Is there too much homework and academic pressure on our kids?

Especially at younger ages? And what is the cost to their psychological and emotional well being?

You can hear one local psychiatrist’s viewpoint on these issues at a talk Wednesday evening at Murwood Elementary. David Ritvo, a Yale-trained psychiatrist in private practice in Walnut Creek, works with parents and kids in our community, and sees these issues unfold in his office every day. He’ll hold a question and answer session with parents at the event, hosted by Murwood Elementary’s PTA.

These questions become especially pressing when you’re talking about kids in elementary and middle schools. If you really start looking at the literature on this topic, you’ll find that, contrary to what you’re often told, education experts do not agree on whether regular homework at these grade levels enhances learning.

Homework is definitely a “hot-button topic,” as another suburban blogger, Kerry Dickinson writes, in her latest post on her East Bay Homework Blog. This Danville mom is a parent activist on the homework issue, and her lobbying San Ramon Valley school leaders several years ago prompted that district to look at its policy. You can read about her Dickinson’s attempt, with other parents, to transform thinking around the topic in this 2008 Diablo magazine article.

Dickinson, trained as an elementary and middle school teacher herself, began to worry about how so much evening and weekend family time was taken up by homework, and saw that it made her sons, then in elementary and middle school, anxious and miserable. She had her homework epiphany when she read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn.

In this tome, Kohn argues that there are no definitive studies proving homework’s overall learning benefits, especially at younger ages. Indeed, he says, homework can be detrimental to children ‘s development by robbing families of quality time together and not allowing a kid time simply to be a kid. He points out that America’s current get-tough approach about homework, as a way of building character, actually nurtures a culture of drudgery, and not just for kids, but for parents and teachers. Homework, especially in the form of “busywork,” kills intellectual and creative curiosity, he asserts.
What do you think? What is your experience with your kids’ homework? Or, if you’re a student yourself, do you find homework helpful and challenging in a good way? Do you get too much of it—or too little?
By the way, the Walnut Creek school district is currently reviewing its homework policy.

And, if you’re worried that homework and academic pressure is stressing your kids out, you’re welcome to attend David Ritvo’s Question and Answer session. “If a healthy balance of work, love, and play is the goal for your children, the time to create that balance is now,” says the invitation to this event.

This event, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Murwood’s library, is free, and childcare will be provided for school-age children. An RSVP is requested, but not required. Contact

21 thoughts on “Is there too much homework and academic pressure on our kids?

  1. There is so much busy work, and not enough done in class I think. Too much is sent home, and parents are overwhelmed with family time and trying to get homework done. When I was a kid, we only did homework if things didn't get done in class.
    The parents who ask for more homework use to make me annoyed on back to school night. A bit type “A” and pushing their kids to do way too much, and not let them play outside and enjoy life! That is why we have stressed out fat kids in this country.
    Although, living in France for two years, showed me how our system is a bit behind from theirs. They are in school longer during the day until at least 4:00pm, then gobs of homework. The high school is terrifying! They are there close to five or six in the afternoon/evening, and then have at least two hours of homework. They usually eat at 8:00pm…then off to bed. Our kids have it pretty good, but I still think the homework should be more useful and not just busy work!


  2. I think that math needs to be reinforced nightly. That could be called drudgery but so be it. Beyond that however, I'd like to see homework presented as an opportunity for kids to find their own learning style. Let them design their own, term-long projects, set goals, etc. The projects could require that the kids cover science and history and have written components.


  3. 11:21 here:
    I forgot to add that I think there needs to be some homework. Saying that homework is eating into quality family time is naive I think. Most families would be using that extra time for TV watching.

    Making homework a child/family designed ongoing project wouldn't disrupt families who really did have quality time as that time would probably dove-tail into the kids' projects anyway.


  4. These types of questions always kill me. On the one hand, we despair over studies that show that American schoolkids lag far behind their peers in India, China, etc… Then we turn around and wring our hands because our little babies are overwhelmed with schoolwork. You can't have it both ways.

    After my grandmother died a few years ago I was going through her books and came across one of her grammar school (grade school) textbooks. I almost fell out of my chair looking at it…Shakespeare, Cicero, etc…stuff you won't even find in high school text books these days. We are really slipping on education in the U.S. and are already paying the price in the workplace.


  5. 12:53, a classically educated person doesn't mock and belittle people who hold different opinions. I'm sure your grandmother would have understood that the best future comes from carefully examining the present.


  6. Anon 2:52

    You are probably a teacher who just loves the new, modern curriculum we foist on our students, telling ourselves it will make our students excel while they fall even further behind.


  7. Sorry to disappoint you 3:44 but I'm just a parent.

    To recap:
    I asked 12:53 to please not insult parents who were having an interesting discussion about homework policy. The response from 3:44 is to insult teachers.


  8. The poor Dears…..
    Oh, they can't get to their Soccer Game!! In a 4WDF SUV, Oh, GOSH!.

    How will they Survive?


    Spoiled, one and all.


  9. I agree that our kids are spoiled these days. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was responsible for getting to/from school, do my homework, make sure I reminded my parents of any sports activity I had that day.

    And, I STILL had plenty of time to play outside with the neighborhood kids.

    I have a child that's accelerated in math. IMO, homework doesn't help him learn new material. He does that in the classroom. However, homework does help him retain much of what he's learned. It may be different for different kids, but my kid likes math so much that he consumes it like candy. He's very focused on 'learning' and no interest in retaining. I do think some practice work is necessary for mastery of a subject.

    I imagine that there are some kids who have great memories/immediate retention, so they may not need as much. I personally wouldn't have a problem with a customized homework program for my children. I don't necessarily think what's right for my kid's classmate is right my my child. Kids are different, so it seems that their educational needs are different.

    Oh, and having homework has not stopped his interest in math at all.


  10. Our kids are so far behind the rest of the world they must have homework to catch up. They need homework in math to reinforce their skills. Homework builds character.

    What a bunch of crap. I am an ex elementary teacher and I hate homework. It serves no real purpose. If the child knows the skill, why does he need to keep doing it at home? If he doesn't know the skill how can he possible do anything meaningful at home?

    Other than a small amount of practice in skills, homework is of no value. Kids need to be kids.

    I used to get a kick out of the response… in 4th grade we are preparing the kids for 5th grade. Here in the 5th grade we are preparing the kids for 6th grade etc., etc., etc. When do 4th graders get to be 4th graders?

    If the teacher is doing their job the kids will learn the skills n the classroom.


  11. Unless we know how much homework we are referring to, it's difficult to comment on whether it is too much. I used to think people were just complainers when they said their kids had too much homework. I have seen such a wide range of homework responsibilities within 4th through 8th grades, depending on the teachers one was assigned. There have been years when my daughter has a reasonable about routinely, say 2 hours every night, and then years at WCI when it was a fire drill of 4, 5 and 6 hours of homework each and every night. One year, due to the heavy load, she gave up everything during the week, including sports, piano, and her youth group at church. She did fine grade wise, but it was a horrible life and way out of balance. If she gave herself some room to breathe, and finished something over the weekend, it was an automatic “F” per grading policy, so she had all this pressure to get it all done every night, even if that meant staying up very late. The next year she had reasonable teachers and could finish assignments in 2-3 hours. I personally think that this is wrong. I don't want to come home from my job, and work another 4, 5 or 6 hours every night, under the threat of failure if I don't finish it all. And by the way, my kids used to get to watch a 1/2 hour of TV, until middle school hit, and now, until Friday night, the TV never comes on.


  12. You said, “David Ritvo, a Yale-trained psychiatrist…”

    Clearly the fact he attended Yale was important to you, otherwise you would not have mentioned it. You likely feel his Yale education adds gravity to what he says, say as opposed to, say, a UC Riverside grad.

    How do you think he got into Yale? Perhaps his parents pushed him as well?

    The fact of the matter is our kids have it easy compared to European and Asian kids, and it's high time we recognized that and put our kids to work. It really is a global economy and our children will have to compete with their peers from China and India, countries where they don't worry so much that their kids have to work hard in school.


  13. My 7-year-old is really stressed out about his homework. He's also been sick a lot this year and has missed a lot of school days. He gets all the homework, plus the worksheets from class that he missed. It's too much for him.

    He doesn't mind the math, but the reading comprehension drives him bonkers. It's quite a struggle to get him to finish those assignments. I think it's because he's still learning reading and it doesn't come easily to him. The math he grasps so firmly, that he actually writes out problems for me and his dad to complete. Then he grades us.

    So I'd say we're half-and-half. Half loving the math; half hating the English. Too bad because I love to read. I'm trying to get him to enjoy it too, but the homework makes him despise it. Not a good beginning.

    I didn't get homework until third grade and he's been getting it since kindergarten. It's a real time eater for such a little kid.


  14. I've got a child who is accelerated in everything and goes to a gifted magnet middle school. 12 years old and taking high school credit courses. One problem–the guidance counselors in the school keep forgetting that my child is 12.Yesterday she was told she had to have her high school courses planned by the end of this school year. The guidance counselor also told the kids in the class a long story about her own child in highschool, who'd been very worried about the results of her final exam in a class because “if she didn't get all 'A's, she wouldn't get into the college she wanted, then she wouldn't be able to get the job she wanted and her life would be ruined”.YES-she said this. NO–this is not hyperbole. Same idiot sat back and listened without blinking while a teacher told me that my child, who is struggling socially, should try to 'emulate the more popular kids'.


  15. I am a high school student who gets a's in almost ever class excpet for 2, These 2 classes the teachers stress out of school work. they will give work for the weekend and make it worth as much as any quiz or test. I cant find time to get all this work done. I am very buisy out of school and when They give me buisy work to reinforce something I already know and when i dont get it done it lowers my grade it pisses me off. give me the tests and teach me in class and i will learn. I have not failed a test since 4th grade.


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