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HOMEWORK HORROR

By Jami Ingledue

How I loathe homework.

My son is now in second grade, and I knew this was coming. He is a kid that needs to move. He has an active mind in an active body. Worksheets are his nemesis.

But after a long day of holding it together at school and doing what seems to me a LOT of worksheets there, by the time he gets home he is just DONE. Done sitting. Done listening. Done focusing. Done doing stuff that he finds tedious and boring.

And so, the homework battle commences.

When other people say “homework refusal” they might mean whining and stalling and complaining. For my “spirited” kid, it means screaming, raging, throwing things, tearing pages. Remember, he’s held it together all day, and after-school release is a real thing. And, well, this is just who he is as a person. His tenacity and passion will serve him well in adulthood, we tell ourselves.

It wrecks the whole evening. Any time we would like to devote to family time, chores, even dinner. It’s all sucked into the homework battles.

And I can’t help but ask myself, is it worth it?

THE CASE AGAINST HOMEWORK

– It takes away from families being able to do enjoyable things together, like taking a walk or playing a game or just reading together. I think this bonding time is more important in the long run than doing (literally) the fifth page of math for the day.

– It cuts into kids’ time for free play and movement. Kids need 2-3 hours of physical activity and free play every day. (And if the physical movement is directed by adults, like PE or gymnastics, that’s not free play.) We are seeing study after study say that depriving them of these things can lead to anxiety and depression and dysfunction at younger and younger ages.

– It makes them hate school. They spend most of their day there, do we really want them to dread it and feel stressed and jaded at the tender age of 7? Can they really learn in a place they don’t enjoy?

– My son has started saying things like “I hate math” and “I’m bad at math.” He is actually quite clever and loves to play with numbers, so this is NOT true; what he means is that he’s bad at controlling his body and attention long enough to do boring worksheets. This is tragic to me, and damaging.

– It makes them too self-conscious (at too young an age) about not being good enough at a subject or falling behind; it makes them feel dumb. In other words, we’re starting the shame game already.

– Their eyes should not be exposed to screen light after 6pm in order to get the melatonin release required to be sleepy by 8. And yet many elementary kids are assigned computer homework.

– It creates a huge and unnecessary source of conflict and friction in the parent-child relationship.

All of this damage—for what? The “habit” of doing homework? That can come just fine at a later age when it is more developmentally appropriate. Studies have shown no benefit, ZERO BENEFIT, to homework in elementary-age kids. But there is evidence of the damage it can cause.

Now, I am not an educator. And I do NOT want to undermine the teachers. But it’s my JOB as a parent to protect my child’s mental and emotional health. And I feel like I failed at that job with my eldest child. I failed her.

We were so concerned with her getting her homework DONE and doing it RIGHT, by god. We missed seeing the damage it was doing. We missed the signs of anxiety and ADHD. Hours and hours and hours getting it RIGHT. If I could do it again I would say to the teacher, “We worked on this for an hour. We are done. See me if you have questions.”

By the time she got to high school, it felt too late. She already saw herself as stupid. And I feel like our emphasis on doing homework correctly—instead of paying attention to her mental and emotional health needs—set her up for more severe anxiety down the road. Homework is an exponentially bigger problem for kids with special needs, ADHD, anxiety, etc, and can do serious damage in so many ways.

I’ll be damned if I let that happen again. I’ll be damned if I just stand by and watch the school system suck the joy out of this kid—his curiosity, his love of learning, his playful mind.

Now, I’m not suggesting we just let our kids play video games all day and never do what their teachers say—not at all. What I’m saying is that when the school is asking things of our kids that are developmentally inappropriate, it’s our job to protect them, and to push back. It’s our job to pay attention to ALL of their needs, not just their academic ones.

So we are trying something new: we are opting out of math homework for a while. It’s just not worth the damage it’s causing. We will check with the teacher in a month or so and see how it’s going. She warned me that his grade would go down, but said it was our choice to opt out.

I worried a bit about the lower grade. But then I had the radical thought: what if we just ignore the grade card? Do I really care about his grades in second grade? Do I care that he doesn’t do the math perfectly? Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, it feels a little scary. It feels risky, going against the ways in which we have been conditioned to be “good.” But it also feels absolutely right and healthy for THIS child and our family.

Parents, we are allowed to do this. There will be time for high academic expectations and rigorous homework later, when they are developmentally ready for it. But the work of childhood is play, not homework, and they only get one shot at it. It’s our job to protect it.

Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.

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4 Comments

  1. Erin

    Jami, this needs to be shouted from the rooftops. What if we JUST DIDN’T WORRY about the grades for a while, and focused on our kids’ mental and emotional wellbeing?

    Reply
  2. Claudia

    Homework is ridiculous!!!

    Reply
  3. StephanIe

    There is a great letter template at the back of heather shumaker’s books that I’ve used with my children’s teachers at the beginning of each school year. I’ve found that being upfront with them that we will not participate in homework beyond occasional special hands on projects and daily reading has worked fine. And now my two kids (2nd and 4th graders) are at a public school that aligns it’s expectations with the research on homework effects/value/harm. It’s great!

    Reply
  4. StephanIe

    There is a great letter template at the back of heather shumaker’s books that I’ve used with my children’s teachers at the beginning of each school year. I’ve found that being upfront with them that we will not participate in homework beyond occasional special hands on projects and daily reading has worked fine. And now my two kids (2nd and 4th graders) are at a public school that aligns it’s expectations with the research on homework effects/value/harm. It’s great!

    Reply

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