Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homework vs. Play

This article really got me going. (For those not clicking the link, it's about the ineffectiveness of homework. Homework, according to this article, affects neither test scores nor grades.) But I'll take that as a given. For the most part, homework is a waste of time, and I'm sure I'll rant about that another day.

For today, I want to focus on what homework takes away from a child's life. Because whatever time a child is spending on homework is time that she could be using to do something else. And as long as you leave the TV off, or use it only for video games, whatever your child is doing is probably better for her than doing homework.

The importance of play in child development has been well-established in articles like this and this and this. Personally, I feel there should be more time for play in school. But if school is to be reserved for academics, so be it. There is some sense in that. After school, however, should be reserved for pursuing a child's interests (where applicable) and for play.

We try to limit Boo's screen time for several reasons. The most compelling reason is that when we turn off the TV, we have to come up with something else to do. That used to be my responsibility, when Boo was little and I was a stay-at-home-mom. Now, as often as not, Boo will come up with activities of her own. But the only reason she can do that is that she's been practicing for all of her nine years. When she was little, there were days when it was hard to keep the TV off. I had to make up artificial rules ("The TV doesn't work in the summer except when it rains.") to keep up the effort. But every day I kept the TV off was worth it, because I had to come up with something else to do. We built things, we took walks, we played games together--all because the TV was off.

Homework can be the same kind of excuse for lazy parenting. We send our kids off to do their homework and then we can spend a little while reading the paper or playing on Facebook or (if we're feeling industrious) cleaning the house. Without homework, we are forced to parent: to come up with something for the kids to do, even if it's helping us clean the house. Over the past two weeks while Boo has been on break, our family has played dozens of board games (well, about four board games, but dozens of times.) That was important family time that couldn't have happened if Boo had been spending hours doing homework. Boo also spent time with friends, playing outside or playing together inside, and with family. We've also been working on cleaning and sorting all of Boo's stuff: first cleaning her playroom and then her bedroom. She wants to move to another room in our house so everything has to be sorted and packed, which is a big job, but Boo is organizing the job, and Hopper and I, and even my parents, are helping. All of these things are important parts of childhood that I do not want Boo to miss. Especially not so that she can fill in another worksheet.

When Boo goes outside and climbs trees, or rides her bike, she's exercising, she's usually socializing, and she's learning a great deal about physics through experimentation. These are things that can't be learned in school or through homework. When she organizes a project like moving rooms, she's learning valuable skills about work, persistence and organization. Could she learn that from homework? Maybe. But the lesson is much more valuable when tied to something meaningful in her life. She wants to switch rooms. She's motivated. And she's working, day by day, toward that goal. That's something she'll remember her whole life. When she is finally settled in that new room, she'll feel really satisfied with the work that she's done, and really pleased that the adults in her life have helped her achieved that goal. That's a meaningful achievement that's its own reward, and that whole experience: setting a goal, enlisting people to help her, and then working over the course of a week or two until the goal is achieved, is a really important learning experience that can't easily be duplicated by any school project.

If you haven't already seen it, watch Race to Nowhere. Get on their website, join their movement, and lobby at your child's school for the homework load to be reduced. And then go do something--anything--with your kids.


  1. I agree 10,000 per cent with everything you have stated. We too greatly limit screen time for our boy and always have. We don't own a gaming system and have only one tv for the whole family to share, which greatly helps in achieving our goal of no more than 1 hour on any given day (unless sick, snowed in or rainy).

    We have also taught our only child boy how to play on his own and come up with activities that are creative since a young age and he can now happily fill his weekends with all sorts of fun things -- building a zoo from Lego (not a kit) was done over Christmas break. More often than not you will find him building marble runs using whatever he can find and testing out how to make it go faster, further, higher, etc.

    This weekend was a rare one - he had zero homework. He spent the entire weekend on the go with hockey, basketball, playing with Hot Wheels, hanging out with friends. He also spent some time drawing (one of his passions) and (without being asked) writing in his journal he got for Christmas that he has written in 2-3x per week because he likes to write when no one is telling him what to say.

    On the nights that he has 2+ hours of homework, no one in our house is happy. He is too tired to focus on it after being in school and then going to the after care program... and by the time his Dad and I get home from work, get supper made, start a load of laundry, we are kind of pooped out too. Our biggest source of friction on weeknights is homework. We all hate it. I have been actively campaigning it against it and it is starting to work. I have other parents on my side in his class too.

    Okay, sorry for the essay ... I am just equally as passionate about this as you are.

    1. Can't he do his homework in aftercare? Boo uses aftercare rarely but when she does one of the nice things about it is that she comes home with her homework done and we don't have to worry about it.

    2. He could do his homework during after care, but he generally chooses to go outside and play with his friends on the playground. They have just one outside recess during the entire school day and by the time 2:40 pm comes around he needs to get out and run. He has three really good friends in after care with him and I want him to have time to socialize.

  2. Great post! Liam's school (so far, we are in grade 4 this year) has pretty limited homework and there isn't a huge fuss made on getting it done. They do ask for reading time everyday, which would be happening anyway, so we don't have the same feelings of frustration and being overwhelmed that I hear from so many other parents.