School

Do Elementary Kids Really Need Homework? Why This Former Teacher Says No.

Written by Michelle Tate

“Go play outside!”

This was my favorite and most frequent homework assignment from my days inside the classroom. As an elementary teacher, I believed in this particular homework assignment so much that I actually made my students write this in their assignment books, just to hold them accountable. Don’t get me wrong, my 4th and 5th grade students were held to very high standards academically, but homework was rarely assigned. 

After watching my students engage in academics for seven hours each day, my main wish for those sweet babies was some playtime. I am well aware that this dream homework assignment isn’t always applicable, especially when we talk about secondary classrooms. But for the younger grades, this trend is gaining popularity. Schools in Texas, New York, and Massachusetts have implemented similar policies in recent years. 

Long Beach ISD has just announced a no homework policy for students K-6. New superintendent, Jennifer Gallagher, recently explained the shift from traditional homework assignments to an approach promoting reading, wonder, and play. In her letter to district parents, she encouraged parents to connect with children after school by increasing family time and reading together. She cited research that has proven little correlation between homework and academics success for younger grades, but strongly points to the positive effect of reading. She adds that, “many students are sacrificing reading time because they’re too tired by the time they finish their homework.” 

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It’s true! 

There is little to no evidence that suggests homework has any positive effect on academic achievement for younger grades. 

In fact, more evidence points to the need for kids to “unplug” after school and take more brain breaks for physical activity. Because of this, Long Beach ISD is also adding in “brain breaks” throughout the school day to allow students to move around and play. 

No homework policies have sparked heavy debate among parents and educators across the country. As a former elementary educator and a mama to three littles, my teacher and mom heart are both in strong support for this new way of thinking. For decades, homework was just part of the territory of being a student. But it doesn’t have to be the only way to ensure academic success. 

As a mom of a soon-to-be first grader, the amount of exhaustion I witnessed from my kindergartener last year is still fresh in my mind. From a 6:15 a.m. wake up call to stepping off the bus at 3:20 p.m., I simply cannot imagine asking him to work on homework after his long day. We barely had enough time for a snack, dinner, bath, and bed, much less family time, free play or reading. My wish for my kindergartener was for him to be able to run and play outside, and to be still excited to read before bed. I wanted him to be well-rested and ready for the next school day. Kids need rest! The national sleep foundation suggests 10-11 hours of sleep for school age children (ages 5-10). 

Homework for littles tends to create a behavior battle when kids are so exhausted after school. There are also instances where kids with little or no support at home are left to complete homework assignments on their own, leaving them feeling defeated about their education, and reducing motivation instead of increasing it and empowering them. Homework does not always show what the student actually knows, but may, in fact, reflect exhaustion, lack of support, or heavy parent involvement. There is a greater need for guided practice in the classroom, and independent work in the classroom setting, and increased independent reading. 

Eliminating “traditional” homework means less prep and less grading for the educators, and allows both the students and teachers to return to school more refreshed and ready to engage in learning. And a no homework philosophy doesn’t mean education stops once the student walk out of the school’s front doors; there are plenty of ways to continue practice at home that do not involve a graded worksheet. 

We’re not the first country to hop on the reduced homework bandwagon. A Stanford study found in countries like Japan, Denmark, and the Czech Republic, little homework was assigned and students outperformed students in counties with large amounts of homework. Finland, one of the leading education systems in the world, has also practiced shorter and zero homework. The Finnish education system fosters creativity and wonder.  

Less traditional homework allows for more time for hobbies and extracurricular activities, volunteering and community outreach, building friendships and social skills—all of which promote a well-rounded education. It doesn’t have to be a worksheet for a child to be engaged and learning. Family time, giggling, and positive mental health have positive effects, too. There is value in those things just as much as dividing and multiplying fractions.

There are still ways to teach responsibility and time management, while still developing a love for learning. Parents can still be involved in the child’s academic growth even if it’s not by sitting down for worksheet practice. 

“Un-homework” actually promotes family time. Opening up learning to involve the whole family. Parents can involve kids in meal-time prep giving way to discussions involving measurements and fractions. Dinner time can involve a math fact quiz game. This not only makes math practice fun, it engages the whole family and promotes family meal-times.

Family “field trips” can offer learning opportunities, as well. Attending cultural events, the ballet, zoo, children’s museum, history museum, or aquarium all foster a child’s love for math, music, biology, and history. Reading the newspaper together sparks an interest in current events. Family games night teaches numbers, math facts, teamwork, sportsmanship, critical thinking, and strategy. The simple act of rolling dice can turn into a math facts lesson. Playing Scrabble can become spelling practice. Involve kids in writing a thank you note, suggest reading a book that is a movie, encourage reading to a pet or stuffed animal. Go on a bike ride while counting by 2s, or 5s, 10s. Nature walks together spark creativity and generate more questions for learning. Health wellness, kindness, and family time are just as important as reading, writing, and math. Adding in X amount of worksheets into a school year has not proven to increase a child’s success rate, but daily reading has.

Ultimately, no homework doesn’t mean no learning; it can actually promote it.

About the author

Michelle Tate

A native Texan, born and raised, I married my college sweetheart, and now spend my days raising our three young boys. In another life, I was an elementary school teacher, before diving deep in my true passion for my own babies and writing.