a young girl is doing her homework


Homework As We Know It Doesn’t Properly Serve Every Kind of Kid — So I Think I’m Done With It

Nov 20, 2019

When I was a kid, I hated homework.

Infinite pages of problem-solving math, hand-scrawled essays on Canadian history or French verb conjugations — whatever it was, it infringed on those precious after-school hours where I would have rather done anything else. 

In the eternity since graduating high school, though, I came around on the idea of homework, seeing it as a necessary component of learning. As a parent, I think part of me even started liking it. My kids are still young, so it’s not like I’m facing hours of calculus or high-stress science projects. At our stage, having 20 or 30 minutes of evening homework is almost nice. It’s a good way to share part of their life I wouldn’t otherwise see — and learn firsthand — what they’re being taught and how.

This mom's take on homework is a little different: My Daughter Won't Let Me Do Her Homework

There’s also probably some comfort in realizing it’s a generational thing. I’m flashing back to my mom sitting with me at the kitchen table, trying to not get frustrated as a few simple questions on a page.  

The only difference is that now it’s me who is pretending to totally understand fractions.

This year, our eldest has a teacher who doesn’t assign homework. I’d been warned by other parents in hushed, knowing tones: “You know, she doesn’t believe in homework.” I don’t think a year of no-homework will stop my kid from getting into grad school, but it did get me thinking about the idea of take-out learning.

I truly believe that our brains need a reset each day and family time should be fun.

And the more I thought about modern life, healthy balances and ways to learn, the more I realized that maybe I didn’t believe in assigning homework either.

I’ve heard a lot of people say homework prepares kids for what it’s like to work in the real world. This might be true, but, at the same time, working in the real world is often kind of messed up.

There are so many studies out there about the effects of having an unhealthy work/life balance. I’ve gotten away (mostly) from checking my phone for emails, but there are still times when I fixate about job stuff that can wait until the next day, rather than just truly be in the moment. In an ideal world, most of us should be able to completely focus on our kids when we leave the office/factory/whatever for the day.

From the Psychology Foundation of Canada: How to Create Quality Time With Your Kids When There Is So Little Time 

I truly believe that our brains need a reset each day and family time should be fun. If adults get to leave the workplace behind each day when they clock out, shouldn’t our kids get the same opportunity, rather than keep their work going at home and lose out on free time?

For some families, there isn’t a lot of free time to begin with. There might be karate classes or swim meets or dance competitions or hockey or piano recitals. Whether it’s a case of overprogramming our kids or allowing children to pursue things they love, homework is another thing to add to the daily calendar. It’s one more activity for parents and kids alike to stress over while bedtimes get pushed later and later.

A teacher may be assigning what they feel is a straightforward hour of homework, but the ramifications could be very different for different kids.

I want our kids to explore, relax and refresh. I want them to like learning and be curious and passionate. But this can be a particularly tall ask if the homework they’re going to be assigned over the next few years ends up being repetitive or rote, or demands they memorize rather than truly investigate and understand. A lot of parents say they want their kids to get outside and to stop staring at a screen, to be active rather than curled up at a desk or table all evening, and I feel like maybe rethinking the quality and quantity of homework is part of this process.

And there are other issues with homework. In a classroom, all kids are at least theoretically using the same resources — everything should be equal. At home, though, everyone’s situation is different — some kids have helicopter parents, super-high-speed internet and quiet places to get work done, while others may be helping out with childcare at home or working a part-time job. A teacher may be assigning what they feel is a straightforward hour of homework, but the ramifications could be very different for different kids.

Too many​ parenting styles? Read this dad's take on the culture: Are You A Free-Range Or Helicopter Parent? My Advice Is To Get Over It

I get that there are lots of good reasons to assign homework; that it encourages kids to think and apply what they’ve learned. Sometimes, schoolwork just doesn’t get finished during the day and needs to come home (offering a lesson in time management and focus). I also understand that various teachers will have their own approaches and techniques, and that kids need to be adaptable and resourceful and learn how to work within different sets of expectations, especially if they want to be ready for college or university and, yes, the “real world.”

Ultimately, though, it’s important to not lose sight of how important leisure and family time are, and how kids need a break once in a while.

This means I was mostly right when I hated doing Grade 7 homework, and only now do I realize how much of a hassle it was for my parents who made me do it anyway.

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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