I have sat with all of my kids through excruciating evenings of trying to help them figure out long division and fractions. I especially remember my oldest son struggling really hard during his fourth-grade year. He would come home everyday at 3:30 and would sit down, eyes bugging out of his head, and just mindlessly eat snacks and stare off into space for at least 20 minutes.
After coming to life again, he would play and eat dinner, then we would delve into his homework which involved a math worksheet, a half-hour of reading and journaling, practicing his multiplication facts, and the occasional spelling practice. Everything would be fine for the first half-hour or so, but then he would fall apart.
We tried doing the homework routine as soon as he got home from school. We tried waiting until after dinner. We tried doing it the next morning, but nothing would ease the homework struggle.
Most of the time, it wasn’t that he didn’t know how to complete his work — it was that he’d had enough. His brain was done with schoolwork for the day, and he had nothing left to give. He wanted to play outside, or read a book, or watch his favorite shows.
His teachers were wonderful, and thankfully, they made it very clear at the beginning of the year that homework was not supposed to give kids anxiety. If this started to happen, they asked that parents write a note letting them know homework was taking up more than an hour of after-school time. Or if your child was struggling while trying to get it done, they wanted to know.
Kids spend the largest portion of their day at school. Homework should not monopolize their family time or cause them additional stress.
The Orchard Elementary School in Vermont, stopped assigning homework to all of their students. In lieu of schoolwork, they asked families to read more, get outside and enjoy some physical activity, have dinner together, and go to bed on time. The outcome has been nothing but positive. Not only were the students more willing to read on their own, Trifilio, the school’s principal, said everyone has benefited from this new policy. It has given kids “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions,” Trifilio told The Washington Post.
As adults, most of us know when we need a break. And when we take the necessary timeouts, we tend to perform better, feel refreshed, act less cranky, and are able to get back to it. How do you feel when you put in a full day then get home and have another few hours of work staring you in the face, leaving you with little free time? It gets old really fast. It even causes you to lose your shit sometimes.
Kids are no different, and each one has their breaking point. Just because we don’t think a half-hour of doing long division is a big deal after a long day, they might not feel the same.
I started to realize when my son was breaking down every single day during homework, it wasn’t because he was trying to be bratty or lazy; he was trying to tell me he needed a break from work. And the six hours he had already put in, paired with an additional 30 minutes of homework, put him at maximum capacity for the day. He was spent.
There is a reason for the “No Homework” movement, and it’s not because we are helicopter parents raising entitled kids. It is bringing positive change to schools and families. Hopefully, in the near future, we will see other schools following the lead of the Orchard School. I don’t think anyone — students, parents, or teachers — will be disappointed with the results.