The Case Against Homework – Why I Wish We Could Ban It

“S. Q.” *sniffle*

“U. I.” *sniffle*

“R. R. E. L.” *full-blown tears*

That was my five-year-old one evening recently, doing his spellings for his upcoming test. It was 5.30pm and I really should have stopped at that point, but I figured if he could just get the spellings done, we’d leave the tricky-word revision for another day.

I was chatting to a friend about it afterwards and she agreed that 5.30pm is a tough time for five-year-old kids and spellings – she said she finds it goes better to start earlier, around 3.30. But that’s just it – we had started at 3.30. It took two full hours to get to the final spelling. Not because my five-year-old was sitting at the table actually doing homework for the entire two hours, but precisely because he wasn’t. He was up and off playing Lego and cycling his bike every time I looked away, because those are things he likes to do.


My two girls were sitting at the same table doing their homework, and were just as distracted. One of them wanted to know the group name for shapes that have sides of equal length, and when I couldn’t help, she asked me to Google it. I said if she didn’t know the answer we should leave it blank so her teacher understands she didn’t know it – she said her teacher told them to Google it. Meanwhile I was trying to make dinner, clean out lunch boxes, make tomorrow’s sandwiches, listen to spellings, sign journals, answer work emails, and break up arguments.

The sun was shining outside, and in a perfect world, all three would have been outside enjoying the fresh air. You know, that fresh air that’s always brought up along with exercise whenever the obesity crisis or screen epidemic is mentioned.

And of course, it shouldn’t take them two hours to do their homework – I know that’s not what’s intended when the teachers put together the daily list. But when there are three children around one kitchen table, and all three are of a distractible predisposition, that’s sometimes how it goes.

And to what value? I just don’t know. There’s a school of thought that says homework doesn’t benefit kids, and there’s research to back it up.  One Stanford study found that too much homework can cause students to experience “academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.” And in “The Case Against Homework”, authors Bennett and Kalish drew on research to come to the conclusion that “there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little more that it helps older students.”

Of course there’s also research that says homework does improve grades in school, and plenty of open-ended debate too, focusing on the quality of the homework given and the time it takes.

I imagine how any given parent feels about it may depend on how smoothly or not it goes. If it was a ten minute uneventful process in my house, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

And I’m conscious that much of why homework doesn’t go well is down to me and my individual circumstances. Three distractible kids crowded around one not-huge kitchen table isn’t ideal, but there isn’t space for desks in their bedrooms. I imagine when teachers give out homework, they assume one patient parent is sitting with the child do go through each item on the list. They’re probably not picturing a frazzled work-at-home mum jumping between three sets of spellings and cries of “Mum, you haven’t answered my question – why do you listen to everyone else except meeeeee?” from all three.

I’m not sure what the right answer is. Perhaps they should just have reading – choosing any book they’d like to read? Or some outdoor playtime as homework, in place of filling in worksheets? Maybe just tables and spellings, with no written work?

And as a friend pointed out recently, if there was no homework, teachers wouldn’t have to correct homework, and perhaps that time could be then put to better use. Perhaps more of the curriculum could be covered in school, and the kids could spend their afternoons playing, which in itself is one of the most important ways they learn about the world.

I may be in the minority, but if I had a magic wand, I’d ban homework – at least in my house. And perhaps my kids would come out the other end of the school system unable to spell squirrel and without knowing the group name for shapes that have sides of equal length, but I’ll take my chances.

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Author: Andrea Mara | Office Mum

Blogger, freelance writer, author, mother - muddling through and constantly looking for balance.

13 thoughts on “The Case Against Homework – Why I Wish We Could Ban It”

  1. + 1! Sing it Sister. They’re exhausted after a day in school.
    My seven year old only started having spelling tests this year in First Class and I’ve decided to not spend the hours learning them, once the 30 mins is up we move on. It doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t get them all right, he understands that it’s cause and effect now. Happy to support your campaign to ban or significantly reduce homework.
    Bumbles of Rice recently posted…Me Too. What About You?My Profile

  2. Oh my. I live on the other side of the debate (AND the pond!). My 12 year old I swear has never had ENOUGH homework! I am so worried about not quite knowing if he is learning the proper things, feeling that he will NOT be prepared enough when he hits middle and high school and must know how to study, do work independently, really COMPREHEND what he’s learning…

    My boy just skates through doing the minimum, getting “good” grades (not perfect, straight A’s, but many parents would be ecstatic with his grades) without putting forth any effort. And when there IS a piece of paper he did not finish in school that turns into homework – MY WORD it’s as if they have asked him to donate a kidney! it’s SO MUCH WORK and such a demand!

    These teachers claim they do all the work in class, PLUS they do so much on the computer, that I have very little idea of what or how they are being taught, and it takes me ages to catch up if I’m asked to help a little with a math problem, because I have to spend 20 minutes figuring out how they are being taught to come up with and explain the answer I figured in 30 seconds….. Ugh.

    Heaven help us in the next year or two when he moves onto higher expectations…..

  3. So much yes. Homework is currently causing real problems with quality of life in my household, for both children (and their parents). It’s not the time doing it, it’s all the time spent avoiding it, that’s the issue. So nobody can just relax and do what they want to do.
    And 5 sounds awfully young to be spelling ‘squirrel’.
    Christine recently posted…To Mabel, who is nine tomorrowMy Profile

  4. I agree. I have a daughter who thankfully has no issue doing homework but I even see it now she is tired from the longer day in 1st class and the work has increased and it is hard on her especially if we are delayed getting home to visit a friend or she has an after school activity. She needs downtime
    and has learned enough aster 6 hours at school I think. Even reduce it to 2 days instead of 4?

  5. As a teacher, I couldn’t agree more. Last school year my co-teacher and I tried out, “optional” homework for students who wanted more practice at home. They could bring it back to me for individualized feedback, but it didn’t affect their grade either way. We did require 20 minutes of reading each night from any book of their choice though. The results were great and I was surprised how many students brought back homework when wanting additional instruction. I suppose when the pressure is off, good things happen. I will definitely continue this method of instruction when I return from maternity leave. Thanks for your thoughtful post, from a long time reader.

  6. Agree with so much of this! Homework after a long day in school is just too much. Also the amount of homework is ridiculous, although thankfully we don’t have spellings until 2nd class. 1 subject, 1 spelling per night would be more than enough…at all primary ages.

  7. I totally agree, I have friends in Sydney where their school is trialing no homework and they love it, kids are outdoors and active instead of sitting down to do homework after 6 hours of the same

    1. Fiona we’ll have to start a local campaign! With the day off yesterday, my 8yo had no homework, so took the small boy off down the green for an hour long adventure. They came home pink-cheeked, frozen, and delighted. It wouldn’t have happened if there was homework.

  8. I don’t believe in homework at all. For years when I said that I was told it helped parents understand what their children and be part of their schooling. Well if that is the case why are parents now signing their kids up to stay in school an extra hour in order to do HOME…work!
    I had a big gang doing homework every day (9 between the ages of 12 and 6 with three in a gaelscoil) for a number of years. Two struggled badly. Each year I agreed with their teachers what mattered and what didn’t. So no spellings, all reading comprehension was done orally, essay writing was set for x number of minutes and no spellings counted and the homework was timed, beginning with the parts of homework which would aid them later in their secondary school life. If we ran out of time so be it.
    Homework still gives me the rage.

    1. I was chatting to a friend about it yesterday – she works in a school in which no homework is given (hurrah!) but said some parents are concerned about it. I guess it’s tough for staff to keep everyone happy. I rant and ramble a lot about homework when chatting to other parents at the school, and while many feel the same, there are others who feel homework is important (and sometimes that they don’t get enough.) Who’d be a teacher! But yes, I’m with you. I can’t see how it helps them, especially the kids who are tired after a day at school and just want to curl up with a book or go run around outside and get some air. I feel like there’s a growing movement towards questioning the value of homework but I can’t see huge changes coming while my kids are at school unfortunately.

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