• John Blythe

Are the side-effects of homework dangerous?

What side-effects I hear you ask? Well, if you stop and think about it there are many side-effects to homework in most households... and they can be genuinely dangerous!

Consider that your child has a full-time job already. They are physically at school 30-hours a week. If you add average travel time of (3-5 hours a week), and then just one extra curricular activity - most children are already investing 35-40 hours every week into their career as a student. This starts from 4-5 years of age!

On top of this many schools expect homework from the first few weeks of Kindergarten... this can include additional work sheets, spelling lists, maths problems, and a range of projects.

However, there is strong international evidence that such re-hashing of the school curriculum at home does absolutely nothing to increase student academic outcomes, and the side-effects may well do harm...

So what are the side effects?

1. Stress: "Homework" should really be called "

school-work-at-home" - because that's what it is! Few people enjoy bringing tasks home from a full-time job that have to be done in your personal time at home... but we expect children to do it everyday! It causes parent-child conflict when the child is nagged about completing this school-work-at-home. Many parents feel unable to help a lot of the time (because the teaching methods keep changing), but most also take on completing projects and assignments just to reduce the stress at home.

2. Dislike of Learning: When children are expected to do more school-work-at-home, it often turns them off learning altogether. One of the most basic paradigms in psychology is "paired association" - it means if you do a task at the same time as an unpleasant feeling - the whole task becomes unpleasant! This negative association between school work and family stress often gets associated with school work in general - even at school - producing the completely opposite effect to that intended!

3. Invasion of Family Life: With kids already invested in their academic career 35-40 hours a week, and with parents already busy with their own jobs and responsibilities, family life is under constant pressure in the 21st century. Bringing school work home often invades the one place that should be safe and relaxing for a child! I wish schools actually did assign "home" work - because that should mean, playing a family game, cooking a meal together, learning to change a tyre, or having a de-brief with mum or dad about your day!

When a school is asking a student who is already engaged 35-40 hours a week in their learning - to take more of that learning into their home, their bedroom, and their family space - there must be clear benefits for such an invasion - and the benefits are simply not there (at least not in primary school).

So who drives the push for homework?

I'll give you a clue - it isn't the teachers - most of them have great sympathy for the stress it can cause and they would rather be spending their time teaching (rather than marking homework).

Parents tend to push for homework!

This might be because we feel so disengaged from our children's learning that we feel we need to see what they can do for ourselves? Fair enough... but that is a problem with parent-school communication and involvement, not an issue to be solved by school-work-at-home.

As parents, the most valuable things we can do with our kids at home is to create strong, positive relationships. Play games. Have conversations. Invest time.

From a school-work-at-home perspective, consider investing that time differently. Many schools will allow student-focused homework if you ask. I have taken terms to simply read with one of my kids who was struggling with literacy. I have taken terms to do time-tables games with another kid who just couldn't get number facts. These are things the teacher cannot spend the week doing with my child, but I can...

So don't assume the battle over school-work-at-home is worth it. Check the side-effects it is having on your child and your home life. If the task is not clearly positive - have a good talk to the school and try to do something different?

John Blythe. [John Blythe Child Psychology is located at Blacktown, Hornsby, Macarthur & opening at Richmond later this year. 9622 9610].