Ask Dr. Blank: At what age do you feel homework is appropriate?

This question has long been debated since (though it may be surprising to many) it is not clear that homework is beneficial for students at least prior to high school. Finland, a country that has one of the best educational systems in the world, does not regularly assign homework to its students and all key participants–students, parents and teachers–are pleased with the situation. Can you imagine the relief many parents in our country would experience if they did not have to nag their children about doing their homework –and if they did not have to grapple with the time and emotional demands of bouts of homework?  On the other hand, there are studies that do show that moderate amounts of homework have a positive effect on learning.  So it seems valuable to maintain homework as a potentially useful tool, provided it is carried out in a thoughtful manner.

One of the key features to be considered is the role of the parent. Unfortunately, much homework is predicated on the assumption that the child will not or cannot do the homework independently; rather parents, or other adults, are expected to help with any difficulties. In today’s busy and stressful world, however, many parents do not have the time to assist so that homework serves as one more stressor rather than a facilitator.

Hence, if one assumes (as I think we should) that a student should be able to successfully complete an assignment independently, then this immediately raises issues that are relevant to the question about age. Homework is based on the assumption that a student can sustain attention on an assignment for a period of at least 20-30 minutes. For most children until 9 or 10 years of age, we cannot rely on this level of independence.  So aside from questionable busy work such as that sent home with kindergarteners and first-graders, it should not be till about 4th grade (or later) that significant (and hopefully, well-designed) homework should enter the scene.

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