Rob Young says his frustration over the amount of homework being assigned to his children had been building for years.
But when his Grade 5 daughter came home last fall with five different assignments to complete over the weekend, the Mountain single parent decided he’d had enough.
He emailed her teacher at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School to inform her he was declaring his home a no-homework zone and his daughter should now only be graded on her classroom work.
Young did the same for his Grade 4 son, inspired by the 2009 case of a Calgary couple, both lawyers, who won a legal battle to strike a no-homework agreement with the Catholic board there.
He says his kids’ marks haven’t suffered in the year since then.
“Kids need to be kids,” Young says. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to unpack their stuff and spend the evening going to cubs, going to the rec centre, going swimming, whatever it is we want to do with our family time.”
Young says he doesn’t object to homework in high school, but questions its value at the elementary level, citing the case of a weekend assignment asking families to bake pizza to help their kids learn the French words for ingredients like cheese.
“To teach the word ‘fromage,’ do we need to be burdening our parents’ homes on weekends?” he says.
“I saw way too many examples of using and abusing me in my home and just way too much evidence that it’s not necessary and that it’s causing nothing but hardships and heartaches to the kids, to the families.”
Young isn’t alone in his concerns. A 2008 survey by two University of Toronto professors found Canadian parents were skeptical about the benefits of homework in the upper elementary grades, with only one in five seeing it as positive for Grade 5s.
Ontario parents were the most negative, perhaps because the survey found they were asked to help out more often and their kids got more homework – nearly 40 minutes per evening, about a fifth more than the national average.
Catholic board chair Pat Daly acknowledges homework levels have increased since many parents went to grade school, but says he’s only had a handful of complaints in his 28 years as trustee.
His board’s homework guidelines for elementary students, which are based on provincial ones, suggest a maximum of 10 minutes per night per grade, so that Grade 1s would get five to 10 minutes, a number that rises to 40 to 80 minutes in Grade 8.
The public board follows similar guidelines, but places weekly maximums that increase from a half hour in JK and Grade 1 to four hours in Grade 8.
Daly says parents concerned about workloads should call their teacher, but research shows “a reasonable amount of homework benefits children and is part of the education process.”
“I think, in terms of the changes in the curriculum and expectations in the last number of years, that more is required of teachers, and in turn students,” he says.
“I think there has been perhaps some evolution over the last decade; however, saying that, again, I think for the most part it’s reasonable.”
Daly says he’s not familiar with Young’s situation, but if the no-homework arrangement is working, “that’s great.”
“My own view as a parent is that I’m not sure that’s in the best interest of the child, but every parent has to make that decision in the best interests of their own children,” he says.
Public board chair Tim Simmons says he’s never received any complaints from parents about homework in his six years as trustee and the guidelines are based on research that shows children do better if parents are involved in their education.
Until Grade 3, parents are mostly asked to read their children stories, play games with them and ask them what they’re learning. After that, students are expected to work more independently and only ask for help when they need clarification, he says.
Simmons says his own kids, who are in grades 4 and 8, haven’t been inundated with homework and most assignments involve reading or address areas where they’re struggling.
“Parents attitudes on homework have direct, positive effects on their children’s outlook on homework,” he says. “It just supports what they’re doing in the classroom.”