Educational Resources

The Case Against Elementary School Homework

The Case Against Elementary School Homework


For some guidance on the “dreaded homework question,” parents, teachers and administrators should refer to Dr. Harris Cooper’s book, The Battle Over Homework. In his book, Dr. Cooper (the country’s leading homework researcher and a professor at Duke University) summarizes a decade of research concluding that no direct correlation exists between elementary school homework and future success in school. He cites a “moderate correlation” for middle school students. And while the research supports a strong correlation for high school students, Harris points out that “too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive.”

Homework in a young student’s life should be a direct reflection of what is developmentally appropriate for a child at this age. Schools should focus on keeping the joy of learning alive by filling students’ days with wonder, fun, play, laughter and discovery as critical pieces of the children’s educational experience. This will result in children who love coming to school. Schools should not overload students with homework in order to educate them effectively. Instead, kids should spend time at home pursuing individual areas of passion and time for simply “being a kid.” Research supports that uninterrupted free play, reading much-loved books (or being read to) and enjoying dinner with family are all more important to the development of young children than any academic homework schools could assign. What homework often creates are needless power struggles with parents and children who hate school, neither of which are healthy for children of this age.

In light of current brain research, we have learned that homework in elementary school has virtually no impact on any kind of future success. So why give it?

Kid-Friendly Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

Kid-Friendly Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress


How can you support children during what can be the busiest time of year by keeping life as simple, familiar and routine as possible? The joy of the holidays can generate frenzy and exhaustion in kids when they are taken to too many evening events, family gatherings, holiday parties and special activities. Families tend to relax structure this time of year when children most need that structure and routine to feel safe and secure. Children like to know what to expect, and too many surprises, even good ones, can produce excessive stress or anxiety that may present as challenging behavior or simple grumpiness.

So here are a few gentle reminders to help children (and their parents) sustain their holiday spirit:

  • Maintain bedtimes, except in very rare occasions. Children need their sleep. Disruption of sleep routines that gets kids “off schedule” will inevitably result in problems at home and school. Tired children are more susceptible to illness and tend to “melt down” with little or no provocation.
  • Play outdoors and exercise as often as possible. This is one of the best ways to manage stress for both adults and children, and research has proven that there is a direct link between physical activity during the day and how well children and adults sleep at night.
  • Maintain healthy eating habits and keep rich holiday treats to a reasonable level; healthy eating supports resistance to illness and readiness to learn.
  • Limit the number of “special” activities, so that children can resume a normal, familiar routine as quickly as possible. Give children a brief heads up about what to expect, but not so far in advance that it significantly increases anxiety and heightens expectation.
  • Let children experience some of the season on their own terms. If baking cookies is not their thing but it IS yours, then bake cookies without them and enjoy watching the kids consume them. Indulging in a treasured tradition on your own can sometimes be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable gifts you give yourself.
  • Hire a sitter and spend an evening alone with your spouse, partner or good friend. Give yourself the gift of some time to reconnect with other adults. Children need to learn that the adults are just as important as the children in any family.
  • Create quiet times to stop and be together as a family and, in particular, to simply enjoy each other. For example, reading wonderful stories aloud as a family, even in households with teenagers, is a lovely, shared activity that everyone can enjoy and that costs nothing but time. Research supports that what children want most from parents is their undivided attention for periods of time (certainly not all the time).

None of these ideas are new or profound, but they are easily forgotten in the rush of holiday celebrations and activities. Here’s to hoping that you find your own way of moving gracefully through this season, showing as much kindness and compassion to yourselves as you will show to others.

Recommended Reading List for Parents

Recommended Reading List for Parents

All Children Flourishing (Howard Glasser and Melissa Lynn Block)

Any Child Can Write (Harvey S. Weiner)

Authentic Happiness (Martin E. P. Seligman)

Brain Rules (John Medina)

Brain Rules for Baby (John Medina)

Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones (Thomas Newkirk)

How to Make Your Kids Smarter: 10 Steps Backed by Science (Eric Barker)

The Last Child in the Woods (Richard Louv)

The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (Ned Hallowell)

The Element (Sir Ken Robinson, or watch any of his video talks on

The Inner Wealth Initiative (Tom Grove, Howard Glasser, Melissa Lynn Block)

How Girls Thrive (JoAnn Deak)

A Mind at A Time or All Kinds of Minds (Mel Levine)

Mindset (Carol Dweck)

Nurture Shock (Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson)

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon)

It’s a Boy! Your Son’s Development from Birth to 18 years (Michael Thompson and Theresa Barker)

The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers and Parents (Harris Cooper)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (Alfie Kohn)

The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure and Talent to Shape the World (Kathy LeMay)

Measuring Up (Daniel Koretz)

The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in World that Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)

The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the School (Alfie Kohn)

The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well (Madeline Levine)

The Global Achievement Gap (Tony Wagner)

In Schools We Trust (Deborah Meier)

Why is play essential in education?

Why is play essential in education?

More and more articles are being published in mainstream magazines and newspapers about how parent anxiety is having a significant impact upon our children. Most of the latest information is reinforcing the ideas published a few years ago in Madeline Levine’s book, The Price of Privilege, which she wrote in response to the soaring number of “tween” and teenage suicides that she was experiencing among children of “privileged” families (incomes of $120,000 to $180,000). Reading her book is like reading a testimonial for The Island School’s philosophy and approach to education, which is fundamentally grounded in doing what works best for children.

Levine’s information is based upon 25 years of research and experience as a counselor; she explains that our baby boomer generation has raised children with the expectation that they are supposed to be stellar at everything. What many parents have difficulty accepting is that children, like their parents, are good at some things and not good at others. Levine believes that we have forgotten the bell curve in our population, which dictates that everything (including talent and intelligence) tends to regress toward the mean – that is, everything comes back to the middle.

Levine also pointed out that the current level of anxiety in parents and children used to be reserved for rare, life-threatening situations. Heightened anxiety has now become the daily experience of children who are constantly pressured toward doing more and more and doing it better and better. This parent anxiety over children’s success has also driven the popular culture to espouse that “stuff matters more than relationships, that the individual matters more than the community, and that competition matters more than cooperation.” None of these are values that develop personal integrity or a sense of community. When performance in academics and athletics becomes more important than these core values, the result can be children who lie and cheat in order to meet their parents’ expectations. In fact, Levine sees integrity, decency, and knowing right from wrong as the core values which are most important in making a person successful. A number of new studies are strongly reinforcing that she is right. Talk to Dr. John Medina, whose research in Brain Rules for Baby indicates that if you want your children to be successful in college and life, teach them empathy. (Thought-provoking, isn’t it?)

Levine went on to explain that this culture of pressure is destroying what is the most important experience for children – the opportunity to play. She stated that “play is not inconsequential; it miniaturizes the world and teaches children how to manage it.” Levine stated that “play IS the business of childhood.” (Does that sound familiar?) Through play, children internalize the values and skills necessary for success in life. She further stated that the research on homework recommends none in lower school, an hour in middle school and two hours in high school as the optimum for student success. This is confirmed by Dr. Harris Cooper, who has studied and published all of the available research on homework.

Levine also spoke of how over-management of children by their parents significantly slows their growth by robbing children of the opportunity to face challenges and to practice overcoming them. Facing and conquering difficult challenges is one of the best ways for children to build their capacity for becoming resilient, resourceful adults. It teaches children to look inside themselves for the tools to meet a challenge. This develops confidence and competence. Robbed of this practice, children will look outside of themselves for help – and this help, unfortunately, often comes in the form of alcohol, drugs and sex as they move into middle school. When our children are toddlers, we readily accept that they must practice falling down before learning how to walk; we are rarely as comfortable allowing our children or teens to “fall down” and learn from the experience. Parents need to “be present” for their children without fixing problems for them. Doing so sends the message that you lack confidence in your child’s ability to resolve his/her own problems. Research also tells us that fear of failure is a significant impediment to achievement. At the very least, it certainly can prevent us from trying new things.

So what does Levine recommend? She says that we need to celebrate our children for who they are, not for what we want them to become, while also encouraging them to become good, caring human beings who recognize the importance of being a responsible part of a community. We should be present with our children without taking control of their lives. Families need to share meals, connect with their children and reinforce family values. Daily chores should be assigned to children, as they are key to learning how to be part of a community, and home is the first community for every child. Children need lots of time to play and to practice “falling down” and learning from mistakes – and that it’s safe to make them. And last, but not least, parents should take very good care of themselves. You are your children’s first role models. You need to safeguard your own health and well-being in order to have the physical and emotional stamina to “be present” for your children as their models for what it means to be a good, healthy person.