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Does homework help or hurt our kids?
Erin Stewart writes that homework can be frustrating for both students and parents. - photo by Erin Stewart
As kids head back to school, that means homework is back in full swing, striking fear into the hearts of parents everywhere.

I personally have been brushing up on some of my go-to homework time phrases. For example, homework help always starts out with me in a flurry of mother-of-the-year parenting as my bright-eyed daughter grabs a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil. I say stellar parenting things like:

Ok, lets look at it together. We can do this!

Then, things get a little more frustrating. My daughter gnaws on the No. 2 pencil as I question her:

How can you be reading the directions if your eyes arent on the paper?

And then we end up with my daughters muscles inexplicably not working as she goes limp in her chair and me snapping the No. 2 pencil in half as I say:

What do you mean your teacher didnt teach this yet? That doesnt make any sense! None of this makes any sense!

I try. Really, I do. But I hate homework.

It frustrates my kids, strains our relationship and keeps them inside when what they really need is to be outside running around after a long school day. It also makes me the homework warden, which is one more mean-mommy role I resent having forced upon me.

Now dont get me wrong I am not rallying to ban all homework. I think some nightly tasks are a great way to teach kids responsibility and time management. I also like being able to gauge my childrens comprehension as they either struggle or sail through their homework.

I accept that homework is a necessary part of my childrens school lives; I just dont want it to become their lives.

Any work done at home should not just be busy work or based on some erroneous notion that more homework means more success. It doesnt, and the research shows it. A Duke University professor conducted two of the most definitive studies on the impact of homework, showing that a moderate amount of take-home work is linked to better test scores in high school students. In elementary students, however, homework was not correlated with higher achievement, and in fact can have a negative effect when overdone.

Based on that research, the National PTA recommends no more than 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level.

Thats a stark difference to when my oldest daughter was in first grade on the East Coast, spending an hour each night on a homework packet an hour of tears, frustration and resentment towards school.

To make matters worse, her teacher kept the kids who didnt finish their homework in during recess to complete it. So when I would tell my daughter we were done with homework for the night because neither one of us could take one more second of it, she would burst into tears because she didnt want to miss her playground time with her friends.

We were trapped suffocated by her teachers idea that homework was helping her students get ahead. Oh how I wish I had followed the lead of another parent who set a time limit for homework and informed the teacher her child would only spend that much time and would not be missing recess for incomplete worksheets. I just followed the pack, making sure my daughter did what she was supposed to do. The result? That years homework dump completely squelched my daughters love of school and of learning, and weve been recovering ever since.

Fortunately, the pile-it-on philosophy of homework for elementary school kids seems to be a fading trend and somewhat less of a phenomenon in our new home in the West. School systems are taking note of the homework research, with one school in Massachusetts even implementing a strict no-homework policy this year, according to Of course, the school also extended the day by two hours to compensate for the homework time.

I dont know what the answer is, although I dont think it will be found in either extreme of banning homework completely or piling it on like our kids are worksheet machines.

But I also know that kids need to have lives outside of school once that bell rings. Their bodies need to play. Their brains need to relax. Their families need to spend an evening together not fighting about denominators.

And most importantly, they need to grow a love for learning, which is hardly ever found in the minutia of take-home worksheets.
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