessive Homework Problem?

how does homework assignments affect children learning and mental health
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Experts have come up with some solutions to the homework dilemma.

Focus on the amount

The National Parents and Teachers Association and the National Education Association both support the guideline that recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level not beginning until first grade.

Second graders, for example, should not exceed 20 minutes of homework each night, while high school seniors should not do more than two hours of home assignments each night.

This rule gained popularity after psychologists Harris Cooper concluded homework – beyond two hours in higher grades – reaped no benefits.

Duke University researchers examined numerous homework studies that were conducted from 1987 to 2003 and found that the “10-minute rule” makes sense.

Unfortunately, according to one study in the American Journal of Family Therapy, students are receiving three times as much homework as they should. This needs to change.

Focus on the quality

According to Annie Murphy Paul of the New York Times, we should focus on the quality of homework, not the quantity.

Murphy argues that “We ought to be asking a different question altogether. What should matter to parents and educators is this: How effectively do children’s after-school assignments advance learning?”

Sometimes teachers feel pressured to give home tasks.

However, if you’re assigning homework that doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re teaching or if it doesn’t have a valid goal, then it won’t stick.

Murphy argues that traditional home assignments, learning about different topics in unit blocks, should change to a “Spaced Repetition” approach.

This technique assigns the same topics in smaller chunks for a longer amount of time. Research shows a double retention rate for this mode of study.

Schools are Starting to Get on the Limited Homework Bandwagon Too

limited homework can have more positive impact on child development
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One progressive school that’s ditching the homework is the progressive Khan Labs School in California. There, students create individualized goals, complete projects, and learn at their own pace.

“There are no grades or homework, but lots of group projects, time spent on laptops, and small group and one-on-one sessions with teachers.”

Dominic Liechti, the head of school says that the students are all thriving.

Some public schools are also listening to the research. The Marion County School District in Florida made headlines when they decided to ban traditional homework and just assign reading to the lower grades.

The superintendent Heidi Maier encourages kids to read 20 minutes a night in a book of their choice.

This action hits close to home (literally) because I’m a parent of two boys and live in Marion County. The majority of parents and students in the community appreciated the superintendent’s decision.

A Parent’s and Teacher’s Perspective

As a parent, teacher, and someone who has seen the research, here’s my view. I feel that homework can benefit older kids but even then needs limits.

The 10-minute rule for work sounds doable for everyone involved. However, I don’t think it should start until at least the third grade. There just isn’t any evidence to suggest that homework is worth it for those younger students.

As for the higher grades, how students complete homework has so many variables that it shouldn’t have a significant impact on a student’s grade. Based on previous research, I believe homework should focus on reading and projects.

Also, Students, Regardless of Their Age, Need a Break

One of my favorite homework assignments was for students to go home and play outdoors. After all, they just spent an hour with me reading and acting out Romeo and Juliet and writing appositive phrases.

That was just in my class! Even as an adult, I needed a breather.

You’re only a kid once. And even though I certainly scheduled my share of homework at the beginning of my teaching career, I evolved to limit it. When I cut down on the work at home, I got more done in class.

I observed happier and more laid-back students. I also graded papers that were all written in a class by students – not by some parents. (Hey, it happened.)

Just like the experts, I do think that there’s a problem with homework.

There’s too much of it.

And this is coming from a teacher who assigned lots of home tasks, her first couple of years teaching. But many teachers learn and evolve with the research.

Most experts agree that there isn’t any point in scheduling an overabundance of homework to kids who already put in an 8+ hour day at school.

Let’s consider once a week or more to allow our kids just to go home, spend time with their families, play, and sleep.

Turns out that “homework assignment” would be the best for our kids’ brains after all.

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Written by Amanda Clark

Amanda is a work at home mom who loves being outdoors and constructing crafts with her two adorable kiddos. She taught middle school English for five years before becoming a freelancing mama. Although a native Vermonter, Amanda left the mountains for the ocean and currently lives in Florida with her husband, two sons, and cat Hemingway.