Inside: We’ve seen the research, and we see what nightly homework battles do to our kids. The good news? We have the power to opt out, and the first step is easy.
Homework in elementary school is useless.
You’ve probably seen the stories in the news. Homework doesn’t help young kids learn any better or faster. It doesn’t teach them study skills. It doesn’t even help them do better on standardized tests.
Despite all this, my second-grader still has homework nearly every night. This is the norm for most American families with kids in elementary schools.
When we get home after school, I remind my daughter to start her homework, remind her to stay focused while she’s doing it, and remind her to put it back in her backpack when it’s done. In other words, finding out she has homework that night signs us both up for a 30-minute (or more) nag session.
It’s not like you have a practical alternative. The teacher assigns homework, and your kid’s supposed to do it. If she doesn’t do it, she’ll be held in at recess to complete the homework anyway. And then at the end of the day, you get to reap the benefits of a kid who’s had to sit still all day.
But during one of our super fun homework nag-a-thons last week, something happened that scared me.
A Turning Point – And Not a Good One
About five minutes into the brainless busy work that bores my daughter out of her skull, she said: “I’m just not going to do this.”
“I’m just not going to do my homework. It doesn’t matter.”
I froze. “Well…,” I said, buying myself time. I could tell we were entering choppy waters, and one wrong move could capsize the boat and damage her attitude towards school. “What would happen if you didn’t do your homework?”
Abby shrugged. “I’d probably just get in trouble with the teacher.”
This was big. My rule-following, perfectionist child does not shrug about getting “in trouble” with the teacher.
“Hmm,” I said. “What would that mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’d get my name on the board.” She shrugged again. Any previous hand slaps from the teacher resulted in tears and long conversations when I picked her up from school. Why was she shrugging it off now?
“What else would happen?” I prodded, trying to keep my tone light and curious, but obviously failing.
“Okay, fine. I’ll do it. But I’m just going to make up answers to get it over with.”
My eyes bugged, but thankfully she wasn’t looking. My child who once had a meltdown over not getting a perfect grade on a spelling test in first grade was planning to write incorrect answers on her homework just to get it out of the way.
“So…what will happen if you do that?” I asked.
She sighed. “I guess she’ll make me do it over again. But this is so boring! My grades don’t matter anyway.”
My grades don’t matter anyway. The words started on repeat in my brain, getting louder and shriller with each iteration.
And I realized: Homework did this to my child. My bright child who’s hungry to learn anything and everything. My child who reads as much as she can get her hands on. My child who said to me yesterday, “Is there a place where you can go and just read books all day? Because I want to go there.”
The endless worksheets had finally pushed her over the edge.
Related: What to Do When Your Kid Gives Up
Yes, Homework Is Pointless – But That’s Not the Worst Part
Homework is making my child resent school. It’s turning the idea of learning into a power struggle. And goodness knows we don’t need more of those while parenting young children.
Bottom line: Homework is destroying our kids’ innate love of learning.
The night after that disturbing homework battle, I started looking for alternatives.
- Could I ask the teacher not to assign homework to my child? Maybe, but it feels weird to ask for special treatment when other kids are in the same boat.
- Could I ask the teacher not to assign homework to any kids? Maybe, but it probably wouldn’t be effective coming from just one parent.
- Could I meet with the principal to suggest banning homework? Other schools have banned it, and the research supports removing it.
Yes, that’s it! That’s what I’ll do, I thought.
I started asking around about how I might approach a principal about this issue. I talked to teachers and other parents. And do you know what I heard?
Elementary school teachers and principals already know that homework doesn’t do any good. They know it hurts kids’ relationships with the learning process. They already know the research. I mean, of course they do – they’re trained professionals.
The real reason elementary schools assign homework? Parents keep asking for it.
Let’s Stop the Madness of Nightly Homework Battles
Maybe you feel like pushing your kid to struggle through homework is good for her work ethic. Maybe you feel like the worksheets will help her get better grades on standardized tests. Maybe you think it’s just 30 minutes of nagging your kid every night, then it’s over and done with and not a big deal.
That’s what I thought, too.
But deep down, we know better. We don’t really need to read all the research. Because we know. We see what the nightly homework battles do to our kids.
We know this in the same way we know that asking teachers to dole out corporal punishment hurts our kids emotionally as well as physically. We don’t need to read the research about the damage that goes deeper than the red welts left by a paddle. Parents know this already.
The good news? We have the power to opt out of the homework battles.
The First And Easiest Step
Let’s stop asking our elementary school teachers and principals to assign homework. Easy peasy.
Next step: Share your story with other parents.
- While you’re waiting outside school at pick-up time, tell the story of how you have to nag your kid every night, and for what? It’s not helping her grades.
- When you’re making small talk at the school fundraiser carnival, explain how your kid used to love school, but homework battles have soured him on the whole deal.
- If you run into your kid’s friend’s mom at Target, ask if her kid struggles with homework, too. Listen to her story.
I’m not saying you should try to convince anyone. In fact, sharing stats and research rarely changes people’s minds. So just tell your story. Share how you’re scared that homework battles are doing permanent damage to your kid’s love of learning. Find common ground with your fellow parents because I promise you, it’s there.
The fewer parents we have asking for homework, the better off our kids will be. And maybe one day, so few parents will be asking for it that grade-school homework will be the exception rather than the rule.
Because this isn’t about avoiding the nightly homework battles. This is about protecting the spark we see in our children’s eyes when they’re learning something new and loving it.
A Special Note to Teachers and Principals
You already know homework is pointless for grade-school kids, but you’re in a tough spot. How the heck are you supposed to do the right thing when parents keep asking for homework? And not just asking for it, but demanding it?
I’m no expert in childhood education, but I have learned a thing or two about behavior change in my career. Before I became a full-time blogger about a year ago, my job revolved around getting thousands of employees on board with new behaviors and policies.
In a future post, I’ll share some tips just for you. Join my weekly-ish newsletter here to find out when it’s ready.
Download my FREE cheat sheet: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
If the nightly homework battles are getting to you, you might find this useful, too: Here’s the Secret Phrase to Turn Your Kid Into an Amazing Student.
What do the nightly homework battles look like in your house? Share in a comment below!