This article was published more than 3 years ago
I’ve opted out of homework for my young children. Here’s why, and how you can, too.
Each year the complaints start to trickle in from friends and co-workers right around the second week of school: “Little Johnny has so much homework. In first grade! He’s exhausted already.” “I spend all of my free time after work trying to help my third-grader figure out his math homework. It leaves us both in tears.” “There is just too much. Why is there so much? When I was a kid, we didn’t have this many work sheets.”
I support the sentiment behind these complaints. What I don’t understand is why so many parents continue to go along with it.
“Just opt out,” I say.
This seems like a common sense and practical approach, yet many friends I’ve spoken with have not considered it, and they say, “What do you mean, opt out?”
Last year, my kindergartner was given a monthly calendar filled with daily assignments. I promptly emailed his teacher a version of the note I’ve sent on behalf of my older child for several years: “Dear [teacher]: My little guy sure adores you! I want to let you know that our family does not support homework for children in elementary school. Research indicates that it does not improve school performance, and I would rather my children have time for free play after a long day at school. As such, we are opting him out of homework. Please don’t bother to send the work sheets home.”
When I tell friends this, I’m met with incredulity, but it’s not because they disagree. “Wait. You can do that? How can you do that? I thought homework was mandatory.”
But the truth is, most teachers have agreed with me. Enthusiastically, in many cases. And not once has a teacher pushed back or insisted I make my child do homework. One teacher responded that he was thankful I sent the note, so he could share it with the district. Another informed me that she only gives so much homework because some parents protest if she doesn’t properly train their children to commit to completing daily work sheets. How will they ever survive in the “real world?” these parents ask the teacher. We laughed together, but I was horrified.
For my 6-year-old and my 10-year-old, this is the real world. They are already working hard — learning everything from how to do fractions to how to share to how to stand up to bullies to how to not be a bully. By the time they get home each afternoon, they are thrilled to battle each other with light sabers, race in circles around the backyard, or sink onto the sofa with a book they have chosen. I can relate — most days I long to do that myself. I know I’m not alone at feeling overwhelmed with my workload. So why, then, do grown-ups feel the need to push our smallest ones, who still find joy in pretend kitchens and climbing trees, into an adult world where homework is purportedly required to survive — or to succeed?
Too much homework? Some parents are just opting out.
Some research has indicated that homework is not helpful in elementary school — and could actually be harmful . Several years back, this conversation was rampant — and many parents and teachers pushed back to the point where districts started banning homework . Yet a few short years later, the buzz is dying down, and it’s business as usual for many of our small, overloaded kids.
Our district in a large metropolitan area is still issuing massive amounts of homework at some of its elementary schools. And few parents I know have considered opting out. As a child in the 1970s, I never had homework outside the occasional diorama, insect collection or balsa wood Viking ship. Yet somehow I managed to muster my way through high school, college and graduate degrees with great grades — and a love of learning that remained unhampered by rote memorization and painful work sheets.
I understand my privilege; school was fairly easy for me, and I was a teacher’s kid who undoubtedly learned extra tidbits at home after school and all summer. But for those kids who need extra help or who lack support at home, I have seen no evidence that these constant homework assignments help. Instead, one could argue that all we are doing is adding an extra burden onto the shoulders of working parents who struggle to find enough minutes in the day to feed their kids, let alone practice spelling C-A-T after their tired child has spent seven hours in full-day kindergarten, and often after-care as well.
I imagine that there are still parents who think their kids need homework despite research that indicates otherwise. Here’s what I say: You be you. I won’t judge. There is far too much judgment happening toward parents these days.
But to my friends who agree with me, yet are surprised by our ability to opt out, I say: Remember that you are the parents. Your opinion matters. And for every one teacher (if any) who may push back, I suspect there are another 10 who will cheer you on.
So give it a try. Instead of spending every free moment searching through your child’s Thursday folder and weeping over all those pictures of clock faces with the hands pointing every which way, you can rejoice at the empty homework section. Then you’ll have plenty of time to focus on the sneaky flier stuffed into the front: School Fundraiser! Don’t forget to dress your child in a (very specific) (wacky) outfit (that no one actually owns) every day next week!
Rebecca Swanson lives in Colorado with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter @RebeccaLSwanson.
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Our No Homework Policy
At The Country School, children have no homework until the second trimester of 5th grade. There is no evidence of a clear connection between homework, improved test scores and academic achievement in the lower grades. Traditional homework also limits valuable family time, and may even be detrimental to students’ mental health. Once homework is introduced in the latter part of 5th grade, teachers are conscientious about balancing the homework load, teaching students the skills to manage the work, and making sure that the homework assigned always serves a purpose and is connected to helping students achieve the highest academic standards
We want kids to spend their afternoons playing, exploring and getting recharged for the next day. We want to give our students their lives back, and our parents their kids back. This is a bold move, and we have our work cut out for us, but we don’t want to spend another minute tied to traditional ways of doing things when we know they are not right for our kids. With our roots firmly planted in progressive education, we place an emphasis on learning by doing, through hands on projects and teachers who engage students in understanding and experiencing – rather than just memorizing and regurgitating for tests. I believe this approach creates students with a lifelong love of learning, and the skills and confidence to succeed both inside and outside the classroom – academically, socially, and emotionally.
The Parent/School Partnership
Learning should still take place at home with or without homework. Our policy gives families the freedom to let their interests and passions guide their learning. Science experiments, playing outside, cooking and reading books together become an equally important part of a child’s development, along with the curriculum they learn at school. At the elementary level, it is expected that parents will support their child’s learning through nightly reading, reviewing math facts, practicing spelling words, etc. Teachers are happy to help provide ideas and resources for continuing the learning at home if needed.
Our no homework policy in lower grades allows you to be a partner in your child’s education. While our rigorous academic standards are fostered in the classroom, your family is empowered to explore and create your own path for learning at home.
How to find free tutoring for your child
by: Carol Lloyd | Updated: November 15, 2022
Decades ago, under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, some children were eligible for free tutoring, though many children never received it. Now under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state gets to decide what kind of educational services it offers. But no matter what state you live in, you can still find free tutoring (or at least low-cost) from kindergarten to college.
What are the benefits of tutoring?
Decades of research suggest that tutoring is one of the most effective ways to support a struggling student . Whether it is individual tutoring or learning in a small group, your child will likely benefit from getting personalized support on their math, reading, or another academic subject. In addition, if your child is struggling with study skills or organization, a tutor can also help refocus your child and help them catch up on their school work.
Even though most public school teachers are required to have teaching credentials, the same is not typically true when it comes to tutors. In fact, a lot of tutoring programs employ college or high school students to support younger students. This means that parents need to do their homework to make sure their child receives tutoring that is truly helpful. Research shows that although the most effective tutoring is done by teachers or other trained experts, peer tutoring can also work well as long as the student tutors have been trained.
If you find a tutoring program connected to your school or district, ask school officials and tutoring service providers whether a tutoring program follows your district’s program of instruction. It’s also important to know whether a tutor will regularly communicate with your child’s teacher and with you. Don’t assume this will happen: always ask.
How to find free tutors near you
In many cases, access to free tutoring is based on your family income. For instance, if your child qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch or attends a Title I school (where more than 40 percent of the students are from low-income families), your child may have access to special services at your child’s school or district. These services may take place during school hours or after school at your child’s school, or at another local public school. The best way to find out is to ask your child’s school about any free tutoring services offered by your school or the district.
Another important source of free tutoring is your local public library. Many libraries have after-school programs, college counseling programs, and tutoring programs in reading and math. Some of these programs offer individual tutoring in person. Others have arrangements with large national tutoring services, like Tutoring.com to give all children that use their library access to free tutoring. In this case, the tutoring would be online and you would need both an internet connection and a library card number to sign in.
Beyond schools and libraries, who provides affordable tutoring?
Before you begin looking for a tutoring program, first consider what fits your child’s needs and your budget. Read Need to Get a Tutor? Here are Questions You Should Ask for ideas about what to ask when you’re considering a tutor. Tutoring providers can be for-profit companies, nonprofit groups, private individuals, or colleges. Some are large national organizations with hundreds of tutors; others are quite small with just a handful of tutors. Whatever the case, you want a tutor who is a good fit for your child and for your family.
What’s better: Online tutoring vs in-person tutoring?
This is a question you need to ask your child. If the answer is in-person, you should search google for “free tutoring near me” or “free tutoring in [your town or city].” That way you can find out about small, in-person tutoring opportunities that a more general search will not turn up. Some national nonprofits also offer programs with free in-person tutoring.
Boys and Girls Clubs of America
In many locations, this national nonprofit offers “ Power Hour ,” an after-school program that helps kids and teens get their homework done. In some locations, it even includes free one-on-one tutoring. Joining the club involves an annual fee of $5 to $50 dollars, but families can apply for financial aid.
YMCA is a national nonprofit that offers a range of services for families, including academic support like low-cost and free after-school homework programs and tutoring . Find the closest YMCA and see what programs they offer. Some YMCAs hire certified teachers in their programs, while others are more like after-school clubs.
How to find free online tutoring
If you decide to search for an online tutor, there’s a wide variety of options to explore. It all can be overwhelming because the No Child Left Behind law created a huge market in online tutors – and some of them haven’t survived. What’s more, some tutoring services are designed only for special groups of students, such as students with learning disabilities. So as you look for online tutors, make sure your child qualifies before you apply.
Tutoring for all children
Bored of boredom.
This ambitious program offers free tutoring for K-12 students. Although it began in Los Angeles, this student-led service now operates nationwide and engages thousands of tutors.
Drawing on thousands of volunteers from universities across the country, CovEducation provides free tutoring and mentoring by partnering with local organizations or school districts. They then match children served by those organizations or districts with one of their volunteer tutors. Check where they operate near you and see if your child can get access to their services.
This online platform for students at least 13 years old offers free peer-to-peer tutoring in live sessions for up to 10 students. Founded by Khan Academy ’s Sal Khan, the program is available to students nationwide.
This is another free service that draws on the talents of student volunteers. The platform engages high school students by providing group tutoring sessions in multiple subjects, including math and English, for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Tutoring for students from low-income families
Learn to be.
This volunteer organization provides free tutoring to students who come from underserved communities and uses a pay-what-you-can model. The organization offers one-on-one tutoring in all K-12 subjects.
As a nonprofit organization, UPcheive has set a goal that by 2030 it will be able to support all 8 million low-income high school students in the nation. High school students from eligible families can get free online help in math, reading, science, and writing, as well as SAT and college prep.
This nonprofit offers K-12 students from low-income households in 15 states free tutoring through an online platform. Check their website to see if it’s available near you.
For students with learning differences
Children’s dyslexia centers.
Dedicated to supporting children with learning differences, these centers offer free in-person individual tutoring in reading to students with dyslexia from grades 1 through 12. All tutors get training in the science of reading. Please note: Your child will need a formal diagnosis to receive services.
For students from military families
This for-profit company provides free online tutoring for children from U.S. military families, including service members, civilian personnel, and their dependents. This special program, which offers students homework help 24/7, can be accessed around the world wherever families live.
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How’s that saying go again…too many cooks?
That’s what Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, discovered was happening in her own kitchen.
Tavenner and her husband initially had a great idea: have their teenage son, Rett, cook one of the family’s meals per week. This would give them a night off and help Rett gain a pretty important life skill.
But, being pretty good cooks themselves, they soon found themselves not so much guiding Rett through the cooking process as much as doing things for him.
“We forgot what it was to be a novice,” Tavenner says, “and so, he would ask a simple question, and next thing you know, one of us is in the kitchen doing it for him. And he’s sort of standing back and on the side, and we realize we just took over, we weren’t actually supporting. We were just doing it for him.”
Pulling back, they gave Rett tips, but let him take charge.
“I had to take the initiative,” Rett says.
Sure, there were burnt dishes and some undercooked dishes, but there was also the chance to learn how to learn; a chance to improve by building off his mistakes.
As the weeks progressed, Rett saw his skills develop. He returned to recipes he cooked in the past, and saw how his techniques had gotten better— this family chore had turned into a real-world, edible aptitude test.
Tavenner, a former teacher, saw this “spoon-fed” approach to learning as being a problem not just in her family kitchen, but in the American educational system.
So, she created Summit Public Schools, a charter school system with a new approach to education: students have numerous opportunities to improve their grade.
What they don’t have? Assigned homework.
A New Recipe
It begins with the will to start something new.
“If we want to truly prepare our kids to have a chance to live their best life, we need to radically rethink the education we grew up with, and the message it’s sending,” Tavenner says.
To keep it in the kitchen, think of the traditional public education system as handing students a recipe and the ingredients.
The message is: here’s what you need to know and if you’re successful, you’ll get an “A” on your first test.
But in the real world, things aren’t so straight forward — so, Summit takes a different approach.
Students “have the ingredients, but we must learn how to make the recipe,” Rett, who was also a student at Summit, says.
“People can help you along the way with learning the recipes, but ultimately you must take center stage. That is what self-directed learning is.”
At Summit, students are given the opportunity to change a grade over time if they show continuous improvement.
By allowing students to continue working on subjects to improve their grades, Summit builds in the chance to “fail forward” — to learn from your mistakes. (Like, say, making sure to grease a pan the next time you cook.)
Each student is mentored weekly by an assigned teacher. The mentors stay with students throughout their academic career, providing continued support and offering parents a constant point of contact. According to Tavenner, research has found that mentoring improves a student’s sense of belonging and success beyond grade school.
Those mentors help kids actively engage in their hands-on, project-based work. Through these projects, students may design a house to put principles of geometry to work, grow their own plants, or build a model rocket.
“Project-based learning is real world learning,” Tavenner says. “Authentic learning. It’s the type of learning where kids are getting really hands-on. They’re asking big questions.”
In addition to its regular curriculum, Summit offers an eight week guided learning program where the students choose the field they’re interested in and get to ask the big questions they want to ask — a freedom not always found in the current public education system.
The foundation of all of this is giving students agency and autonomy in their educational journey.
“When you give kids responsibility, they become invested because they actually know that what they are doing means something and that it’s dependable and accountable and all of that leads to growth,” Rett says.
Finding the Ingredients
While attending Summit, Rett felt he had space to learn — the ability, and responsibility, to shape his learning in ways that best fit him.
Learning how to learn was one of the central aspects of my learning environment.
That environment allowed him to explore one of his passions: history. In one class, Rett and his classmates were split into eight groups representing different countries on the eve of World War I. Each country had its needs, goals, and certain rules to follow, but the students had the freedom to interact among themselves.
Pushing and pulling against each other made the events come alive: it stopped being just events and dates on a textbook page.
“I think I remember the causes and effects of World War I…far better than I would have if I were in a traditional environment,” he says.
Summit’s ten West Coast campuses have drawn plaudits from the tech industry, and earned her a seat on the board of trustees at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The public charter schools are free to attend, with enrollments on a rolling basis.
Summit’s approach to education may not work for every student — and Tavenner says that’s ok. She says asking whether an approach to learning can be applied across the board to all students isn’t the right question to be asking.
“The question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘does what work? For whom? Under what circumstances?’” Tavenner says.
“And the power of those three questions is actually asking about each individual student.”
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Parents Are Asking for No Homework Before Middle School—Here's What Experts Say
After over a year and a half of pandemic stress, some parents are taking a stand against homework for kids grades k-5. here's what experts have to say..
Well before the pandemic, the years-old debate around homework for elementary schoolers was reaching a fever pitch. Older research published in the American Journal of Family Therapy found that elementary school students were receiving about three times as much homework as recommended by the National Education Association (NEA). (The NEA's go-to rule is that students should have a nightly 10 minutes per grade level.) Add a pandemic, remote learning, stress of all kinds amplified to the nth degree for both parents and kids to the mix, and it's no surprise that parents are speaking out in favor of putting a stop to homework for elementary school children altogether.
"Kids have been through a tough couple of years, and they may need some downtime," says Michele Borba , Ed.D., an educational psychologist and best-selling author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine . "Homework is becoming more busywork as opposed to a learning tool, and many parents are raising the white flag."
Here is what parents and experts are currently saying about the homework debate, along with tips to make assignments less burdensome.
The 'No Homework Before Middle School' Movement
In September, Melinda Wenner Moyer, journalist and author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes , wrote a piece on her Substack newsletter calling attention to the science of homework and the issues facing parents with elementary schoolers specifically. She points to a 2006 analysis of the research on homework by Harris Cooper, a neuroscientist and social psychologist at Duke, which found no relationship between the amount of homework elementary school students did and their overall academic achievement.
"Maybe, after such a trying year, schools will recognize that the emotional health of their students should be priority—and that homework doesn't provide much of a benefit," writes Moyer.
In response, organizational psychologist Adam Grant agreed, tweeting, "In elementary schools, assigning more homework doesn't improve grades or test scores. And it seems to hurt those who are already disadvantaged. The past 18 months have been stressful enough. Let's give kids a break: no homework before middle school."
Twitter users jumped onboard , applauding the take. But how educators will respond to this plea has yet to be seen.
What Experts Say About Homework
According to some parents, elementary schoolers spend about one to two hours a day on homework, says Reena B. Patel, licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie & Her Worries . That means they're lacking time to unwind, participate in leisure activities, and get a good night's sleep. "Plus, if you have a child in extracurricular activities, they may not get to homework until later that night," she notes.
Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of Becoming A Happy Family: Pathways to the Family Soul , agrees, emphasizing the importance of unstructured, relaxing moments for kids. "There is tremendous value in what I call 'hammock time.' This means daydreaming, hanging out, getting lost in your thoughts, doodling, and reading. Children are nourished by introspective time to wonder and dream."
Beyond that, researchers have yet to find that homework bolsters learning for elementary schoolers.
"There is no evidence, in any research conducted on homework, of any benefits to homework before middle school," says Dorothy Shapland , Ed.D., an associate professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "All arguments for homework are based on the idea that it is beneficial and not on any research that it makes a difference in learning."
What Parents Can Do to Help
In the meantime, kids are still getting homework, but experts say there are ways for parents to help them through it. Dr. Borba advises parents go to kids' annual back-to-school night session and learn more about each teacher's expectations for homework. If they say it's 30 minutes or 15 minutes, but you're spending more like three hours, that's your cue to call a parent-teacher conference and discuss the disconnect.
Parents can feel empowered to speak up about their child's homework, because in the long-run, what elementary school kids need more than anything is to prioritize their mental health and well-being, focusing on getting outdoors and enjoying physical activity, as well as reading and doing intellectually-stimulating games and puzzles.
Ultimately, using the NEA's guideline, kids can slowly but surely get accustomed to putting in more minutes of homework per night as time goes on. "Moderation is critical," says Dr. Borba.
In the meantime, if you and your elementary schooler are still struggling with squeezing in homework, consider the following tips:
Break it up
Instead of waiting until after dinner, sprinkle in a few minutes here or there. "Spend five minutes on flashcards while waiting to pick up big brother from a soccer game," suggests Dr. Borba. "Figure out how to weave it in, so it's little nuggets along the way, and therefore, more natural, easy, and stress-reducing."
Do the hardest homework first
Getting more difficult assignments out of the way first will boost your child's feeling of accomplishment while reducing their anxiety about having to tackle something they find challenging, explains Dr. Borba.
Set a timer
Whether a child needs to put in a little more time on their homework or they are actually working too long and hard, you can set a boundary around how long they're sitting. Dr. Borba recommends setting a timer. When it goes off, it's time to put homework aside and go play.
In the end, Dr. Borba says parents and schools need to get on the same page about elementary school homework. "We've gotta get our kids back on track," she notes. "But we've gotta do it in a way in which it's reasonable, it's manageable, and it's also in line with our kids' mental health and well-being."
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VDA’s No Homework Policy
by Lisa VanDamme
Every year, dozens of parents sit at my desk and describe to me the intense frustration they feel as they watch their children churned through the public schools. One of the refrains of their complaints: endless homework.
And no wonder:
- The work itself is largely pointless. Students must complete countless contrived worksheets meant primarily to satisfy state standards for homework volume.
- Their children are overwhelmed, trying to cram this busywork into car rides, between afterschool activities.
- Parents do not know the material themselves. They are often unable to help, and sometimes they even hinder the children with their own confused instruction.
- There is no sacred family time. Instead, the time for bonding between parents and children is compromised by battles over homework.
- There is no sacred free time; the time the child should be allowed to rest, play, spend time with family and pursue personal interests is compromised by the looming responsibility of performing hours of homework drudgery.
VanDamme Academy has a policy of no homework
Yes, you read that correctly.
At VanDamme Academy, the only daily, on-going responsibility given the children outside school hours is to read. Reading is an activity best done alone, in the quiet of the child’s own bedroom. It is a very independent and personal task, and—if it is the right book and taught properly—a very pleasurable one, too.
Math practice is done in math class. We give students ample time to learn, practice, and master new concepts under the close supervision of the teacher. Essays are written in writing class. Writing, which is one of the most challenging and comprehensive skills a student must learn, demands the constant monitoring and assistance of the teacher.
That such disciplines are neglected during the day—and then sent home in a mad-dash effort to get the kids up to speed for standardized testing—is criminal.
It is not surprising that our policy does wonders for parents’ relationships with their children. I will never forget when a parent sat at my desk one day and told me, with tears in his eyes: “You have given back our family life.”
But, you might ask, how do VanDamme Academy students fare when they are sent off to high school with their homework-laden peers?
Well, consider this typical comment by a non-VDA parent at a high school attended by several VanDamme Academy graduates—each of whom had several homework-free years: “Do you have to be a complete genius to go to that school?” You don’t have to be a genius to go to our school or learn from our courses—but the level of knowledge and caliber of thinking that our curriculum instills can make our graduates seem like geniuses.
Our students shine because we make efficient use of the school day, focusing on those subjects which are most essential to the cognitive development of the child—because we give students careful supervision in the development of academic skills instead of shunting that task off to parents—because we revere and enjoy the work itself, and do not feel compelled to "jazz it up" with treats and distractions—because we present the material in a careful, systematic, hierarchical manner, one which allows the child to grasp and keep the knowledge presented—and because the effect of all of this is intelligent, driven students who love to learn.
read testimonials about our policy from VDA Alumni →
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