I just sent Zari's 4th grade teacher this letter about homework, recess, and sleep:
Dear Mrs. _____,
Hi, I’m Zari’s mom, Rixa. I wanted to share some concerns with you before our parent-teacher conference next week.
I’m concerned with the amount of homework Zari is being assigned. Her bedtime is normally 8 pm, but this year she often stays up until 9:30 or 10 pm finishing her homework. Because she’s riding the bus for the first time this year, she is also waking up a half-hour earlier, leading to her missing up to 2 hours of sleep every night. Because of homework, Zari is unable to get the 9-12 hours of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children her age.
I am also concerned that Zari has had to miss recess for incomplete homework. The American Academy of Pediatrics has written about the crucial role of recess in school and strongly discourages withholding recess: “recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”
On top of causing Zari to lose sleep and recess, homework is also affecting our family life. Zari is the oldest of 4 siblings, 3 of whom are in school. This means a lot of homework for me to supervise and not much time to cook dinner, read with my kids, or just spend time with them. I want to be a parent, not a surrogate teacher, when my children come home from school.
I also want my children to have unstructured play time after school: time to run around outside and dig tunnels in the dirt and make bows and arrows out of parts from the recycling bin (all activities my kids did this past week).
We are also a family of readers; I often have to pry books from Zari’s hands when it’s dinnertime or bedtime! Some of the series she’s read recently include Fablehaven, Narnia, The Golden Compass, Silverwing, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. She is currently halfway through Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching (Discworld) series.
As you know, Zari is a very conscientious and meticulous student. She likes things to be perfect—sometimes to my great frustration when I’m trying to hurry her along with her homework!
Because of all of these concerns, I wanted to talk with you about opting out of homework. We did this last year after having similar struggles with lack of sleep and family time. Zari continued to perform just as well, and our whole family was much less stressed in the evenings.
I know opting out of homework might seem like an unorthodox request. But in light of the strong evidence that homework does not improve outcomes for elementary and middle-school aged children, I feel opting out would be in Zari’s best interest.
I recently asked researcher and author Alfie Kohn about the benefits of homework, and he wrote to me: “no reputable study has ever found any benefit to assigning homework of any kind in elementary school.” Other leading researchers agree with Kohn: “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” (Harris Cooper, Duke University). “The research is very clear. There’s no benefit at the elementary school level.” (Etta Kralovec, U of Arizona.)
Based on this new research, both individual parents and schools in the US and Canada are starting to opt out of homework. Principals are writing about their positive experiences with no-homework policies.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter. I admire the work you do, and I hope you understand that my concerns are not meant as a criticism of you as a teacher. I just want what’s best for Zari’s health and what’s best for our family’s well-being. I am confident that making homework optional for Zari and keeping her recess time intact is a win-win situation for all of us.
I look forward to talking with you next week.