Erica Cardenas

A brief history of homework:

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Did you know that, in the early 20th century, the mind was viewed as a muscle that could be strengthened through mental exercise? And, since exercise could be done at home, homework was viewed favorably. 

It was during the 1940s that schools began shifting their emphasis from memorization to problem solving. Homework fell out of favor because it was closely associated with the repetition of material.

In the 1950s, Americans worried that education lacked rigor and left children unprepared for the new technologies, such as electronics. Homework, it was believed, could speed up learning. Fast forward to the 1960s, when educators and parents became concerned that homework was crowding out social experience, outdoor recreation and creative activities. 

Two decades later, in the 1980s, homework again came back into favor as it came to be viewed as one way to stem a rising tide of mediocrity in American education. The push for more homework continued into the 1990s, fueled by rising academic standards.

And, so, with this brief history behind us, the next question is: “Homework – to do, or not to do?”

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s online guide,“Homework Tips for Parents,” homework can have many benefits for young children. 

The guide suggests that homework can improve remembering and understanding of school work and can help students develop study skills that will be of value even after they leave school. It can teach them that learning takes place anywhere, not just in the classroom. Also, according to the guide, homework can foster positive character traits, such as independence and responsibility. 

However, if not properly assigned and monitored, homework might also have negative effects on children. 

Educators and parents worry that students will grow bored if they are required to spend too much time on schoolwork, and can prevent children from taking part in leisure-time and community activities that also teach important life skills. Homework can lead to undesirable character traits if it promotes cheating, either through the copying of assignments or getting help with homework that goes beyond tutoring.

The guide goes on to suggest that it remains the job of parents and educators to maximize the benefits of homework and minimize the costs.

Más homework?

What about the quantity of homework a student should receive?

Experts agree that the amount of homework should depend on the age and skills of the student. Many national groups of teachers and parents, including the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), suggest that homework for children in kindergarten through second grade is most effective when it does not exceed 10-20 minutes each day. 

In the third through sixth grades, children can benefit from 30-60 minutes of homework per day. Junior high and high school students can benefit from more time on homework, and the amount may vary from night to night.

Experts also agree that reading at home is especially important for young children. High-interest reading assignments might push the time on homework a bit beyond the suggested homework minutes. 

These recommendations are consistent with the conclusions reached by many studies that examined the effectiveness of homework. For young children, research shows that shorter and more frequent assignments may be more effective than longer but fewer assignments. This is because young children have short attention spans and need to feel that they have successfully completed a task.

Homework and parental involvement 

According the U.S. Department of Education, research also shows that parent involvement can have either a positive or negative effect on the value of homework. 

Parent involvement can be used to speed up a child’s learning, as well as enhance parents’ appreciation of education. It can give them an opportunity to express positive attitudes about the value of success in school.

However, parental involvement might also interfere with learning. 

For example, parents can confuse children if the teaching techniques they use differ from those used in the classroom. Parental involvement can turn into parental interference if parents complete tasks that the child is capable of completing alone.

Given these possibilities, the potentially most important outcome of mothers’ and fathers’ involvement with their children’s homework is that communication between the school and family can improve. 

Research shows that, if a child is having difficulty with homework, parents should become involved by paying close attention. They should expect more requests from teachers for their help. 

If a child is doing well in school, parents should consider shifting their efforts to providing support for their child’s own choices about how to do homework. 

For more homework tips, and to download the complete “Homework Tips for Parents” guide, as well as “Reading Tips for Parents,” visit the Department of Education’s website at ed.gov.

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