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Should homework be assigned in elementary school?

By Talia Klein Perez
 Getty Images: Kai Schwoerer
*Updated 2021
In 2015, one New York public elementary school made headlines when it decided to abolish homework, saying that it didn’t benefit the children. Many parents were outraged and threatened to take their children out if the school didn’t resume assigning homework. However, since then, a growing number of additional elementary schools across the US are following the trend. Who is correct?
We examine three reasons why homework should be assigned to elementary school pupils and three reasons why it shouldn’t.


Three reasons why homework should not be assigned in elementary school


It increases stress

Way before the coronavirus hit, elementary school kids were already more stressed-out than any generation before them. While there are numerous causes for such stress, the burden of homework plays a large part. More than a decade ago a 2007 study by Metlife already reported that 28% of students in grades 3-6 were “often” or “very often” stressed out by homework and, since then, stress among children has only grown. More recently, more recently, 65% of parents said that homework-related stress negatively impacted their families. Homework stress may affect students’ health by causing headaches and stomach problems. Some children experience sleep deprivation by staying up too late to finish their homework. This is harmful to both kids’ health and their learning abilities, as sleep has been shown to help with memory consolidation. Plus, since parents usually have to remind elementary school students to do their homework, it often turns into a source of even more stress, thanks to the arguments that inevitably arise between parent and child.


It prevents them from spending time on other things

Elementary school children don’t have a lot of time between coming home from school and going to sleep. Once they have to do homework, their time is even more restricted. Children today don’t get enough exercise or time outdoors, giving rise to the malady of “nature deficit disorder,” which can take its toll on their mental and physical well-being. Homework also may prevent children from being able to spend more time bonding with their family, forming friendships, developing hobbies or just deal with boredom. The latter is important, as unstructured playtime is vital for child development in the elementary years.


It’s counter-productive

Elementary school students are just beginning their school careers. However, being burdened by homework, which stops them from doing fun activities, may make them feel negative emotions towards schoolwork. This negative attitude can then continue into the middle and high school years when homework becomes a more integral part of the education process. Many elementary students also feel that their homework is just “busy work” or that the teacher “has” to assign it, so they don’t take it seriously. Even worse is when homework is beyond a child’s ability and becomes work for the parents. This can lead to resentment in some parents who feel forced to complete their child’s projects – not to mention frustration on the part of the child, who feels he or she can’t do the homework without help.

Three reasons why homework should be assigned in elementary school


It gives kids a chance to process what they’ve learned                                          

Material is absorbed and remembered far better when it’s studied at spaced-out intervals, as per the Spaced Repetition learning theory. Students can process what they’re studying better when they return to it as homework after a few hours have passed, giving them a chance to learn at intervals. Homework also gives the child a chance to find out if they are confused by the topic so that they can seek assistance. Homework assignments also help the teacher to assess each individual child’s progress.


It teaches kids responsibility

When children reach high school, they’ll be expected to independently work on homework assignments, which are important for their final grades. Doing small amounts of homework from a young age therefore helps prepare students to meet their school responsibilities when they get older. It also instills self-discipline and trains them to meet deadlines in the real world when they’ll be expected to put in effort on their own.  During coronavirus lockdowns, sheltering in place and remote learning, homework may have actually, ironically, provided kids with a reprieve from the boredom of quarantine.


It encourages parental involvement

Homework assignments give parents a window into what their child is studying. Parental involvement has been shown to be significant for scholastic success. Therefore, homework assignments serve as a positive and productive way to bring parents and children together. Homework gives them an opportunity to be supportive about what their kids are learning. Plus, even if parents aren’t directly involved in a particular homework assignment, sitting next to their child and doing their own “homework,” in the form of paying bills, working or planning the week’s meals, can also serve as a model of support and quality bonding for the child. It also shows that doing homework is an early start to meeting lifelong responsibilities.


The Bottom Line: Perhaps we need to be asking how to make homework in our children’s elementary school more effective, rather than discussing whether or not to eliminate it completely. Do you prefer that your kids spend time on homework after school?

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