The Tyranny of Homework: 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Assign Homework Over The Holidays

Kid with homework

Many students agree that homework over the holidays really is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Upon returning from winter break, you’ll probably have a handful of students saying the dog ate their homework or it got blown away in a winter storm. But you’ll probably be surprised to learn that some research suggests too much homework can be a bad thing. A 2009 article in the Los Angeles Times, suggests that some districts have cut back on the amount of homework in the effort to consider children’s social development. In fact, the San Ramon Valley district modified its homework policy and no homework is allowed over weekends and holiday vacations, except for reading.

The US National Education Association recommends no more than ten minutes (of homework) per grade level, per night.

Homework has fallen in and out of favor over the decades.  California even established a law in 1901 limiting the amount of homework teachers could assign. Homework is highly in favor now a days.  With recent trends of information overload, packed activity schedules, and childhood obesity, it’s no wonder educators are reconsidering their stance on homework. 

Here are 20 reasons why you shouldn’t assign homework over the holidays. Perhaps one of your students will print this list and encourage you to reconsider your ideas about homework.

  1. Students are learning all the time in the 21st century. According to a recent article in MindShift traditional homework will become obsolete in the next decade.  Thanks to computers, learning is occurring 24/7.  With access to software programs, worldwide connections, and learning websites such as the Khan Academy, learning occurs all the time. According to Mindshift, “the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear.”  Try to see if you can bridge the gap between school and home by getting students interested in doing their own research over holiday break.  Rather than assigning homework, create a true interest in learning.  They will often pursue learning about topics they like on their own.  After all, this is the way of the 21st century and information is everywhere. 
  2. More homework doesn’t necessarily equate to higher achievement. Yes, too much homework can actually be a bad thing.  A 1989 Duke University study that reviewed 120 studies found a weak link between achievement and homework at the elementary level and only a moderate benefit at the middle school level. In a similar recent review of 60 studies, researchers at Duke U found homework was beneficial, but assigning excessive amounts of homework was counterproductive. The research found homework was more beneficial for older students than younger ones. The study was completed by Harris Cooper, a leading homework research and author of “The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents”. Cooper suggests that teachers at the younger level may assign homework for improving study skills, rather than learning, explaining why many studies concluded less benefit for younger children.  Many teachers do not receive specific training on homework. Cooper suggests that homework should be uncomplicated and short, involve families, and engage student interests.
  3. Countries that assign more homework don’t outperform those with less homework.  Around the world, countries that assign more homework don’t see to perform any better.  A Stanford study found that in counties like Japan, Denmark, and the Czech Republic little homework was assigned and students outperformed students in counties with large amounts of homework such as Greece, Thailand, and Iran.  American and British students seem to have more homework than most counties, and still only score in the international average.  In fact, Japan has instituted no homework policies at younger levels to allow family time and personal interests.  Finland, a national leader in international tests, limits high school homework to half hour per night.  Of course, there are other factors not taken into account in the study, such as length of the school day.  But in itself, it is interesting to see this issue from a world perspective. 
  4. Instead of assigning homework, suggest they read for fun.  There are great holiday stories and books you can recommend to parents and students.  If you approach the activity with a holiday spirit, many students will be engaged.  They may want to check out the stories on their own.  You can start by reading the first chapter in class and leaving them intrigued.  For instance, you can read the first chapter of The Gift of the Magi and suggest students read it over winter break.   With younger students, you might promise roles in a play for students who read over break.
  5. Don’t assign holiday busy work.  Most academics agree that busy work does little to increase learning.  It is best to not assign packets of worksheets if they do nothing to add to student learning. You also don’t want to waste valuable time grading meaningless paperwork.  Some studies show that much homework may actually decline achievement. Assigning excessive amounts of homework may be detrimental. In fact, a 2006 study by Yankelovick found that reading achievement declined when students were assigned too much homework.  Actually, interesting reading such as Harry Potter produced higher reading achievement.
  6. Have students attend a local cultural event.  You can let parents know that instead of assigning homework, you are suggesting students attend a particular event that relates to your classroom.  For instance, if you are reading Shakespeare, they might attend a related play or ballet. 
  7. Family time is more important during the holidays.  Assigning less homework makes it easier for families to have time together. Family studies at the University of Michigan, show that family time is extremely important to achievement and behavior.  Studies on family meals, suggest that students who have dinner with their family have better academic scores and behavioral outcomes.  Perhaps this is only a correlation, but family time is undeniably important to child development. Students spent most of their days at school while parents are at work. When all is said and done, remember what it was like being a kid.  The things you remember most about the holidays aren’t the assignments you took home, but the time you spend with family and friends.
  8. For students who travel during the holidays, homework may impede learning on their trip. The Holiday time is the one time of year that many families reconnect with distant family members or travel.  I remember having to pack hoards of books over some holidays to Spain and it was not fun.  I wanted to enjoy the time with family and experience the country fully.  Traveling in itself is a learning activity.  Let students experience their travels fully. 
  9. Kids need time to be kids.  A recent article from Australia’s Happy Child website, “What is the value of Homework: Research and Reality” considers this issue and explains how children need unstructured play time.  Homework can have a negative influence on early learning experiences.  Suggest students use holiday time to do physical activity, such as ice-skating or sledding.  Many kids don’t get enough exercise.  Childhood obesity is a major problem in the United States.  Suggesting students play outside or participate in a sport is a good way to get them to value physical activity.  The holidays are a great time for kids to go sledding in the snow or play with friends outside.  If no one has homework, classmates might exchange phone numbers to play together.  You can suggest this to parents.    If the teacher thinks physical activity is important, students will too. 
  10. Some education experts recommend an end to all homework.  Etta Kralovec and John Buell, authors of  The End of Homework:  How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, controversially suggests that homework may be a form of intrusion on family life, and may increase the drop-out rate in high schools.  The authors blame homework for increasing the achievement gap due to socio-economic differences in after-school obligations. Consider challenging your own views of the benefits of homework and try to create a level playing field when considering assignments.
  11. Send a letter to parents explaining why you are not assigning work.  You might want to take the Christmas holiday as a chance to engage parents to play a learning game or do some art with their kids.  If families know there is an intentional purpose to not assigning work, they may take the chance to spend more one-on-one time with their child. 
  12. You can make the holidays a time for an “open project” for extra credit.  Students might take this time to do something related to the curriculum that they would like to explore on their own terms.  Before the holidays, you might talk about topics or provide books students for students to take home.  Learning for fun and interest, might produce more meaningful engagement than assigned homework. 
  13. Suggest they visit a museum instead.  With families at home, the holiday time is a great time for students to see an exhibit that interests them or do a fun activity at a nearby museum.  Sometimes encouraging these field trips may be more beneficial than assigning homework.  You might want to print coupons, a schedule, or a list of upcoming exhibits so that families have the information at their fingertips.
  14. Encourage students to volunteer during the holiday time.  The holidays are a great time for students to give back.  Students might volunteer at a local soup kitchen or pantry.  Volunteer organizations are often at their busiest during the holiday time.  Plus, students learn a lot from the experience of doing community service.  I remember visiting a group home during the holiday time in high school and helping kids wrap Christmas gifts for their families.  This is a great alternative to assigning homework, especially for Generation Y who highly values civic involvement.  
  15. Develop a class game.  You might have the class play a learning game the week before vacation and have them take it home to show their family.  My fourth grade teacher had hop-scotch math.  We often drew with chalk outside to replicate her game at home.  Try to think of a holiday-themed game or one that the whole family can get involved in.
  16. Students might learn more from observing the real world. Learning isn’t just about paper and pencil activities.  Teachers should also inspire students to seek ways to learn from real-world experiences.  They might cook with their parents and practice measuring.  Or tag along with a parent who is putting up holiday lights or building a shed.  Ask students to observe a job around the house or ask their parents about their job over holiday break.  They might be enlightened to learn more about the real world and different jobs they might pursue in the future.  Perhaps some students might be able to go to work with their parents instead of a formal assignment. 
  17. Go on a hike.  Students learn a great deal from nature.  Tell students to go outside on a walk and be ready to share their experience when they get back.  Did they observe natural phenomena you talked about in science class or different types of rocks you discussed in geology?  Or can you tie their walk into a discussion of poetry? 
  18. Tell students to visit an amusement park.  If you are teaching physics or math, amusement parks give ample room to explain the laws of physics and mathematical probability.  This outing would allow students to think about the real world implications of science.  You may want to even plan a lesson beforehand that ties this idea in.  On another level, it allows students to create a lasting memory with their own families.
  19. Kids need rest!  Everyone needs a mental breather and the holidays are the best time for students to play and take a break from school.  Kids need a full ten hours of sleep and adequate rest.  The vacation time is a great time for students to take a mental breather from school.  With many family outings and vacations during the holiday time, they will have less time to complete homework.  They will come back to school feeling re-energized. 
  20. Many parents and students dislike holiday homework.  You want parents to buy-in to your classroom community and support your endeavors with students.  Assigning holiday homework is usually unpopular with parents because it may the one time of year they have to give children their undivided attention.  Instead, you might want to take a survey to see if parents agree with the idea.  You can then send a letter with the survey results.  Taking parents’ perspectives into account shows you value their opinions and feedback.  Students prefer some free time too.  Not surprisingly one student created a Facebook page, titled, “Why do teachers give us homework over the holiday.”   If the students know you are giving them a break over the holidays they may work harder for you when they get back. 

If you’re still not convinced, check out this fact sheet based on The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish.  If you are still going to assign some holiday homework, at least keep in mind some guidelines.

The US National Education Association recommends no more than ten minutes per grade level, per night.  If you must assign homework make sure it is meaningful and doesn’t take away from time with families.  And most of all, remember what it was like being a kid during the holiday time. Homework is generally not a part of those memories, nor should it be. Those days playing outside and spending time with family are lifelong memories just as important as school.

Childhood is over in the blink of an eye.


Miriam Clifford holds a Masters in Teaching from City University and a Bachelor in Science from Cornell. She loves research and is passionate about education. She is a foodie and on her time off enjoys cooking and gardening. You can find her @miriamoclifford or Google+.

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16 Comments on “The Tyranny of Homework: 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Assign Homework Over The Holidays

  1. I like the idea of sharing a list of “learning activities” for families to consider over the Holiday break. It is a great time to give parents some useful ideas about fun activities that can also be excellent learning opportunities.

  2. I agree with every word you say but I only have 3 hours teaching time a week so homework is essential to get through the syllabus.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I did end up writing a letter to parents, including a line about READING over break, and also a bookmark parents could cut off and use. ;-)

  4. Scot & Joy – So glad to see concrete applications in the classroom in response to this blog, that is so rewarding! Thank you for sharing these comments-I was glad to see positive responses to these ideas. The bookmark is a great idea. I think sometimes as teachers we feel we “have to” assign homework, but once we stop to reconsider the reasons, it really helps to intentionally assign other things sometimes. It helps me so much to see how these ideas are directly applied in the classroom. I wish you a very happy holiday season! -Miriam

    • Hi, Miriam! I agree with you on this homework issue and lots of parents from my kids school do as well but they don’t say nothing to teachers or school staff cause they are afraid of their kids being singled out. My youngest boy who’s in 4th grade gets lots of homework on weekends and holidays vacations. My son has is very smart and always use to like school work but this I have noticed that because all the weekdays and weekend homework he has began to dislike school. Sometimes he get tired when doing his 2+ hours of homework that tell him to just and that I will write him a note for teacher to excuse him for not completing, but does’t want because teacher will bench him during school recesses for not completing it or if she does’t like the way or answers to homework. I don’t mind him getting all this homework if he was behind or was’t smart because it will help him catch up to the rest of kids level. Miriam could you please give me an advice of how I can bring this issue to teacher or school principal. And Thank you so much for this report information, I have sent this web page to afew parents and family members. Be looking out for another of your report in the future. Oh, by the way, I live in San Jose, California

  5. Ula-I was just reading that in Finland students have much shorter days (about 4 hours versus 8 hour days). They actually do not get much homework until they are in older grade levels and encourage longer recess breaks. It’s interesting to see that they are pretty successfully in international comparisons, so it is something I will be looking into further, and thought might interest you too! I agree that if the school day is shorter, more homework might be needed. Cheers.

  6. Miriam, I totally agree that we should not assign homework over the holidays! I don’t think we need to ever assign homework. It is totally up to families to decide how they want to spend their time together. Who are we to assume we know better what everyone should do? And I’m sick of this test-crazed culture making teachers feel that we need to “cover” tons of curriculum, such that if we don’t get enough time in class we “have to” assign all that work for home. That’s ridiculous! Kids learn at their own pace, in their own ways. We need to help them develop and grow naturally and not force learning, if you can even call it that, which won’t stick.

    The idea of writing parents explaining why we don’t assign homework is a great idea. We can then make a resource for parents who want to provide learning experiences for their children at home.

    • Alfonso,

      Yes I agree. I think that the culture needs to change in trying to cover mile wide and inch deep curriculum that occurred after the age of standardized testing. Children will go on to careers where they will only use a very specific portion of their learning. Sure, I do believe in well-rounded learning, but not if it is not meaningful and children really don’t grasp the concepts. If we can get those first learning experiences to be meaningful, rather than a chore of covering every single topic, I think children will actually learn more in the long run. Learning should be engaging and occur in an organic way. Besides, most parents now adays will gladly assign homework (perhaps even better quality, thanks to the individualization they can do for their own children’s needs and interests). Parents are a great resource and I think we need to use them more effectively. Thank you for adapting these ideas~

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  9. Ten minutes per grade per night? So a senior in high school is supposed to have 2 hours of homework after spending all day in school? That’s complete and utter rubbish. It’s probably been overstated but people generally don’t bring work home with them when they’ve finished their day at the factory or the car dealer or the grocery store, etc.. Even so, kids have the whole rest of their lives to be consumed by their careers. I never learned a damned thing by doing homework that I didn’t already know from my school classes.

  10. I don’t think you would have any complaint from parents. I hate the fact that my honors level HS kid has so much homework it gets in the way of our holidays and vacations. Kids stress levels are very high. They need an actual break. A little throughout the week is fine but when it’s a break. Give the kids an actual break. As I sit hear my daughter is taking a 90 minute practice test. It’s Easter. She was so stressed she was unable to eat. It’s ridiculous.

  11. That’s all very nice but alas what about kids who have dyspraxia or similar learning disability and need to catch up to be able to follow? My kid has an exam next year and can’t afford to waste time. I don’t give her homework but more like lessons to study on her more difficult subjects Maths and English otherwise she’ll have to go to lower level and adios to university… I say, if your kid is in Primary, then that’s OK not to have homework during the Summer holiday but for teens who are behind and who want to succeed in their exam the following year, I say this an opportunity to catch up the rest of the students and to follow.

    If I had listen to some good willing parents, I should have left my daughter study nothing and just be behind… However, I kept on and encouraged her to study and helped her every time I could (Khan academy and other free resources found online to help students), wrote her flashcard, and even learned how to create mind maps.
    The result: She went from E or D to B and even A.., So hard work pays!
    That said, I think that giving too many subjects for Junior Cert is nonsense… And the backpacks of the teenagers are way too heavy for them. During schooltime and small holiday break, they indeed never have time to socialize! The 1st year, she had 17 subjects! Now this year she had less but still too much! How can you expect a regular teen to learn so much, let alone one with a learning disability! It’s crazy!

  12. My daughter is a little overweight. She has had numerous recesses takenaway to finish work. This actually goes against the Michigan department of education’s policy of not taking away recess or behavoir or to finish work. I may try to get a dr note that she needs to be active as much as possible.

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  14. Miriam, I 100% agree with your argument, though it is far from reality in South Asian context. We are used to asking children to carry a loads of textbooks and give heavy homework so that children can’t get time to play so that adults [both parents and teacher] expectation is fulfilled. Parents want their children grow as they wish and invest money to met their unmet desire. This is worse in private schools in compare public schools. We need to long way to go and ..its very valuable knowledge to share in our context.

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