Should Elementary Students Have Homework?

It’s an age-old question and one that has had educators and parents alike wondering: “Should elementary students really have homework?” and, “How much homework is too much for our students?”

School pressure is real, and it seems to be trickling down to the younger grades more and more with each passing year. Students are facing pressure even earlier to do work at school and complete more work at home.  

For a long time, the rule of “10 minutes per grade level” has been applied to the homework situation. The model goes like this: if a student is in 2nd grade, they should expect to have about 20 minutes of homework each night. In 3rd grade, it’s 30 minutes, and on and on it goes through the grade levels. But, is this policy really working for us, our families, and our students? I believe it’s time to re-examine our policies about homework and put our students and children at the forefront of our considerations.  

Homework, Redefined

When I think about the issue of homework from my point of view, I’m looking at the situation from both an educator’s perspective and as a parent. Several things come to mind.

If I assign homework to my students, it would be because I believed that a student needed extra practice on a particular skill or a student didn’t finish their work during class time. There are several problems that arise though – not every student is going back to an environment that is conducive to getting work done. Is it really “fair” to punish a child for not getting work done when not all students are in a place that is ideal for their learning needs?

What is homework for, really? If it is not or cannot be graded, why do we assign it?

Many parents are strongly against homework and believe that if schoolwork was not completed at school, it should not become homework.

The book There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather talks about the education system in Scandinavian countries. The book talks about the keys to raising confident, healthy, and resilient children. One specific key is spending as much time outside as possible, despite weather conditions. Another is that kids in Scandinavian countries don’t have much homework. Instead of being inside, studying and doing work, kids are encouraged to embrace their childhood and play.

Sweden and Finland are among the top-ranked countries whose students succeed despite being given very little homework, averaging only about 2 hours per week compared to that of the US with an average of 6.1 hours or China, with a whopping 13 hours of homework each week. In countries like Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, kids are simply given the opportunity to be kids.

Despite these concerns, some parents and educators still believe that assigning homework after school is the better option. It does keep students off screens, it can be beneficial for review and skill practice, and, some may argue, having homework teaches students responsibility and focus by having them complete the work and bring it back to school the next day.  

While these points may be valid, as a parent, I am constantly reminded of how little time we actually have with our children. Our kids are only ____ (insert age here) for one year. Do we really want them to be burdened with having to finish their homework instead of being able to just be a kid?

The Real “Homework”

As both a parent and an educator, my hope would be that schoolwork is completed at school and a child’s “homework” is to spend time with their family, eat dinner around the dining room table, play outside until it gets dark, and build their own community.

This is the real homework–being a kid. As Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.”

There is, however, one piece of “homework” that I believe is essential for all children and that homework is to read with your child. Whether it is them reading to you or you reading to them, the benefits of reading with your child are numerous as so many studies show.  

School and public libraries are a great resource for getting quality literature into the hands of children. Thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army also have great deals on books and often will have special bargain days just for books. Creating this family rhythm with your child will be a special one that they will look forward to every night and remember for years to come!

Many neighborhoods and local spots around the community have Little Free Libraries which allow for a free exchange of books. You simply bring any books that you don’t want or need anymore, find a Little Free Library, and swap it out for a new one that you can use. Little Free Libraries come in many different shapes and sizes, but many look like birdhouses. To find a Little Free Library near you, you can use this map to search for one in your location. 

Final Thoughts

All in all, the topic of homework is quite nuanced. It is one that should be thoughtfully considered for the benefit of our future generations. We owe it to ourselves to ask if this really works for our society and if there is a better way forward. If there is, what can we do instead? 

Instead of asking the question, “How much is too much homework?” I challenge us to reframe our thinking. Instead, let’s ask, “How can we make childhood the best that it can be?”