From Homework Headache to Happy 

Homework causes more headaches for parents than it does for children. Some parents worry because their children don’t seem to do enough, while others are concerned because they do too much. For many parents, homework is that time of the day when they routinely harass, hassle and harangue their child to “Just do it!” The topic of homework remains controversial and is reviewed by teams of educators at the start of each year as they set down the key learning behaviours they want students to achieve with them. This article is an invitation to journey through the different perspectives of “Homework Land” in order to achieve a perspective that suits you, as a parent, and your child or children.  

The essential question to ask is, “Why do children do homework?” 

At Moriah College Primary School, we refer to homework as Home Learning. This term causes many people to feel unwell as they confuse it with the online learning of Covid. No connection! We name it ‘home learning’ because homework is given to students in order to ensure that some time is set aside three times a week for a child to review what they learnt at school, retrieve it, practise it, and take an additional step to committing it to long-term memory. The science of learning (aka cognitive science) states that students need to revisit small manageable pieces of learning numerous times after the initial explicit teaching, in order to ensure that this knowledge is integrated into their long-term memory and can be retrieved automatically when required. If we don’t revisit and practise this knowledge, we don’t bed down the learning. The team of educators across the Primary School endorses teaching students using cognitive science, as this enables students to practise little packages of knowledge and skill frequently, so that it eventually becomes part of their long-term memory knowledge package known as schema. This also frees up the memory they need for learning new information (aka working memory) so that students arrive at school ready for new learning.  

An additional important question to ask is, “What is your school’s guideline around homework?” 

Moriah College Primary School stipulates that students from K-3 receive 20 minutes of homework, three times a week. This provides for one committed afternoon of sport and the balance of a mix of leisure and academic time on other days. Shabbat is respected and Sundays are opened as an option for task completion depending on a student’s needs. Forty minutes is recommended for students from Years 4-6, three times a week, with the same reasoning. All educators collaborate around the allocation of homework and upload their expectations to a central point such as the eLY class page, Google Classroom, or, at times, an email notification. This ensures students are not overwhelmed by a single subject (aka key learning area), and all educators are aware of the many demands on a student’s time.  

The educators ensure homework is in line with retrieval practice (cognitive science) and they take responsibility to validate the efforts of students with follow-up, feedback, and consequences for non-completion. In fewer instances, homework also includes flipped learning. Flipped learning means that the task requires students to explore something new or complete a research task in preparation for a classroom activity which will use the new knowledge students have acquired. 

Homework is basically an agreement between a teacher and a child so it should be up to the teacher to ensure the homework is completed. That means the teacher becomes ‘the enforcer’ and puts some consequence in place if the homework is not completed. Your role as a parent is to support the school if a consequence is put in place, such as not rewarding the child with the homework reward token or grading for the task, or a requirement to complete the task at a set time during the school day away from the home environment. The educators also embrace parents reaching out respectfully should it be discovered that a child is not managing to retrieve and practise bite-size chunks of knowledge learnt that week. A consequence would not be appropriate in this instance.  

When is homework valuable? 

Homework refers to tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed outside of regular class time. While there is some debate about the effectiveness of homework, several theories supporting its use in education for children aged 5 to 12 are stated below. 

  1. Reinforcement theory: Homework is based on the principle of reinforcement, where children are  acknowledged positively for their actions. When students complete their homework, and reinforce the learning completed during the day or week, they are more likely to retain information and learn new skills, leading to academic success. Their learning behaviour is also reinforced with positive emotion.  
  1. Cognitive Load Theory: According to cognitive theory, homework is an important tool for developing students’ cognitive abilities. Homework provides an opportunity for students to practise and apply what they have learned in class, allowing them to deepen their understanding and achieve automatic recall of the information so that it is stored in the child’s long-term memory. This frees up their working memory and enables them to acquire new knowledge and skills. 
  1. Self-regulation theory: Homework can help students develop self-regulation skills, such as time management, self-discipline, and goal-setting. These skills are included in global competencies essential for success in academics and life. Homework can provide a valuable opportunity for students to practice and develop them. 
  1. Preparation for education in high school and onwards: High school educators frequently comment that students struggle to learn for assessments so that they can retrieve information learnt and apply it. Homework assists students to develop important study habits, time management skills, and self-discipline. These skills are critical for success in High School and beyond. When students develop neural pathways associated with this behaviour at an early age, study skills fall into place during their teenage years.  

Why do some children find homework so challenging?  

Homework is experienced negatively across the below contexts. In the following instances, it is recommended that parents reach out to the educators and seek advice for an adjusted program. 

  1. Stress and anxiety: Homework can be a significant source of stress and anxiety for children, particularly if they are struggling to complete assignments or feel overwhelmed by the workload. It is important that the requirements are clear and understandable by children and parents.  
  1. Reduction in family time: Homework can take away from valuable family time and other extracurricular activities considered by some to play a more beneficial and important role for the overall development of children with a particular profile. 
  1. Inequities in access: Children have different home environments, some of which do not have the quiet physical space, harmonious atmosphere or supportive guidance and technology. These contexts make homework a negative experience which is difficult to complete.  
  1. Potential for reduced creativity and exploration: Too much emphasis on homework and academic performance, or homework experiences that lack relevance and purpose with little or no follow up, can lead to frustration and disengagement in those children lacking in intrinsic motivation or those whose learning style depends on creativity and applied thinking routines. Regardless, it is always important for children to understand the relevance and significance of the retrieval practice or new learning that they are assigned each week.  
  1. Contamination of the Parent-Child relationship: Children are comfortable showing their teachers what they do and don’t know. They are wired to their parents with love and want to impress them with how capable and smart they are, which usually leads to the oxytocin rush of parents giving them positive feedback. Children can feel embarrassed or like they have been a disappointment to their parents should they show inadequate levels of success when completing homework. They may even fear that this could cause a breakdown in the love cycle. This plays out in many negative scenarios of parent negative commentary and child tantrum, or the child talking negatively about themselves. The suggestion is for parents to encourage and empower but to step back and to tactfully let the educator know when homework is a negative experience. This ensures that children in need receive the necessary adjustments to their homework program. Additionally, when parents take over the homework activity or complete the project to ensure their child achieves highly, the child starts to believe that they are incapable and doesn’t develop the learning pathway to explore ideas and communicate understandings.    

10 Practical Tips for the Good Homework Haven 

1. Establish homework time and stick to it each day. If children tell you they don’t have any formal homework then they can read or retell their recent learning. My feedback tells me sticking to a routine even when no formal homework is set, is extremely useful and helps avoid battles.  

2. Put the onus back on your children to take responsibility for their work. Ask children at the start of a homework session to state how much homework they will do. At the end of the session check it to see if it matches with their intentions as well as yours. If you are more concerned about homework than them, your children are not the ones responsible for their homework.  

3. Homework is as much a time management issue as anything else. Encourage children to work reasonably quickly and efficiently. Have a set time limit, which they should stick to. There is little point slogging away once they become frustrated or tired. Set your Google Home, an egg timer, or digital alarm and get them to work hard for small chunks of time. A little work each day is true to the learning process and is more productive than packing it into one weekly session. 

4. Help children decide the best time to do homework and then encourage them to stick to those times. Make allowances so that on some days homework is tackled after dinner for any number of reasons. If doing homework straight after school is important to you, then consider feeding children after homework is completed as the food consumption can be used as an avoidance mechanism. 

5. Establish a good working environment for children. Make sure they have a quiet, well-lit, well-ventilated area away from distractions. A table or desk makes a good workspace, although don’t be surprised if they spread work all over the kitchen table. Some children hate to be stuck away in their rooms and prefer to work at the kitchen table and can do so productively. Others are easily distracted and work in short bursts. Work out what is best for your child but return to the same space every time they do homework.  

6. Use technology in accordance with your household policy when completing retrieval practice activities such as learning tables or number bonds or during flipped learning.  

7. Encourage children to get organised. Help them think ahead to plan their homework around extra-curricular activities. A weekly planner that is visible to all, or a digital or paper diary will help older students get organised. Assisting children to become organised is perhaps the best way parents can help at home.  

8. If you are helping with a particular task, keep your explanation simple and practical. If you become frustrated or upset and the atmosphere becomes tense, stop helping. Never insult your child, even if it is in jest, and never tell them how capable or weak you were in your day. Hurt runs deep and negative narratives become entrenched in the child’s brain without the significant adults in their world realising it. Every word counts, so please use commentary carefully. 

9. Be realistic and don’t expect to solve all homework difficulties. Communicate with the teacher, share the problem and allow them to fit this into the teaching-learning cycle. This little moment is a small part of the big learning journey.  

10. Communicate any concerns. If you have concerns about the quantity or difficulty of your child’s homework, contact the teacher and arrange a time to discuss your worries. Such discussion is the basis of a true partnership between you and your child’s teacher.  

The Verdict  

Even though the place of homework is routinely questioned by education authorities, children will continue to have some form of learning activity or study to complete at home. Moriah College educators are aware and understand both sides of the argument and use this knowledge to ensure homework is a positive experience.  

I have shared a compilation of the research I endorse combined with insights achieved and evidence based practice across my many years of experience. It would be evident that homework that is provided correctly to students and is done well, becomes home learning. In this instance, it plays a vital role in the education of children aged 5 to 12 by providing an opportunity for students to practise and reinforce what they have learned in class, develop important cognitive and self-regulation skills, and prepare for higher education. However, it is important for teachers and parents to ensure that in certain circumstances, homework to retrieve learning, or even to map new learning, suits the profile of individual students. This collaborative approach and purposeful practice ensures success and happy home learning time for all. I conclude this article with a challenge: Use retrieval practice with this article and after the knowledge is embedded firmly in your long-term memory, share it with your child and pave the pathway for your unique homework haven. 


Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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