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Parents, you aren’t imagining it: Your kids may be struggling with too much homework. Just in time for back-to-school season, a new study has revealed that elementary school students get three times more homework than is recommended for children their age.
The study, published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, explored issues of homework and family stress by surveying nearly 1,200 parents. What came to light is this: Children in kindergarten, first grade and second grade may be hitting the books too hard in their after-school hours.
Education leaders with both the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association recommend a “10-minute rule” that increases gradually as students age: no homework for kindergartners, 10 minutes for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders, 30 minutes for third-graders and on up to the 12th grade, when students could handle about 120 minutes of homework a night. However, the study showed that kindergartners are spending an average of 25 minutes on homework, and the homework load for first- and second-graders is just shy of 30 minutes.
The study’s authors noted that 25 minutes of homework for kindergartners “may be both taxing for the parents and overwhelming for the children.” They also wrote that “it was unsettling to find that in our study population, first and second grade children had three times the homework load recommended by the NEA.”
Denise Pope, a Stanford University education professor and author of the new book “Overloaded and Underprepared,” told TODAY.com that there's negligible evidence of a correlation between homework and achievement.
“The only type of homework that's proven to be beneficial to elementary school students is free reading, and the fact that the kids can choose what they are reading makes the difference,” Pope said.
Pope cited psychologist Harris Cooper, who found that the correlation between academic success and homework broke off at two hours at the high school level and at an hour and half at the middle school level, which is how the “10-minute rule” started to gain traction in the education community. Pope said that when children have too much homework, they end up spending all their time on homework and extracurricular activities — and that's not necessarily healthy.
"Kids are not going to give up their extracurriculars, but then they are stuck with all this homework, so the things that get left out are actually really important things like chores, family time and sleep," she said.
Whit Honea, a dad and author of “The Parents' Phrase Book,” said he definitely relates to the homework struggle and what gets sacrificed as a result.
"As a parent, when you've spent eight hours at work and they've spent six hours at school, the last thing you want to do is be fighting with them for two hours about a meaningless piece of paper," Honea told TODAY.com. "Instead that time should be spent with the family."
He added, "It's a small window of time, and I don't want to think back on these years with my kids as a dark time because of all the tears with homework battles."
Parents who participated in the study survey also reported increased levels of stress at home — another detail that struck a chord with Honea.
"Homework stress is comparable with money stress in adults," he said.
So how does Honea combat the stress? He tries to help his kids when he can.
"If I'm able to shave 40 minutes of the time off their homework by helping them — not doing it for them — then that becomes beneficial because that's 40 minutes we can do something together," Honea said.
While the study found that students in the lower grades of elementary school may be spending too much time on homework, that trend shifts as students age. The study showed many 12th graders devote fewer than 55 minutes a night to homework.