Is homework a waste of time?

The beginning of the school year is always one of excitement and enthusiasm for me. After a summer of thinking, reading, reflecting and planning for the year ahead I enter the school year with the motivation to make this year the best yet – for me and my students. A feeling I’m sure most teachers out there also experience.

Then comes the first day of classes for the year. The kids arrive nervous, but also excited. Happy to see their friends and eager to get to know their new teacher, they are full of buzz.

Then comes the month or two of justifying to parents why I don’t give a great deal of homework. Argh!

I’ve just finished reading an article, ‘Primary teachers call for an end to homework’ which outlines some of the issues teachers and students are facing in British schools because of forced, pointless homework and over testing of students as young as 3 and 4 years old.

I guess my greatest justification of limited (not zero – but limited) homework is the amount of pointless time spent for the students, parents and myself. Firstly, I really don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent say, “Oh, I love the time I get to spend with my child doing homework!” Seriously, it is a major stress factor in many families when parents have to remind their children to do their homework. This leads to a build up of stress in children, which leads to a lack of appreciation and commitment to learning and a degradation in the relationship of the family. Also, the time that I spend developing and correcting homework is often not time well spent. I either need to spend many hours tailoring homework to students’ particular needs or give one set of homework to all students which clearly us not the most educationally sound practice out there. Then there’s the correction time – does it get done as a whole class, taking up valuable class time, or does it get done after the kids leave, taking up valuable planning time?

I do see the importance of some responsibility building and time management development. For this reason, I do have some regular basic homework in place – things like maintaining regular reading for example. I should also make clear that I am talking about elementary children here. I do believe that there should be more homework as the education becomes more specialised in the older year. In fact, if a student (of any age) is truly engaged and motivated by their learning at school, they will develop their own homework.

So what should kids be doing at home instead of homework? Personally, I believe that kids need to be kids. They need some freedom to be creative and imaginative. The structured life that many kids are leading now is developing kids who can’t think for themselves and who can’t problem solve. This time should also be family time – and I understand this is incredibly hard for so many families who simply can’t afford not to be working the hours they do. However, wherever possible, kids need genuine learning experiences with their family. A trip to the zoo, museum, or even the local park will invoke much more genuine and quality learning than a practice sheet for maths will do.