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Let the Children Play - The Case Against Homework
Date: October 17 2011

By Alison Palkhivala

Most parents agree their children are far less likely to play the types of interactive, creative group games they played as children – so much so that nostalgia sites such as gamesweusedtoplay.ca are all we have left to remind us of what childhood play used to be.

It’s easy to blame the change on video games, cable television, and a paucity of safe neighborhoods where children can run free. Undoubtedly, these all play a role. But have you ever considered the impact of homework?

United States-based research shows that the amount of time children spend doing homework increased by 51% from 1981 to 2004, and much of that is accounted for by the massive boost in homework for young elementary school children. Did you have homework in grade 1? I sure didn’t, but my kids do.

With all that homework, children simply do not have the time to play. They don’t even have the time to learn the skills that enhance play, such as throwing, catching, and hitting a ball, skating, skiing, swimming, or acting. Maybe they have time for one or two, but every fall their parents must lay down the “play” options, and they have to choose only a very small number in order to leave time for homework. Do you ever see a group of elementary school-aged children playing outside together after school on someone’s lawn or in an empty parking lot? It’s a rare occurrence. They’re all trapped at home or in daycare filling out worksheets after a day of …. you guessed it …. filling out worksheets.

Is it a coincidence that childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed in line with homework rates? I think not.

And it’s not just childhoods filled with play that we are sacrificing. Ask nearly any parent how homework eats into family life, increases stress, and acts as a chronic source of tension between parent and child.

Maybe, just maybe these sacrifices would be worthwhile if homework helped make our children brighter, more responsible, better readers, better at organizing their time and their work, better at anything. But this is not the case. For elementary school children, children who could otherwise be playing Witchy Poo, I Spy, War, Kick the Can, or simply rambling about on their skates or bicycles, there is little or no evidence that homework does anything for them at all. Don’t believe me? Click here for an excellent summary of the available research.

Many parents are reluctant to address the homework problem with their schools for fear of negative repercussions for their child. But if parents don’t speak out for their children, who will? If you are concerned about the amount of homework your child receives, please communicate this to your child’s school administration.

About the author:

Alison Palkhivala is a professional writer and journalist living in Montreal. She has two elementary school-aged children who would rather play than do homework. She loves to debate about homework and can be reached at alisonpalk[at]hotmail.com. She gets a lot of junk mail, so please include the word “homework” in your subject heading.

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