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Kids get too much homework—here’s what to do about it

Increasing research shows that increasing amounts of homework for elementary-aged kids have downsides in their lives and households.

“[There is] a heightened sense of stress for the whole family when the kid has too much homework,” says Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success. “For the parents, it’s a real source of stress because some of them say, ‘I don’t even get to see my kids.’”

In a 2014 report published in the Journal of Experimental Education, Pope and her fellow researchers found teens at high-performing high schools in California had an average 3.1 hours of homework per night—which 56% of the students said was a top source of stress in their lives.

The excessive amounts of homework also made it difficult for the students to strike a healthy school-life balance. As a result of having less time for family, friends and hobbies, the researchers noted the teens were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills.”

Meanwhile, other research shows there is little upside to that much homework: While a 2006 meta-analysis showed there is a positive correlation between homework and school achievement, that link isn’t as strong among elementary-aged kids and has been shown to plateau among high-schoolers who have more than two hours of homework per night.

But while homework may seem like a necessary part of life for high school students, more research has shown it’s consuming significant amounts of time for the youngest kids, right down to kindergarten.

Although the National Education Association endorses the “10-minute rule,” which means 10 minutes of homework for first-graders, 20 for second-graders and so on, a 2015 report published in the American Journal of Family Therapy found some elementary school students were getting up to three times the recommended amount of homework per night.

“It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all... are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get," Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, told CNN.

This has been shown to take a toll on children regarding how much sleep they get, their ability to participate in extracurriculars and general anxiety. Parents are affected, too.

“It causes battles parents don’t want to fight,” says Cathy Vatterott, professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs. “Parents are stressed because they know their kids need downtime and play time, but are afraid to complain for fear of being judged unsupportive parents.”

Don’t let that be your concern, though, says Pope: Far from being unsupportive, advocating for a healthy balance in your child’s life is essential. She says that means ensuring your kids have play time, down time and family time each day—which may mean being upfront with your child’s teacher about how much time remains.

“You could certainly go and talk to your individual teacher and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing at home. It’s taking my daughter a really long time to do this. Is there something we can do?”

Just as important is to consider the aspects of your child’s schedule that you do have control over, such as extracurriculars, time spent on social media and household responsibilities. “Where you have the ability to choose, choose carefully,” Pope says. “How much is too much on all ends is a question that parents really have to be asking.”

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