Thursday, September 29, 2016

What is the appropriate age for children to start getting homework?

Debbie LeeKeenan, director of the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School and a lecturer in the Department of Child Development, fills us in

young student working on homework

“In recent times, there seems to be more homework, especially for our youngest students,” says Debbie LeeKeenan. Photo: iStock

Homework is such an established part of education, it’s hard to believe it’s not all beneficial. But recent studies have found almost no correlation between homework and long-term achievement in elementary school, and only a moderate correlation in middle school.

Yet in recent times, there seems to be more homework, especially for our youngest students. That seems to have led to a backlash. Often-cited negative effects include children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities and downtime and a loss of interest in learning. Many parents lament that homework is a constant source of tension at home.

What is the purpose of homework? The best homework assignments are meaningful and authentic and are connected to classroom learning. Homework can be used to teach time management and organization, to broaden experiences and to reinforce classroom skills. Parents are not expected to play the role of the teacher or introduce new skills.

Homework can certainly benefit students. It may encourage:

Practice and review—such as reading 15 minutes each night, studying spelling words or number facts

Pre-learning—a way to introduce a new topic; for example, if the class will be studying ants, having students write questions they have about ants

Processing—if learning about moon phases in class, students would observe the moon for several nights and draw what they see and identify the phases

Checking for understanding—keeping a journal about science experiments done in class, for instance

How much homework is too much? The idea that “less is more” rules here. According to the National Education Association, guidelines are no more than 10 minutes per grade level per night (that’s 10 minutes total for a first-grader, 30 minutes for a third-grader). Some students do their homework on their own, and some parents help their children. Many teachers now give homework once a week that is due the following week to allow more flexibility and accommodate a range of student and family schedules.

Successful homework experiences have strong home-school partnerships, where the purpose of homework is clearly defined by the teacher and communicated with the student and family. When in doubt, ask!

Do you have a question for Ask the Professor? Send it to Tufts Journal editor Taylor McNeil.

Posted September 01, 2010