Homework in Grade-School—Helpful or Harmful?

Homework in Grade-School—Helpful or Harmful?

Do your elementary school kids come home dragging backpacks heavy with homework? Is it making them smarter, more focused, better poised to learn?

Harris M. Cooper, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and a leader in research on the effects of homework on elementary, middle and high-school students, would answer with a resounding, no. There's no measurable benefit to homework for grade-school students.

In his oft quoted and well-respected book, The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, Harris concludes that, at least at the grade-school level, sending kids home from school with more work can cause more harm than good—causing extra stress and strife for already overly taxed families and as a result setting kids up for negative associations to schoolwork at an impressionable age when learning should really be all about fun.

Harris doesn't feel this way about all age-levels. He concludes that for children in middle and high school, appropriate amounts (about 10-minutes per grade level—so around two hours by Grade 12) does have a positive effect and the most successful students are taking home and completing a healthy amount of work each day.

As with all issues surrounding education—both public and private—of young children, this issue is far from cut and dry. There are studies available that argue strongly from both sides of the fence. And most would agree that the type and quantity of homework assigned can have widely varying results.

I can't call my methods especially scientific, but I am the parent of a student in grade two who LOVES homework. In fact, in grade one she brought home quite a lot—almost every day—and we did it together and both enjoyed the quality time very much. Granted, it wasn't too taxing on me... I may feel differently come grade four long division!

Seriously though, we find that she is really fired up and wild when we pick her up from her after-school care program. Sitting down for thirty minutes or an hour of homework helped to calm and focus her. Then we'd eat dinner and she'd have some free time to relax and do what she wanted before bed.

This year, her grade two teacher is not a big proponent of homework for her young students, preferring instead to assign free-reading every day. There are probably a lot of students who prefer this, but not mine. My book worm reads every day anyway, and actually misses the structured, assigned and reviewed work that she brought home last year.

We have had to find other activities and alternatives to 'traditional' homework for her, so that she has the quiet, focused time after school that works so well for her. Some of the alternative activities we use now are:

  • having her "teach" her pre-school aged sister some fun things like tracing letters, counting and simple math
  • picking up a chore from her regular list and completing it before dinner—things like tidying her room, cleaning up the playroom or putting away her laundry
  • helping her dad, the family cook, prepare dinner or helping me set the table
  • in nice weather, a walk around the neighbourhood, talking about her day and reviewing the things that she learned
  • helping us out in the garden, weeding, planting or just looking at the progress our flowers and plants are making

I think that any of the above things are just as, if not more, beneficial and educational to her development as a person and as a student.

It's true, she loves to do homework, but there are a lot of years of that to come yet. While I hope that she continues to be excited and enthusiastic about her school work—both in class and at home when inevitably she starts lugging home the books—I also appreciate the alternatives that allow her to just be a kid, play and learn from the 'real world' around her.

How much homework do your grade-school children bring home? Is it too much? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or pop over and join the discussion on our Facebook page.


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  • Kim P.

    There are a few studies done and put into practice that have shown that kids in grade school who have no homework are at the same level academically as those who have homework once they hit their first year of high school. I say no homework I grade schools!

    • Bargainmoose

      Definitely studies that support two sides on this one! I think a lot of people would agree on your take...

      • Kim P.

        As adults we know our brains are fried after a full work day, why do we see a child day at school any differently, but no, we have to throw 1 to 2 hours of more work at home. It's just illogical.