Why We Chose To Opt-Out Of Homework (yes, you have a choice)

On the day before I sent my son off to kindergarten, I sat down and wrote his new teacher a letter.

A homework opt-out letter.

I know, I know. I’m awesome at first impressions, right?

I already had all these reservations about school. Reservations that I really couldn’t do anything about if we chose to send Theo to public school, which, for the time being, is the decision we made. But there was one major concern I had that I knew I had some control over: what our evenings at home looked like after Theo returned from school.

From 7:15-3:30, Theo is in the very kind and capable hands of his school. Outside of those hours, he is first and foremost my kid.

It’s incredibly important to me that our home be a safe harbor for our kids. A nurturing place for them to land. Whether they have had a good day or bad, I want them to know that their home is their safe space. And I have really specific ideas about what it means to have a nurturing home. I want to nurture my whole child. Not just the school portion of my child.

One glaring issue with homework is this idea that what is happening during the school hours is somehow a kid’s main purpose in life. I’m sorry, it’s just not.

Wait. I’m actually not sorry at all.

I don’t believe a kid’s main purpose in life is to be a student of school. A student of life? That is a whole different story.

When my kids are with me, inside my home or out and about on one of our adventures, we will be instilling in them a lifelong love of learning, creativity, adventure, exploration, and the list goes on and on.

Homework, is not on that list.

The good news is that science backs me up on this.

A growing body of research concludes what many parents already know from experience: homework doesn’t work. According to Harris Cooper of Duke University, the leading U.S. researcher on homework, “homework has little to no benefit in enhancing learning or performance in elementary and middle school, and only minor benefits, usually in math, in high school.” (source)

Not to mention that, but home is a time for kids to be kids, and for parents to be parents. I refuse to be reduced to a homework monitor.

I am first and foremost my kids’ mom. Second, I am the captain of our explorers club. I’m the mad scientist in our kitchen. I’m the reader of books, the teller of stories. I’m the first one to say, “Let’s go for a walk and see what we can discover.” I’m the lead craft-maker, the silliest dance-shaker, and the flour-iest cookie baker. I am all these things, and through these activities, I lead my kids into hands on, real life, the fun never stops,

L E A R N I N G.

So no, we won’t be doing homework. Not now, and probably, not ever.

Our school sent home a “Parent’s Agreement” letter that we were supposed to sign saying we could create time and space for our kids to do homework and oversee the process to make sure it was completed and returned. I did not sign this “agreement” because I do not agree. In this “agreement,” the school stated that they strive to teach the children discipline and that homework is part of those efforts. I take major exception to this. I also strive to teach discipline to my children but there are about a million and one ways to do this that fit better into my home and my ideology. Homework isn’t one of them.

If I get feedback from my kids’ teachers that they aren’t able to complete all their work during school hours, then that will indicate a much larger issue than them simply needing to bring their school work home. Why can’t they complete it at school? What barriers do they have to completing their work during school hours? Is this a larger issue with their development, their understanding of a topic, or a social/physical/emotional struggle?

Not participating in homework doesn’t mean we stop learning at our home’s door. Quite the opposite, in fact. And it certainly doesn’t mean we won’t discuss school. I love talking about my kids’ days, and if school is part of their day, then you can be sure we are going to talk about it! Saying no to homework simply means creating healthy boundaries, respecting childhood and the family unit for what it is (and what it is not), and allowing education to continue to unfold in its multifaceted, never ending, completely spontaneous way.

Opting out of homework isn’t for everyone. Some people love homework. Some parents might decide that their child will benefit from homework.

I also get that sending in this kind of letter is a bit of a risk. Will my teacher dislike my child because of this decision? Will he/she dislike me? Am I starting off on rocky footing? Maybe, maybe.

But I believe in standing up for what you believe. I believe in taking risks. I don’t believe in doing something just because I’m told I’m supposed to, or because everyone else is doing it. I don’t believe in not saying something just to avoid a potential awkward conversation.

But mostly, I believe in my kids. I believe in this thing we have going. I know they are already budding little life-learners. And I know how to keep them engaged, excited, and asking for more.

I believe in education. I just don’t believe in homework.

What about you? Will you or have you opted your child out of homework? Here is the letter I wrote to my son’s school this year to opt him out. Take a look at it and feel free to use it to draft your own letter!

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19 thoughts on “Why We Chose To Opt-Out Of Homework (yes, you have a choice)

  1. GOOD I think what you have done is a good thing.I can remember the miserable time’s my boy’s spent night after night working on home work when they should of been out playing and relaxing.I to believe the teaching should be done in the class room not sent home.
    When I see these kid’s carry these heavy back pack’s I just shake my head because I know there evening will be spent doing homework instead of enjoying some down time.

  2. Wow. That’s great. I am dreading the time when my kids come home laden with homework and even worse – left-over work etc. I’d be really interested to find out what their response is.

  3. Here’s a question…why does a kindergartner have homework? That’s ridiculous! I can totally see the need for homework in high school, but there’s only so much you can while you’re still learning to read and write. LOL. You were very firm but kind in your letter!

    1. Whitney, my little guy comes home SO tired. This is a big change for him! He comes home at 3:30 and is in bed by 7. That is barely enough time to unwind, do dinner, and spend some meaningful time together, let alone school work. I want to protect those precious hours! I know he has a WONDERFUL teacher who is teaching him what he needs during the day. I truly believe that is sufficient for a five year old ;-).

  4. just know that if you are the leader in a group of parents standing on strike against homework, my fist is in the air right behind you girl. Also With a sign that reads let kids be kids damnit!

  5. I could not agree more!!! I wish I would have seen this at the beginning of the school year!! I am a Grandmother who cares for my two Granddaughters after school and there are so many other things to do before going to bed at 8:00p.m.!! They don’t get home till 4:00p.m. time to get dinner ready and they love to help!! They are kindergarten and 2nd grade. I think I will discus this with my son for teacher conferences that are coming up shortly. Thank You!!!

  6. While you certainly have a right to choose whether or not your son completes homework at home, this didn’t quite sit right with me – a former public school teacher. It didn’t feel like you even gave your son’s teacher a chance. Perhaps your son will only get one simple worksheet a week – it’s not going to take away from your child’s family time or kid time. And if it’s reading time, it sounds like you are doing that already, so again, not taking away from your family time. I taught junior high and high school English, and I did not assign very much homework because of the type of community I worked in. My students had other issues that I felt were more important than homework – they needed to help their families with farm chores, work to save up money for college, deal with difficult family situations where they didn’t have a steady home to sleep in every night. “Most” teachers don’t assign homework just to assign busy work. They understand that students have other sports, activities, church, and family obligations. While opting out of homework might make sense now while your son is older, you may need to reconsider when he’s older. What message will it send that his parents don’t make him do homework? Does that mean he doesn’t have to respect what his teachers say? Will this make him feel entitled? Will he brag about it to his friends and cause problems for the rest of the class? Your letter was nicely written, but give your son’s teacher a chance! Mandates about standards and common core and testing can be a real nuisance, but teachers are people who love kids and only want the best for them. They really are trying their best to get your children to be their best.

    1. Hi.
      Thanks for your thoughtful response! You are so right, most teachers really are just trying their best! I know this from personal experience, as I’m married to a 6th grade math teacher who is currently in the public school education system. My husband and I are a united front on this decision, as research simply does not back up homework. Not to mention the fact that the hours when our child is at home is meant for family, not school.

      You ask what kind of message this is sending, and I think it’s a powerful one. It’s saying that we don’t just do things because it’s the way things have always been done. We don’t just do things because everyone else is doing it. We think long and hard and ask tough questions, and then make our decision based on what both our head and our heart are telling us.

      You are very right to point out that this solution might not always work for us. I am completely open to evolving on the topic of homework as our kids grow and progress through school. This is simply where we are at now. As for the issue of respect, that is a whole different topic. We are raising our kids to respect others. We are raising our kids to be kind, honest, and thoughtful. If we hear that our kids are using our decisions to taunt others, that will be swiftly addressed, but I fail to see how that hypothetical situation should factor into our current decision making process.

      You are clearly a passionate and caring educator. Thank you for taking the time to think through this and respond. I’m glad that this topic is generating conversation as I don’t believe we should ever just do things for the sake of doing them. We must take this one wild and precious life and live it fully and with great intention.

      Yours respectfully in life and in education,
      Rebekah

  7. Great article and very well written. However, I’m curious to know if homework would be okay if your child was having difficulty with a certain concept in class? Would it be okay to assign homework so that you can get him caught up to the point of understanding that would be required in class? As a 4th grade teacher, I usually only assigned homework when we would first begin a new concept in class (memorizing multiplication facts, long division, etc…) I would certainly limit the number of problems, but it would be enough that parents could see what we were doing in class and that their child may need some extra help at home so they could be successful in class. A lot of kids don’t get the attention and lessons at home. Sometimes I think homework is necessary evil. However, I’m in full agreement that kids need time to be kids.

    My oldest (now in 4th grade) came home from school yesterday and told me they won’t have homework this year. Any work they don’t finish will simply get finished the next day. My problem with that though is that today’s work won’t get done because we’re busy getting yesterday’s work finished. Or perhaps a kid will slack off knowing that if they don’t finish today they can just do it tomorrow. Didn’t mean to rant 🙂 Mostly just playing devil’s advocate. Ironically, I just wrote about homework the other day!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Stomperdad! I love how much conversation this topic is generating. I think it’s great to really wrestle with these ideas that are all too easy to just accept as the norm. I appreciate your dissenting viewpoints, but retain my position. Research just doesn’t back up homework, ESPECIALLY in the case of students who struggle in school and have an unstable home life. In fact, current research shows that homework is nothing more than busy work for good students, and creates additional frustration and confusion for those who don’t. Not to mention, it reinforces their negative feelings about school. Even kids who have a stable home life need a break, though. Again, research shows that to learn new skills, we ALL need a break.

      I think the larger issue is the timeframe we require kids to learn these new skills. We send them home with homework because they have to learn something in x-amount of days. That is simply requiring all students to learn at the same pace, which isn’t even logical or realistic. What those students need isn’t more practice, but TIME. Unfortunately, our current system doesn’t give our students or our amazing teachers the time they need to teach and be taught at their own pace.

      I get it…lots of frustrations all around, but I 100% don’t believe that homework is the solution. On a simple level, how many adults do you know who go to work for 6-8 hours and then come home to practice their skills on a regular basis? We don’t do that, so why do we require our KIDS to do that?

      Again, there are a lot of issues all tied up in this one topic, which is why I think these conversations are so valuable! The goal is to not always agree, the goal is to have thoughtful conversation that spurs intelligent decision making for the betterment of our kids, our schools, and our community!

      1. Thanks for that awesome response! Funny that you mention that we as adults don’t have homework in the sense that we practice at home what we do at work. I had thought of that analogy, too. As a parent, I want my sons to succeed (aka do well) in school. As a teacher, I know what they need to be doing to be successful so I try to have them practice it at home. My youngest (5) loves doing math homework. So I print or write pages and pages of addition and subtraction problems for him to work out. My oldest (9) is working on memorizing multiplication facts. If I help them at home with it they’ll be able to do that much better in school. I know not all kids have stable, sometimes not even safe, places to call home and don’t get one on one parent attention. Do you think parent assigned homework is different than teacher assigned homework? (Just curious). My son’s teacher last year would occasionally send home “optional homework”. More or less it was simply to say “here’s what we’re working on if you want to help your child with it great, if not we’ll do it in class.” We would do it over a couple days so that we as parents knew that he was proficient at that concept because teachers sometimes need help teaching and homework is way to get that help. Thanks for the lively discussion! 😀

      2. Stomperdad – Now you’ve really made me think! I’ve never thought about the idea of “parent assigned homework,” and how that may or may not be different from teacher assigned homework. I’m going to mull that one over!

  8. Did they really plan to send the kinder’s home with homework? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of homework in kinder.

    Also, those are some long school hours! Mavid just started as well, and he goes from 8:15- 11:05 , granted almost everyone opted to pay to have their kids stay until 2:55, but still a fair amount shorter. He just seems so tired at the end of the day just with those few hours, I’ve had to reinstate nap time on school days!

    My husband is from Brazil, and they have half day school hours all the way through high-school. I think school in North America is just too long in general. I don’t mind the theory of homework as much as I mind the long school days.

    1. Natalie, they really do! Some schools are worse than others, of course, but homework seems to be the rule, not the exception. I think you raise a VERY interesting point. How amazing would it be if kids could go to school for a half day, and then have the rest of the day to run and play with some time for school practice/homework at home? The days are incredibly long, for any age!

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