My Homework Challenge: Being Your Child’s Best Advocate
HomeworkLet me guess what your biggest worries/concerns/battles are about when it comes to your child and school.         Homework, right?

What do you most want for your child? Is it to be happy, respectful, kind, responsible, confident, independent, and successful? Or would you rather your child bring home a great report card, a 3.5 GPA, and high SAT scores? Often we get mired down in the minutia of day-to-day struggles and fears and fail to see the big picture of our children’s lives.

Do you set expectations for your children’s school year that are unrealistic for your child? Do you spend time worrying about your child failing or at least not meeting up to the students who do the best? Do you harp on homework and end up in battles?

Certainly a good education is important to gaining happiness and confidence. The question is, does a good education require hours of homework each night. Or is a better education achieved when a child loves to learn?

A child who loves to learn has spent the better part of his early childhood learning through plenty of self-directed play and who enjoys school—where the school and the child fit. Our current public school system seems to be undermining this process. Competition in the science and math world has trickled down to “No Child Left Behind” requiring standardized testing, grading school performance, and competition for federal dollars. Many teachers’ hands are tied by administrators focused on the success of the school. Teachers are under pressure to teach a curriculum that requires more hours in the day than they have.

All of this puts pressure on worried parents who try to give their child a head start with Baby Mozart, flash cards and extra curricular activities. Homework is being given in Kindergarten and even preschool. Left in the dust is play.

The case against homework is outlined in three books, (Kralovec and Buell, Bennett and Kalish, and Kohn), touting it as detrimental to a child’s academic success. But even research in support of homework (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall, 2006) shows that it gives no achievement gain for the child before grade 4, and the gains in grades 4-6 are minimal.

Researchers have offered recommendations. Cooper, et. al (2006) agree with Good and Brophy (2003) who have “…cautioned that teachers must take care not to assign too much homework. They suggested that homework must be realistic in length and difficulty given the students’ abilities to work independently. Thus, 5 to 10 minutes per subject might be appropriate for 4th graders, whereas 30 to 60 minutes might be appropriate for college-bound high school students.” Cooper (2007) suggested that research findings support the “10-minute rule”: “All daily homework assignments combined should take about as long to complete as 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level.” 15 minutes when reading is included.

And this article posted by the World Economic Forum tells us that play is the most important activity your child needs to learn complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity — the three top skills needed for successful work in this new age. Why do our schools proceed with earlier and more homework ignoring the research? Do we really want our children to hate school for the sake of gaining points on the Chinese? Better that we look to the Finnish.

Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000, a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, showed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries in science. In the 2009 PISA scores, Finland came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. The US hovers around the midpoint of all countries.

Finland’s school system:

• gives minimal homework only to high schoolers

• gives only one standardized test at age 16. A Helsinki principal with 24 years teaching experience said, “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

• averages 75 minutes of playtime a day

• has a student/teacher ratio of 1-12 (NYC: 1-24)

• requires a masters degree for all teachers

• gives teachers independence in their lesson plans and text books

Some reasons for their success:

• teachers have the highest vocational status followed by physicians. The masters degree in education is sought after by 25% of college students.

• day care, preschool and college are free (although taxes are very high)

• preschools (before 1st grade) focus on social skills, emotional awareness, and play. Finnish children don’t approach reading until age seven.

• parents receive 3 years maternity leave and approx. 150 euros per month per child until age 17.

• educational competition is downplayed.

My challenge to you

This is especially for parents of elementary aged children. Talk to your children’s teachers and tell them your educated knowledge of this research on homework and it’s detrimental effects on play and family time. Tell them you want something different for your child.

I have included some approaches that you can use to create your own. You might use these guidelines when talking to your child’s K-3 teachers and use “The 10-minute rule” for your older kids:

~ Based on research done on homework and the benefits of play to her development, I will not be requiring my child to do homework this year so she has ample time for play. If it is something she wants to do, fine. But I will not be asking her to do it.

~ I’m not going to require my child to do homework until at least 4th grade since there is no evidence that it benefits learning at this point and in fact detracts from what he will get from the same amount of playtime and family connection.

~ I’ve learned through the research of Harris Cooper and his colleagues out of Duke University and the National PTA recommendations on play that there is no beneficial gain to homework in the elementary years. So unless the homework assignments are fun for my child, involve us doing something enjoyable together and do not last more than 10-15 minutes, I respectfully request that my child not be required to do homework assignments.

~ Our family is working on creating a slower pace and more relaxed down-time with plenty of time for play, family connection, and outdoor time since we want our kids to value the enjoyment of being with us and being outdoors over being on the internet, playing video games of engaging in homework battles. With that end, we are making sure homework time is never more than a few minutes. I hope you can agree with me based on the research.

~ I would like to follow Harris Cooper’s “10-minute rule” for homework—He is the main homework researcher from Duke—to insure that my child not have more than 10 minutes times his grade.

Much of the push for earlier academics comes from parents. All parents must be educated about the research. The only way school practices will turn around is with parent pressure. Use these facts, read more on the links below, and talk to other parents about how they feel.

Let’s get a movement going.

Links (check google for more):


6 thoughts on “My Homework Challenge: Being Your Child’s Best Advocate

  1. Hi Bonnie,
    Great article! My sons are now grown (college age) but I still enjoy reading your parenting tips. I thought you might be interested in the film “Race to Nowhere” which addresses the homework issue and the stress it causes our children, found at I saw it a few years ago when it was screened at Goffstown High School.
    Thanks for the great work you do!
    Best regards,
    Joyce Welton
    New Boston, NH

  2. Bonnie, I read your article on Homework this morning just as my own blog was being printed on Huffington Post regarding the same topic.
    My kids go to Chicago Public Schools. Last year the mayor decreed a seven hour school day, which leaves very little waking time at home for my kids. It’s so maddening to have to use up that time with more academics. Just sharing the link here.

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