I happened across a couple of posts over at White Trash Mom where they’re upset with the ever increasing amount of homework their kids are having to complete. The Tacky Princess gets a good rant going about the amount of homework her kids have each day. She talks about a new book out called The Case Against Homework which has caused quite a stir with claims that too much homework is hurting our kids, not helping them:

"For example, most parents (as well as many teachers) would be surprised to hear that there’s absolutely no proof that homework helps elementary school pupils learn more or have greater academic success. In fact, as this book will explain, when children are asked to do too much nightly work, just the opposite has been found. And study after study shows that homework is not much more beneficial in middle school either. Even in high school, where there can be benefits, they start to decline as soon as kids are overloaded."

The Tacky Princess is at the end of her rope:

Teachers, we love you so, and I know that you are overworked and underpaid, and yada, yada, yada. AND, I truly appreciate all that you do. But could you pile on any more hours of homework every night? Is ANYONE with me? Whatever happened to time for kids to play outside after school? When your 5th grader comes home from school, takes 20 minutes to have a quick snack and tell you about her day, gets right down to homework, works diligently until dinner – and let’s face it, folks, we don’t eat until 645 or 7:00 many nights at our house – and THEN, still has to get right back to her homework after we finish dinner…DON’T YOU THINK THAT’S A LITTLE MUCH????

For some reason, every year, the Pollyanna in me thinks that it’s going to get better. I’ve talked to parents from public, parochial and private schools, and we’re all saying the same thing. GIVE THE KIDS A BREAK! I’m all for a good education. Don’t get me wrong. And you know, my husband and I happen to be blessed with children who have no learning disabilities and who pick things up very easily. S0, if they are having trouble, how about those who are not so fortunate? They need a little time to recharge their batteries – not to mention do chores for their WT moms, for Pete’s sake. I mean, I wind up feeling guilty asking my kids to set the table for dinner and take the trash out, let alone changing the oil in the car or cleaning out the refrigerator (hey, someone has to do those things, right?!). They are so overwhelmed, and it’s only the second week of school.

White Trash Mom follows up with a post containing some research results related to homework load and overall performance:

Homework’s defenders say it increases students’ mental capabilities and organization skills, which are necessary to the success of the person in question later in her or his life. This may not happen if inability to cope with the homework results in the student’s coping with life breaking down under the stress, in mental health episodes, or in a need to avoid education altogether after being over-pressured to develop skills irrelevant to the student’s interests.

In one recent study, a correlation was shown between students’ performance and time spent on homework. Some students notice a direct correlation between the amount of homework they do and the number of questions missed on a test.

I can’t help but notice how school has suddenly expanded into the home more and more. My kids went to school the first day with 2-3 shopping bags FULL of supplies that the school could not provide. Every. Single. Student. The PTA here has to pay for one of the two copiers because the district can’t afford to pay for the second one and limits how many copies they can make on the ‘school’ copier. Now beyond having to constantly subsidize the materials used in school, we have more and more of the work being sent home to complete. Teachers are spending an ever increasing amount of their meager salaries on supplies for their classrooms. Now the afternoon is becoming ‘School Day Phase II’ where kids are given a huge amount of work to go through because the teachers can’t possibly fit it all into the teaching hours.

The catch for parents of kids in youth sports is you are made to feel like you’re hurting your kids due to their participation. If you say ‘My kids never get a break because of all the homework they have to do’, you get told ‘well if your kids didn’t play sports they’d have more time.’ Yeah, and turn into drones. Where is the happy medium? My kids do well in school and understand their material most of the time. Yet they still can spend upwards of two-three hours working on the various assignments due both the next day and week long assignments due on Friday. Just this week, my 4th grader had to write a story containing ten words off his spelling list – which were rock types. Sedimentary, obsidian, igneous, metamorphic, minerals, with some other fun words like fertilizer and conglomerate thrown in. How mind numbing is that? Heck I had trouble coming up with a story concept that wasn’t just ‘Sedimentary rocks are rocks which….’ I’m all for creative thinking but lets be realistic.

Our kids participate in sports because they enjoy it and because Soccer Mom and I refuse to raise couch potatoes. Sure, my kids have a Game Boy they play when it’s raining, we’re in the car on long trips, and when they have a free moment some evenings, etc. But a structured activity makes it easier to get them up and out to get some physical activity. That is important to being a well rounded and healthy person. But the increasing homework load is becoming a major problem. On days when our kids have practice or a match, it’s home at 3, quick snack and at the table working on homework. Try to finish the homework and get fed by 5:30/6 in time to make practice. Home at 7:30-8, shower, and go to sleep. They don’t get time to just decompress. Yet it’s our fault because they participate in sports, not that homework is taking up 2+ hours of their afternoons.

Kids need time to decompress and unwind, just like adults do. I know my kids would be much happier to be able to come home and relax for 30-60 minutes before diving into homework. I can attest that Friday afternoons tend to be the calmest afternoons because they don’t have homework, even if they have a soccer match that night. It is easy to see why many kids, exhausted from a full school day AND hours of homework just collapse in front of the TV to veg until bedtime instead of heading off to an activity.

Which brings me to the point of this post (there usually is one). How do you handle the increasing homework load with your kids? I’ve had kids on my U10 team bring homework with them to the fields to work on before a match because they couldn’t get done in time. Believe me, as a coach – school comes first. If a parent says Jack or Jill is having trouble in school and they’ll be taking a break from soccer to get their grades up I support it 110%. But I can’t help but feel that kids are losing something of their childhood because school is now consuming almost 10 of the 14 hours they’re usually awake Monday through Thursday. Add in breakfast, dinner, chores and there’s almost no time left to be a kid and participate in whatever they might enjoy such as sports, free play, dance lessons, or just goofing around on a swing set.

It only gets worse as the kids get older. Are increasing homework loads becoming an issue in your household? How are you balancing it and your kid’s desire to participate in activities outside of school (or for older kids – after school) I certainly don’t recall having this much homework as a kid – maybe once in a while, but not day after day. How are you balancing your kids lives with a school comes first philosophy that doesn’t end up stripping them of their childhood?

UPDATE: Lest you think I was joking about school encroaching more and more, check out the tactics of a PTA trying to guilt parents into volunteering for the PTA. On a survey asking if they wanted to volunteer and what job they’d like to do, the last checkbox was "No, I do not want to get involved. I want my children to be thieves, drug addicts and prostitutes." Cute. (Via LDSM, Soccer Mom) If you really want to laugh over one Mom’s fight against her local PTA, check out Mommy Needs Coffee

UPDATE #2: I’ve written a followup to this covering some recent research from a Duke University researcher on the benefits of homework related to the age of the students.